This story opens up some things you may not know about how some foreign workers live and work in Malta and how friendship and solidarity can open up amazing life experiences. This is the story of Uyen Vu from Vietnam - a third country national (TCN), who is in her last days in Malta, and her present Maltese landlord Joseph Gauci.
Uyen Vu, the Vietnamese with a single work permit in Malta
“My name is Uyen. I am from Vietnam and came to work in Malta in January 2018. When I arrived in the country I started paying 400 Euro per month for housing in Malta, a shared flat in Mosta. This is reasonable compared to other European countries I used to live in but the problem is that my job is very low paid, I earn 650 Euro per month.”
Uyen finished her Masters’ Degree in International Development in the UK in 2016. Her job in Malta is a project officer for an NGO running EU funded projects on social inclusion. “I started as an intern for four unpaid months. Then I started to get paid. My workplace employs many foreigners. My boss told me that after three months I would be given an increment but this increment never arrived. I didn’t dare ask. I was afraid they would fire me and I would end up without a job. As the law in Malta is for third country nationals, if I do not work for the company I’m employed with anymore, my residence permit will be terminated within ten days. This means that within ten days I would have to get out of Malta.”
Uyen explained how Europeans and Maltese face different conditions: “For them the law is different, if they don’t like the job they can leave and eventually find another job. But we, third country nationals face this condition. My work permit is a single work permit, this means it is tied to the job I am working for, you normally get a contract for six months or a year. I had other third country nationals colleagues who were fired that way so I was very scared. They do find excuses to fire someone and just get another foreigner,” Uyen described.
Uyen told her landlord that 400 Euro was a lot of money for her: “I must say that the landlord and his wife were nice people. When I told them about my salary for a few months they let me pay 300 instead of the 400 Euro. However, they told me that they can’t keep going on like this.”
Joseph Gauci, the sports man and the landlord
Uyen described how she started trekking with the wellknown group of Gregory Camenzuli. “I stated trekking to integrate in the Maltese society, and also because I like to spend time with myself, with nature and with others. I enjoyed these walks and from there about ten of us decided to start trekking on our own to be in a smaller, more sociable group. In this small trekking group I started sharing some of my feelings, about my job and accommodation difficulties. After a while, Joe, one of the members of this group, offered me lodging in his house. At first I said nothing. I was afraid. He is a man and I had read lots of horror stories...” she said.
Joe is a widower, still wearing his wedding ring. He has a nice big terraced house in Mosta and lives in it with his son. “I have a good relationship with my son but we do not meet often because we both work. My son also has a girlfriend so we both lead busy lives.”
Joe is also a great adventurer and sports man. He is particularly good at skiing and trekking both on land and also on mountains. As a youngster he played football with the Mosta Football Club and eventually became president and coach with the same Club. He was also an active volunteer and youth leader at the Mosta Oratory. He met Uyen in the small trekking group and sometimes he used to give her a lift back to Mosta.
Joe at first saw a risk in offering Uyen to come to his house. “I was afraid she would steal or damage the property. My son told me that I was too kind and that this is risky. But as I got to know her in the trekking group and listened to her story I told her ‘if you want, you can come to my house’. I thought this was a way I could help her, a way which I can afford. My house is big and mostly empty. At first she said nothing. Then after some months, it was the feast of the Assumption of St Mary in August, I invited our trekking group to my house to see the fireworks and I also showed her the house. ”
Uyen starts living in Joe’s house
Uyen’s landlord couple eventually told her that it was time she started to pay the full rental amount: “My landlord and his wife told me that they were doing business not charity. So looking at my financial situation I decided to do something. I realised I couldn’t on my own. The connection with Joe was getting better now as we trekked in the group every weekend. So in October 2018, before I left for a month for a work exchange in Germany, I took my luggage from the other place so when I came back to Malta I went to his house,” Uyen explained.
“As I moved in I realised I was so wrong to be afraid!” Uyen exclaimed almost crying. “Joe is a very kind man. He expected nothing of me. He never asked for money. Joe who used to live on the ground floor, moved upstairs with his son and left me the ground floor to myself so I can have my own privacy. I rarely meet him unintentionally in the house. On the ground floor he had everything close to him kitchen, living, bathroom, bedroom, his garage, everything and he gave it all to me. He also gets a maid to do the detail cleaning. There were a few times when I missed the bus and he used to drive me, sometimes he even drove my friends. I truly appreciate. This man is kind to everyone he meets,” she said.
“On my part I just give him a small contribution for rent which is less than I paid to my previous landlord and also keep my area clean to share some responsibility. Sometimes I cook Vietnamese and we eat together. We also sometimes do morning exercises together. I learnt a lot from the healthy lifestyle Joe leads,” Uyen adds.
Uyen’s reflection on the gifts she received in Malta
Through Joe she reflected on her family life... “For me this has also been an opportunity to appreciate my parents. During this year I went once to visit my family, and also thought of Joe and that he was in his house alone. I became aware that sometimes I am not kind enough to my parents. I just want to be with my friends, I work, sometimes I’m in my room and I don’t eat with them.”
A small story at the Mosta Church... “I attended a mass at Rotunda Mosta. I saw people playing music during the mass. It was so cool to me, so after mass I went to ask a person if I can help anything during the mass as well. He took my number and said that he will inform the priest to call me later. And a while later, a priest called me, and we had a chat at a cake shop. He listened to what I would like to do, then he introduced me to two young women at the music camping Encounter in Ta’ Qali and I through them I started helping out in a Catholic Website.”
The trekking groups... “Trekking has been a great opportunity for me to meet both Maltese and international people. Besides trekking we also do other activities, like sightseeing, camping and swimming, Joe and other Maltese friends take us to many nice places and he also taught me how to swim.”
“It was good use of the empty space in my house”
Joe stated that making space for Uyen in his house was a risk worth taking: “I feel that I have made good use of the empty space I had in my house. My son, soon made friends with Uyen as well as they are almost the same age. I still have my privacy. It was a nice experience which I don’t regret. Having a foreigner for such a long time was the first time for me. Once my son got a friend for a short while from abroad but that was all.”
Why is Joe so helpful?
Joe shared how his wife got seriously sick, when she was only 29: “I had to take her to England to receive treatment. At that time I found a lot of help from both my family and also my friends. I find that helping in this way is a way to pay back the help that I had received at that time,” says Joe. “But I also received through this experience. Uyen has also been of company to me, sometimes we talk, we eat and discuss together. She is of similar age to my son and daughter, so she’s like another child to me.”
Uyen’s has just finished her contract and she’s spending her last ten days in Malta before going back to her country, Vietnam. But this is not the end of the story. Uyen asked Joe if he can now host an Italian friend instead of her who is facing the same lodging problem. Uyen sometimes feels concerned about Joe that this might become too much for him. “Because there is now another girl, so this time instead of one they may actually be two, but it’s up to him to decide.” And guess what? Joe said “Yes for both!”
Article written by Universe Of Faith
Photos: Christina Gatt
Podcast: Uyen Vu
Published: July 2019