Pregnant and unmarried – a throwback to 40 years ago

The journey of a Gozitan house that has seen it all and keeps thriving.

Forty years ago, societal attitudes towards premarital pregnancy were much less accepting than they are today. Many families, feeling societal pressure, felt compelled to send pregnant girls away from their communities and the essential love of their families, often to institutions designed to manage such situations. Today, in Gozo, the house of Dar Ġuzeppa Debono in Għajnsielem stands as a reminder of these past attitudes.

However, this house is not frozen in time. With the help of funding and the dedicated efforts of both volunteers and professionals, Dar Ġuzeppa Debono has continually modernised to meet changing needs and times.

The Journal had a conversation with Maria Attard, a teacher who has been passionately working with young people. She has been a volunteer at Dar Ġuzeppa Debono since its founding. Maria shared her experiences and the beginnings of her involvement with this transformative institution.

Maria Attard.

“On 8th December 1985, Dar Ġużeppa Debono was established to address a pressing issue. Single mothers from Malta were seeking refuge with the Church, within the Diocese of Gozo. We could no longer ignore this reality,” Maria explained. “Our support extended beyond just providing a place to stay; we were committed to understanding and addressing the specific needs of these young mothers.”

Maria delved deeper into the complexities of their situations. “We encountered many innocent young women who found themselves in these circumstances through various ways. Human nature is such that attractions can lead to unintended consequences. Sometimes, pregnancies occurred in moments of vulnerability, perhaps influenced by alcohol, where judgment was clouded, and decisions were not firm. These were real people, facing real challenges they never intended to meet. We’ve always prioritised the dignity of each individual and the reality of the new life they carry — a tiny, vulnerable creature in the womb. The women’s partners sometimes became involved, though not always. It’s a complex yet profoundly beautiful reality, manifesting in times when a person most needs support,” Marija shared.

She continued, “I often encouraged the girls: ‘don’t be afraid, don’t give up. It’s not all over. Let’s assess what needs to be done and continue forward on this path.'” This approach reflects the underlying compassion and commitment to support these women through their challenging journeys, reaffirming their dignity and igniting hope.

Over the decades, Dar Ġużeppa Debono has evolved and continues to adapt to the changing needs of society. “After 38 years, we are not the same as we once were. While the presence of single mothers persists, the context has changed; it’s now easier for them to find an apartment and live alone, with a partner, or with family. However, despite broader social acceptance, the challenges associated with single parenthood remain diverse. Today’s family dynamics and relationships have evolved significantly,” Maria explained.

Dar Ġużeppa Debono.

In response to these changes, the organisation has had to adapt. “We’ve moved with the times, and today we are making the most of our spacious building. Part of the house is used as residential space to accommodate those in need, while another part is dedicated to sustaining the house itself. We use our large halls and kitchen to serve the community through meetings and other activities, thus supporting our operations,” she added.

Maria also highlighted some recent projects undertaken by Dar Ġużeppa Debono as concrete examples of their adaptation to current needs. These initiatives showcase the proactive steps the house has taken to remain relevant and effective in serving its community in the face of evolving social landscapes.

The three missions

The project was inspired by Maya Angelou’s words, “My mission in life is not only to live, but to flourish; and to do it with passion, with compassion, with humour, and with style.”

It was generously supported by a nearly €20,000 grant from the Maltese Council for the Voluntary Sector (MCVS) and its aim was to deepen awareness about the distinctions between holding a job, pursuing a career, and embracing a mission.

The initiative focused on three distinct demographic groups: from early years, spanning conception to kindergarten; secondary school students; and post-secondary students and professional trainees. Running from March 2023 to February 2024, the project featured a range of activities designed to engage these groups effectively. For new parents, workshops led by professionals were organised, providing valuable parenting insights and support. Sessions specifically tailored for post-secondary students were also conducted, along with online workshops and individual sessions targeting parents of children in their later secondary and post-secondary education years. To extend its reach, the project team developed new online resources that were made accessible to a broader audience.

A pivotal component of the project was a conference where research findings and policy recommendations were presented, particularly targeting professionals. One of the primary objectives of this gathering was to discuss strategies for ensuring the long-term sustainability of the services provided by the project, thereby continuing to impact the community positively. This comprehensive approach not only highlighted the different stages of educational and professional development but also reinforced the importance of mission-driven living across life’s various phases.

The three losses

The project addressed the profound impacts of the three losses: infertility, abortion, and miscarriage or the loss of a child. The initiative aimed to help those affected by these losses regain confidence, strengthen their resilience, and reintegrate into the local community.

Over a span of ten months, the project rolled out a series of activities. These included awareness campaigns to highlight the project’s goals and the creation of a referral system to connect individuals with necessary services. Additionally, professionals and volunteers received training to assist in implementing the project and delivering the new services. Workshops were also conducted for the professional team to facilitate the sharing of experiences and foster a supportive community among service providers.

A significant component of the project was the provision of mental health support. Psychologists and therapists offered ten free sessions for each couple, providing crucial psychological support during their time of need. Furthermore, group sessions were organised where individuals and couples could share their experiences and challenges, offering mutual support in a structured and empathetic environment.

The project culminated in a conference where the results and successes were shared. This event also served as a platform to present policy recommendations and raise awareness about the new services provided by Dar Ġużeppa Debono, thereby extending the project’s impact and ensuring its contributions to the community were recognised and sustained.

Maria Attard emphasised the crucial role of the volunteers’ hard work in ensuring the sustainability of the house. She highlighted how essential the funding is for the house to meet its objectives. “We constantly strive to better understand the true reality we face, and to address it while maintaining the various programs we offer throughout the year,” she explained.

Maria further reflected on the fundamental human pursuit, saying, “What is man looking for? He is undoubtedly in search of happiness, and to find his dignity through his mission.” This sentiment captures the core philosophy behind their efforts to empower and support individuals in discovering and embracing their life’s purpose.

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