The Malta Independent on Sunday
Radio Valo Malta and young people with Down’s syndrome in Germany
I recently had the opportunity to travel to Germany with the Radio Valo Malta team. It was an experience I will remember all my life. The Radio Valo team was made up of a group of five young people, members of the Down’s Syndrome Association. I was one of the three supporters for this team.
We spent a week with two other groups made up of people with intellectual disability and their supporters – one group from Germany and another one from Finland. These three project partners met to discuss three important issues that concerned them – Supported Employment, Independent Living and Leisure. This was an Erasmus+project, a Youth Exchange organised by the Radio Valo Malta Team within the Down’s Syndrome Association. This could only happen thanks to EUPA and the support of MEUSAC.
Various activities were organised to help the whole group coming from three different countries get together as one large team. It was a great opportunity for everyone to learn how these people in their own countries cope with their everyday life, the struggles they face as well as their achievements.
At the end of this project, we got very strong positive feedback and a request from all the 16 young participants with intellectual disability to have more such youth exchanges. This was the first of its kind for the whole group, and the Down’s Syndrome Association was applauded and thanked by all for its great effort to make this project happen. Our Radio Valo Malta team all said they enjoyed it and that they also learnt a lot from this experience. But most importantly they returned home knowing that their thoughts, worries and also their wishes have been heard. It was a unique unforgettable experience, considering the time we had to sit and listen to what they all (each one of them) had to say and then translate into English for the others to understand and trans- late back to their own groups. Many times we take these young people for granted, or even just decide on their behalf without asking for their opinion, not realising how much they have to say and that they want us to hear them too.
There was something which struck me most – we should be offering more to them. These young people are part of our society and it is our duty to provide for them, same as is provided for the rest of society. Their needs are different from ours and we should create an environment where we can all live in harmony together. For example, the Radio Valo members pointed out Malta does not yet have any leisure facilities suitable for them and their friends. This was something I had never thought about before. I am well looked after in our society and had never stopped to think about how other people with different needs are doing. Some have occasionally visited establishments where Malta’s young people get together, but they soon realised that it was not the right environment for them and they were not able to meet and socialise with other people with intellectual disabilities as they would have wanted to.
If I had to write down all I have learnt and my personal feelings for these issues, this would be a very long letter. The main reason I am writing this letter is to hopefully create some awareness, especially among Malta’s younger generation. A lot of voluntary work and effort is being put in by a dedicated few who are fighting for these people’s rights and help create a better environment for them. More help is needed! These people’s struggles are real and we should not ignore them. There are a lot of ways we can help and different skills we could contribute. Who can better help them than us, the young generation? These young people are young people like us with the same rights and wishes! I know my help will not stop here. They need me as much as I need them.
I must admit that it took me quite some time to finally say yes to be one of the supporters of this group. Initially I was sceptic about this project but this project has changed me. I have decided to start giving some of my time to work with these young people with intellectual disabilities. In my opinion, this project was also a means for the Radio Valo team youths to send out their message to us Maltese and Gozitan youths (maybe this is why I had to be there, to be their voice on their return to Malta) – they are asking us to make space for them in our lives; they want us to take part in their youth events as they prefer to have other young people around them and not their parents (for example during the discos the Down’s Syndrome Association organises for them); they are asking us to create events ourselves and invite them to these events and support them throughout; they are asking us to give our support to all they need; they are asking us young people to involve them in all that matters to young people. All five Maltese Radio Valo participants stated that they want to be independent, and they can be independent with the right support.
I do hope that the Radio Valo team’s request does not fall on deaf ears. Those of you young people who are willing and interested to dedicate some of your time to such a genuine cause, are kindly asked to write about his / her interest to the Down’s Syndrome Association for the attention of the Radio Valo Malta Team firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com . I will then gather the information of all interested and will personally communicate with you how we, as a group, can work together to offer a happy life to these young people who have Down’s syndrome.