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Gordon's D-Zone Arcive (2006-2014)

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Remembering Mgr Michael Azzopardi: Pioneer in the Maltese Disability Sector

I wanted to share some of my thoughts on Mgr Michael Azzopardi, who is the founder of the first institution catering for the needs of Maltese disabled people. I won’t provide any extensive information on the man because you can read his biography at the website of the residence he founded in the town of Siggiewi at Id-Dar tal-Providenza. This is, in fact, the first residence of in a time when people like me would be often hidden away in their own houses and often in undignified conditions.


While I remain against the practice of institutionalisation, I have to recognise that the services provided by the House of Providence (a translation of the Maltese name) have become more person-centred while encouraging residents to return to live in their own community or in supported living accommodation. Indeed, I hope to be soon one of those who will benefit from supported living services provided by the House of Providenza.To be faithful to history, the main reason why Michael Azzopardi had to settle in what once was the remote town of Siggiewi was because people just didn’t want to be living anywhere near disabled people. In fact, we were often considered to be less than humans, if not products of sin and evil. Which also highlights the fact that Mgr Azzopardi was also challenging in some way the Church by affirming the right of disabled people to a dignified life.


True, he would call us “angels” but, again, we should keep in mind that people tended to look at us as demonic manifestations, the term “angel” was preferable in the context of those times. Granted, that the term is still in use but slowly our humanity is recognised as we finally have more rights an greater inclusion in Malta. I was a little bit perhaps to critical of the work carried out by Mgr Azzopardi because I knew the word “angel” was one which diminished my humanity. I also knew that the work of the House of Residence has often been used to reduce our lives as disabled people to a less unfortunate one that requires the charity of others.


But now as we mark the 25th year since his death, I realise that far from creating an institutional residence for disabled people, Mgr Azzopardi wanted us to remain in our own communities and close to other people who were, like us, human beings.


This, I think that Mgr Michael Azzopardi was a pioneer!