Malta
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Ex-prisoner, drug user tells students of how he became therapeutic facilitator

A former prisoner and drug user on Friday told students about his journey to become a Caritas therapeutic facilitator at a Fresher's event organised by the University of Malta's Faculty of Social Wellbeing.

The 50-year-old addressed students together with a woman who has struggled with homelessness, a man who is living with schizophrenia, and a youth whose father died by suicide.

Their experiences provided a 'taster' for prospective social wellbeing students whose lectures will officially start on Tuesday.

Among them, Pierre* recalled he was just 14 years old when he fell for peer pressure and began to experiment with alcohol and cannabis. He later consumed ecstasy, cocaine, and heroin, managing to keep up with his addiction only through theft. 

“My addiction was fuelled by feelings of non-acceptance, a fear of life and insecurities,” he said, adding that, as a result, he ended up in prison for six years.

“I continued taking drugs during my first two years in prison. When I realised I needed help and had to stop, I asked Caritas for help.”

Now aged 50, Pierre is a therapeutic facilitator at Caritas, supporting people who want to overcome their drug addiction. 

He has been clean for seven years and three weeks.

“I am still recovering and working on being a better person, not just for myself, but to help others,” he said. 

Pierre recalled how he had to re-learn everything from scratch once he began his rehabilitation programme.

“I now have a family, a young daughter and a job I enjoy. I am living a decent life,” he said, adding: "I will always try to be a better person for others, and help improve their lives".

“I wish you luck on your journey. While you are trying to improve other people’s lives, you too have the chance to improve your lives,” he told students.

Reuben Mifsud spoke about the importance of seeking help after his son died of cancer. Photo: Giulia MagriReuben Mifsud spoke about the importance of seeking help after his son died of cancer. Photo: Giulia Magri

‘Love and support kept me going after my son’s death'

Reuben Mifsud meanwhile recalled the pain and confusion that followed the death of his youngest son Zack. 

Zack was diagnosed with a rare cancer tumour as a baby, and doctors told the family that he would only live for six months. In 2021, he died at the age of seven, on his father's birthday.

“The pain and shock we felt is very difficult to describe. I don't know how I am standing on my own two feet and speaking to you all,” he said.

Mifsud said it was the love and support he received from family, friends and psychologists, that kept him going.

Ingrid Grech Lanfranco, from the Department of Child and Family, meanwhile told prospective students about the importance of understanding how each family member grieved and experienced loss in their own way. 

Dean of the Faculty and professor Andrew Azzopardi, tells students to 'disobey' to bring about change. Photo: Faculty of Social WellbeingDean of the Faculty and professor Andrew Azzopardi, tells students to 'disobey' to bring about change. Photo: Faculty of Social Wellbeing

Former student Matthew Paris  spoke about growing up with schizophrenia and how the course helped him better understand his mental health challenges. 

"You will spend years - while completing your course, and eventually work - caring about other people, but it's important to also take care of yourself," he said.

'Disobey' to bring change

The faculty's dean, Andrew Azzopardi, shared unusual advice with the students. 

"For the past 10 to 15 years of compulsory education, you have been urged to 'obey'. Today, I am inviting you to disobey," he said.

"Disobeying is a value and moral right. We have seen many people in the past who disobeyed to bring change to our society. I call on you to bring about change."

*Name has been changed