The Woman Behind – SOS Malta – Claudia Taylor East


Full transcript of the interview is below:

Monique: Welcome to the woman behind with me Monique Chambers and this week’s guest is Claudia Taylor East who is the chairman of SOS Malta.
So SOS Malta is a charity and what does SOS Malta do ?

Claudia: Well SOS Malta is a registered organization which obviously is registered with the voluntary organizations commissioner and we are a multi faceted organization. We work on four main pillars namely Overseas Development where SOS Malta responds to humanitarian crisis is that works at emergency level but also goes into countries with development assistance.

We’ve had Myanmar, Haiti, we’ve responded to tsunami, to Libya, Uganda and Nepal three years ago. So we have extensive programs running but not forgetting how we started in 1991, when we operated under SOS Albania, this was a huge call from Mother Teresa to Lillian Miceli Fallujah who was the chairman of the International co workers of Mother Teresa and Mother Teresa asked us to support the building of a home for the handicapped and we had a massive appeal which was ginormous, I would say with a container on the ground or is and instead of sending one container. It ended up with 13 containers wow and a shipload of humanitarian aid and in those days Italy was operating the commerce Yani Pellicano so they came in the army came in and it was a whole national effort with a huge amount of money collected. And today we can say that there’s still a middle school in Albania running and managed by the Maltese museum community and a palliative care center. And that brings me to the development of palliative care, which I had been so involved in for 12 years in Malta, and I combined SOS, Malta in setting up a whole program in Albania. And today, I’m still honorary president of the National Albanian Association.

Monique: Okay.

Claudia: So it was interesting to see the development also in Eastern Europe and Malta played a major role actually through the Institute of healthcare in those days which today is the Faculty of Health Sciences. And it was them who had come to train the nurses and to introduce liquid morphine to Albania which they didn’t have.

Monique: I see. Okay

Claudia: So the threshold of pain was quite high and very high I would say because they had no pain control whatsoever. So Malta was instrumental in giving the Albanians health professionals the exposure to pain and symptom control through the hospice movement here in Malta.

And our pillar today, in fact, we’re working so it’s Malta working in their part where we have the renovation and reconstruction of the village up in the Himalayas and Gatling which was totally destroyed through the earthquake.

And we have a wonderful food program for children in Uganda where through the corporate partnership we feed over 3000 children a day and have rolled out more than a million meals a day.

Monique: Fantastic !

Claudia: And that is a continuous program with meals for a meal, the company sells meals and for every meal they sell, they will feed a child in Africa. And it was great that we were chosen to partner with the company and feed the children on our projects with the schools in Africa.

Because also, we’ve had a huge program on rainwater harvesting, bringing clean potable water to schools and instead of children having to walk seven kilometres to get a jerrycan of water and have to carry the heavy load. At least now they’re just having to carry their school books and have the clean water which has brought less illness, cleanliness, and also the livestock and all the vegetables that the schools grow to feed the children which was a great pain for them to do without water.

Our second pillar is social solidarity. This is the reason why SOS Malta works on four pillars. Its because in 2004, when we joined the European Union, we took a strategic decision because of the opportunities NGOs have for funding via the commission. And we strategically positioned ourselves to be able to benefit and learn as much as possible, all the funding mechanisms and all the calls and what project cycle management was all about. And also to introduce a very robust financial management system within our organization. I mean today, I would call ourselves running the organization like a small company, and not a charity at all. And we’re project based. So this is where our social solidarity pillar started to engage with the commission and engage on a level we had never done before. It was a whole learning exercise for us. But we took the risk, we employed the right people. And today I can say and proudly say that the team we have built and the infrastructure we have built within the organization has led us to be running projects like Same difference for the integration of migrants working very closely with the migrant population in Malta to see how the Maltese can get to know the migrant, change their perspectives about the migrants.

And we had a wonderful program on bullying and doing research. Does bullying really exists in our schools? What should we be doing? What can we do to help the teachers and what can we do to help the parents and the children themselves. So that led us to restorative practices and going into partnerships with them cast to set up an online course that’s also very importantly, I think, for our organization is for social solidarity. is something we are really quite amazed in how it’s gone off the ground.

But10 years ago, the ex Commissioner for children had come to speak to Lillian which alien myself in our boardroom and was very worried about children coming from separated families and the trauma that children were going through because of the separations and asked us what can you do for me, how can you help us ?

Monique: You’re the angels, you’re known as the angels.

Claudia: So I brought in one of our employees, young employees who, unfortunately, he himself had gone through and the trauma of a family breakup and went through some very difficult and hard days. And I just asked him one simple question, what would you have liked when you were going through the bad times? And he said, I would have really wanted to communicate via email. I said, Well, can you go into some research, and sure enough, we came up with child helpline International, who had just started exploring and online counseling and online support.

Monique: Okay.

Claudia: So, of course, with creativity and my innovative mind, I got the staff and said, fine, we must go ahead with something like this and let’s see what we can do. So we brought the church, the government and the NGOs together and created a partnership to see how we can push this forward. And that’s when was born.

Today, of course, is the gatekeepe I would say, for many people’s issues, problems. And unfortunately, we are having to deal with some very serious issues, from suicide to abuse to a simple peer relationship or family relationship issue. And we had into 2017, we had 8300 users coming in online.

Monique: Wow, that’s quite someting.

Claudia: It is quite something. And mental health is an issue which we are having to deal with every day. And there are gaps. It’s a learning process. But it’s a wonderful support system that we are giving. And today, we are seeing that was launched and set up for youth. However, we do have space and people are coming in who are much older than the youth benchmark of 35 years.

And here it will be interesting to mention, because of this one woman’s program to that the woman is finding it difficult on the workplace with all the stress related issues and working at home andwork life balance. So this is where I can eliminate it coming in. And we are trying to encourage the employer to use can kellimni to get their employees to come in on kellimni so we can give them the support for them to be more productive on the workplace, but also for this national support service to be seen as something which can further develop and be a central point in people’s lives.

Monique: So when people have a problem, whatever the problem is, they’re they’re writing in and somebody is there to listen firstly, and able to help themm give them advice.

Claudia: It’s running now, 24 seven because we have a public social partnership with the government and the government has recognize the immense potential also of the service and, of course, it’s run by professionals. So you have psychologists, psychotherapists, and also the service provision is all so if there’s anybody who needs psychological support, we are really there 24 seven for them during the night, anytime.

Monique: Fantastic

Claudia: So has been presented overseas too and there are many countries who are looking at our system. And I would say Malta is one of the four countries in the world who has such a wonderful system like us.

Monique: So to many people, you know, to make a phone call would be quite difficult in some scenarios, but everybody’s on their phones emailing and texting, and whatever. So this is about behavior. Yeah, so people

And I think the most important aspect of is the fact that it’s anonymous and confidential.

Monique: Okay.

Claudia: So nobody can need identify themselves, but can benefit from the therapeutic conversation that they’re having with our therapists. Of course, I will add here that if it’s an emergency crisis situation of suicide, or anybody who the professional would feel anybody’s risking their life. And then of course, we would definitely ask for identification to try and help the patient or the service user in a most beneficial way.

Monique: So services in Maltese and in English ?

Claudia: No, no, just means speak to us. So it’s the in fact when we were discussing to set up kellimni in Libya after the revolution, but obviously, because of the security issues, we haven’t been able to go there. And they wanted to call it Bay New Bay Neck between us

which was quite interesting. So it was fun. And a couple of weeks ago, I presented kellimni in Serbia, because of the huge campaign they have, because of child abduction in Serbia, you know. So that was some thing interesting to to see how online and the digital world we’re living in is going to be something quite extraordinary for all structures of society.

Monique: The fantastic thing is you getting all of this information, I don’t want to put this in the right way that your, your understanding the issues within the community that because of the power that you guys have, you can hopefully get the government and whoever else to be able to address these trends that are arising like mental health, etc.

Claudia: Absolutely, I think civil society sector is such an important sector and sometimes is not given the importance that it should be given. Having said that, we are change makers, because we are creative, we are innovative. And I’ve come up with a very current example of the free transport which we launched in Sliema last year to take the elderly from A to B with a small car and did it in collaboration with St. James hospital and mobility scooters today, because we don’t have mobility scooters. But with mobility scooters, we need good pavements and we need roads, so that’s when we push up. But now it’s great after we started Sliema, we find that government has initiated three projects with tuk tuks in three different localities. And Pieta is going to have a van to take around and yesterday now Shah launched their point to point transport which we help them out with too. So you know, what you said is absolutely correct. I mean, even human rights, people tend to forget that we are obliged to know what our rights are, and where we are violating human rights.

And that’s where the third section comes in. To be keep reminding everybody that there are human rights, we need to defend that our responsibilities that we need need to have in ourselves. So I think, as an NGO, and we need to be really on guard and coming out and not being afraid of saying the right.

I mean, I’m cautious, you know, I’m cautious. And obviously, with the experience that I have, I mean, I would probably use my head more than my heart in a lot of situations. However, it’s I think, extremely important for the third sector to be developed. I mean, in a democracy, you always want a healthy developed civil society to be able to be

dealing with issues which obviously governments do not want to take on.

Monique: Yeah, we do have to rely on the the general public as well in that scenario.

Claudia: Absolutely and I think this is where then we have our training and research pillar, but a very important pillar, which is really angry is the philosophy of, so it’s more those are volunteering pillar. And today, I rather talk about active citizenship than volunteering, because volunteering in itself is yes, you’re doing something for the benefit of others, however, we all need to do something for the benefit of others. And for me, active citizenship is just that, how can we create these role models which we need for our youth, which I think and I believe now, at my mature age, I would say we are lacking role models in our country. And we need our youth to be looking up to the right people to be able to push our society forward, and to be a strong cohesive society and not a society with all this hate that we have. In fact SOS Malta has been instrumental in introducing hate speech programs.

Monique: Okay

Claudia: Hate speech is a crime. We cannot be dealing with people unkindly. Have we forgotten what kindness is ? have we forgotten what happiness is? I mean, I look back in my childhood, we were very happy. Today SOS Malta is running workshops on happiness. Why should we be running workshops on happiness ?

Monique: It’s really sad that you have to conduct wokshops on happiness. Because you think you look at the times and what people had and had not, then now, you absolutely should be completely the other way around.

Claudia: Yes so we have these discussions with my staff, you know, to see how then there’s another area we’re working very diligently on and that’s the Sustainable Development Goals.

Monique: Okay

Claudia: How are we promoting them through our projects, but trying to engage the business sector and the local councils in sustainable development? Can we be more aware how our organizations or how are our daily lives contributing towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals? I remember way back in 2010, when we had the Millennium Development Goals, which were not ours, they were development country’s development goals and 4% knew they existed in Malta. How many know that the Sustainable Development Goals need to be achieved ? Agenda 2030 ? How interested are people? Are we only interested in ourselves?

Monique: Yes, I mean, unfortunately, it’s a bit like that.

Claudia: This is the huge way I think that each and every one of us should be trying to delve into to see how we can better our society. But then of course with the volunteering, I think the program we have we have running at the hospital is a really good practice. I mean, we’re so proud of each and every one of our volunteers. We are giving nearly 3000 hours of voluntary work to the hospital every month

Monique: So is that nurses volunteering or is that regular people ?

Claudia: No, no regular regular regular people, again, all starters of society and it’s amazing how the population has responded to VolServ and how VolServ has become synonymous with the hospital.

Monique: Ah The People in The Orange ?

Claudia: Yes. So that is a small initiative of SOS Malta 12 years ago, it’s still going strong. And again, it’s a partnership with the Ministry of Health and we work very closely with the management of the hospital. And I think today the hospital wouldn’t do without volunteering.

Monique: So what do the volunteers actually do in case anybody else’s interested to volunteer ?

Claudia: Well there are various roles I mean, and it’s not only coffee and tea, which they are distributing. But there are roles of hairdressing there arose of reading to patients, there’s clerical work, there’s cooking with patients, there’s a lot being done in the psychiatric ward, for instance, with cooking with the palliative care award. So it’s great what roles are created according to the needs of the hospital, the patients first and foremost and their families. We never take over the management of patients but obviously work alongside the families and the patient’s themselves and the professionals. What was really important for VolServ was that the people who are when we moved from St. Louis, because we actually started in St. Louis so we were very involved in the move to Marta dei. And then of course VolServ was instrumental in guiding the Maltese people coming to the hospital of where they had to go.

Monique: Yes, because it’s huge.

Claudia: Absolutely so VolServ is fine. And then we have the national program for Valletta 2018, where we have the volunteers of Tal- Kultura. Malta never had a task force of volunteers for culture so SOS

Malta was asked to set up this task force. And to partner with Valletta 2018 Foundation, which we have done.

Today we have a fantastic task force. We’ve responded with volunteers for every event of this year in 2018 and then we’re definitely going to be seeing what’s going to become of the Star Sports, what legacy are we going to leave behind for this task force of volunteers and the infrastructure that we have set up and who’s going to take it over ? who’s going to manage it ?

Monique: Because you can see, like you’re saying about being good citizens, and this Task Force could be used to actually go around educating and it’s not just children it’s everybody.

Claudia: No no and the Task Force can carry on and being managed for cultural events in Malta. I mean, it’s been a huge experience for many of them. We’ve had huge amount of nationalities, the foreigners coming in, to support and to attend and to help on the events. So Tal- Kultura we feel needs to leave the legacy and the infrastructure needs to be taken over. And we’ve also started health care centers.

Monique: Really ? Wow !

Claudia So we are trying to develop now volunteering in health care centers. We’re still at the development stage to see the right roles for the citizens in the health center. How can the citizens feel that they own the health center? How can they feel that they should be part of a health center ?

When I was trying to launch VolServ, I had to go through I don’t know how many ministers how many chairman of the foundation for medical services before they actually because they used to say, but it’s a government hospital, people won’t come to a government hospital. And I’d say it’s not government, it’s our hospital. We’re paying for it without taxes. Yeah, it’s people’s hospital

So it was great that when we were marketing VolServ, I used to come out on TV and radio and say, it’s your hospital and health centers, our centers, so how can we give for the benefit of others, if people have time, you know, we have muster power and Floriana, and here, I will appeal on this program, you know, from these districts, we need to engage with our health centers this and to help the staff to give a better service to each and every one of them who’s coming.

Monique: And you can actually see it having a role in society. And it’s the reverse always because you find a lot of people you do people who have retired or a bit lonely, absolute gives them actually something to feel valuable again to go and have a chit chat with someone so that they’re not on their own all day. But they’re also helping someone who’s recognized.

Claudia: Exactly and that’s what volunteering is all about and then, of course, we’re in a very privileged position as SOS Malta to be the fund operator for the Norwegian and Linton Stein and Iceland grants.

Monique: What are they behind ?

Claudia: Okay now, this is very interesting. We applied six years ago and were appointed. So we have money to give to grant to other NGOs. So obviously, we have to set up a whole internal system for this which quite some time, but which benefited the organization because now we have a fantastic operational management structure within the organization. And we bid again last year and have been reappointed as fund operators.

Monique: Congratulations.

Claudia: And interestingly, after all I’ve been talking about is that it’s going to be called the Active Citizens Fund.

Monique: Great. So that’s exactly what it does.

Claudia: So we are delighted with the name of the fund we’re going to have 750,000 euros to manage this fund. And we will be in 2019 launching a pre determined project which we felt we need in our country. And again, we’re going to online and to see how we can engage the citizens in the active citizens laboratory online laboratory.

Monique: Okay

Claudia: What is it going to be ? It’s going to be developed with an active citizens forum, which is going to be there for citizen journalism, media literacy, critical thinking, it will be run also by a board of experts. So NGOs will be able to ask the experts for their advice. Any citizen who has a particular issue be it environmental beach, be it scocial, be it health which they feel they need to move an issue, let’s move it together. Let’s bring it online.

Monique: People power.
Claudia: Exactly. So let’s bring it online and make sure that this hub

is going to work. It’s going to be quite an innovative project. Monique: Absolutely.

Claudia: And when when we came out with it, the financial mechanism office and Norway themselves were looking at it with great interest. And I think we’ve put together a really interesting initiative, which we hope that the NGOs themselves, which will be

really part and parcel of the pre determined will network together to make our voices heard on particular issues which are affecting quality of life for the citizen. So then, of course, there will be projects which the NGOs can submit, to SOS, Malta, for funding, which again, is a huge structure that we’ve had to build with guidelines and applications. So that’s another hat we have, I think we’re the only NGO in Malta, which distributes funds, right, which actually has gives out, you know, and not just receives funds. So we are certified also. We reached certification and the commission two years ago I think i twas two years ago, launched the EU aid volunteer programs they had a huge budget to train hosting and sending volunteers for deployment on humanitarian missions. And we joined a consortium via the Commission’s funding, and actually went through a whole self assessment of the organization and had to rewrite and write new policies to be able to reach certification. And we are again the first organization that has reached EU a volunteer as a sending organization certification.

Monique: That’s great, because it’s really important for people to know that an NGO is proper, that it’s not just not dismissing anyone who runs there around the kitchen table but the size of the scope, the scale that you know things actually will have happen if you put that way

Claudia: We are quite, I would say, a practice to other NGOs. We were two volunteers when we started in 1991 million machete viral john myself as founding members with our board, because we obviously have a board however, from literally two volunteers, this has grown now steadily and slowly into something which we are really proud of. Because, I mean, it hasn’t been okay. I’ve led I’ve steered it but I’ve had a good team with me, and I still have a good team with me and I make sure I always have it with me. So if I drop dead so I can carry on. I mean, I can leave tomorrow. But it’s wonderful to see the history behind SOS Malta, you know, all the work we’ve done in Kosovo, all the work in Albania which is still up

and running, in Sri Lanka after tsunami, all the livelihood recovery that we’ve done. I mean, the track record is rather interesting for the country as a whole. And we are Ambassadors when we are abroad. I mean, Albania and Croatia, in Malta was never knows and Albania always votes for Malta.

Monique: Oh in the European Union yeah thank you very much for that. [Laughs]

Claudia: And it’s because Malta had played a major role. And during the cost of Kosovo crisis, Malta played a major role. We were the leading NGO in Croatia in court in the southeast region. So it’s amazing.

You know, when I look back I say, Did I really, was I really involved on that level ? You know, going through mines, three days after the war and after NATO had bombed, we went into Kosovo there I was. And because I was with the hospice movement in those days, too. And I there was this huge beautiful field of sunflowers and the sunflower being the symbol of hospice and I wanted to take a photograph and I jumped into the field and I get this UN car coming by screaming at me ; There are mines ! There are mines ! Get out of there. So we’ve had all this and I say, gosh, I’m still alive. We did risk our lives. You know, during all we did in Albania, Kosovo, Sri Lanka, with everything devastating, the earthquake in Nepal three years ago. I mean, you’re in your hotel bed, and the hotel is absolutely shaking with all the aftershocks. But I mean, what do you do? Do you let these people die?

Monique: No. Absolutely not.

Claudia: I mean, we can bring them aid to them. This is why I think our certification has helped us do we’ve looked into our security

policies very vigorously now and to prepare any of our volunteers who we deploy, you know that they are really trained and probably briefed and debrief afterwards to make sure that they are not risking their life and going into any danger zone wihout the do’s and don’ts.

Monique: We need you to help us. Claudia: Exactly.

Monique: It’s been absolutely fascinating talking to Claudia Taylor, east from SOS, Malta, and numerous numerous charities prior to that. Thank you for joining us on lagging behind.

Claudia: Thank you.

Avatar photo
Monique Chambers

Monique started succeed in 2018 and indulge in 2011. She has published two apps; Indulge Me GIFT and Indulge Me FOOD and volume 1 of The Artists Directory - Malta, as well as an audio book, Table 7. A PR and Marketing professional by trade with a Masters in Entrepreneurship, Monique's passion is to promote local talent and Malta in general.