The Malta Independent 24 April 2018, Tuesday

Rehabilitation matters to us all – Mgr Karm Farrugia, Caritas

Malta Independent Monday, 16 September 2013, 09:00 Last update: about 5 years ago

Caritas drug rehabilitation services are tailored to firmly deal with addicts’ underlying issues – anger, extreme loneliness, lack of self-control, feelings of inferiority and insecurity. The initial decision to take drugs is voluntary, yet over time the changes in the brain caused by repeated drug abuse affect a person's self-control and ability to make sound decisions, and at the same time create an intense impulse to take drugs.

Clients enter a rehabilitation programme in an intake of four or five people at a time who serve as peers. The group learns to trust each other, be of support and hold one another in check. Through this support structure, as part of a bigger organisation made up of professional staff coupled with individual programmes which clients must follow from morning till night, they work to regain assertiveness, be able to choose between right and wrong and focus on their positive values.

Scientists describe drug addiction as a chronic, often relapsing brain disease that causes compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences to the drug addict and those around them. In rehab, clients are encouraged to face others, express their thoughts and speak aloud while being given ‘New Hope’ – the name of the Caritas drug rehabilitation services.

“They learn to think about others and often at lunch or during Sunday mass, offer their prayers for fellow addicts in rehab, the people they’ve hurt and those they’ve robbed,” Mgr. Farrugia explains. “You have to be close to them to understand the addiction and what they take from rehab”.

Rehabilitation is a great learning curve for all clients during which their different human dimensions including physical, spiritual, socio-legal, psychological and mental aspects are addressed. Bringing the analogy of a damaged plant and a gardener who expertly transfers it to a green house to treat it while sheltering it from the elements, he said many experiences in drug addicts’ life take away all their motivation and confidence. Initially, substances give them relief but soon they become slaves needing harder drugs.

“The damage that occurs is near total and it is when they reach the bottom that they realise they have a problem and seek assistance,” he said.

Remarking on the statistical rise of 34% in drug addicts who sought Caritas assistance between 2004 and 2012, Mgr. Farrugia said this shows more people are seeking help but it is also symptomatic of a growing problem. He sees this as a sign people are finding themselves under stress as a result of more demanding lifestyles. The pressure to achieve in education, coupled with peer pressure, alcohol, changing trends, lifestyles and means of entertainment create their own difficulties.

It is often a disregarded fact that Maltese teenagers are among the most likely to binge drink in Europe. Results of the European School Survey Project 2011 show that Malta ranked second out of 36 EU countries with 56% of respondents saying they binge drink (drinking five or more drinks on one occasion over one month), fractionally below Denmark. The EU average was 39%.

Drunkenness among teenagers over a span of 30 days was 20% for Malta when the EU average was 17%.

Noting that laws exist, Mgr. Farrugia said the problem needs more attention because alcohol abuse can lead to more serious issues, including drug addiction. He also believes the age when youngsters start experimenting with synthetic drugs, which may be easily available, has dropped. Some adolescents start smoking at 11 years and move on to smoking cannabis at 13 years. At times problems are bigger than we think and once hooked, difficulties are compounded for users.

Addiction is a chronic relapsing condition, Mgr. Farrugia explains. Moreover, addicts give up very easily and have like a voice within droning on that they cannot live without drugs. The graduation ceremony at the end of a rehabilitation programme is consequently only symbolic and it does not mean that those who did not make it till the very end, did not benefit from the programme. Some would in fact have achieved a lot despite not ‘graduating’ and for a number of reasons, others would have succeeded and completed the programme but decide not to graduate. It is also not uncommon for users to be in rehab a number of times as they relapse.

It is a must for clients of the Caritas drug rehabilitation programme to be employed before they can leave its residential units. Once the programme is complete, they are encouraged to attend one of its Recovery and After Care Units and the fact that they can enter its gate as changed individuals, gives them a psychological and emotional boost.

Caritas has some 70 employees on full-time and part-time basis who hold individual and group sessions, give aftercare, and follow-up clients by means of phone calls. Mgr. Farrugia is amazed by the amount of work the social workers, carers and therapists carry out despite not having the best salaries. There are also around a 100 volunteers who give a priceless contribution which allows therapists to focus more on the actual needs of recovering addicts.

Drug rehabilitation services take up the majority of Caritas resources and from a total expenditure of €1.4 million annually, €1 million is dedicated to rehab. Last year 694 people sought help and many stop at community services offered. All services are provided to users for free.

Besides rehab services, the NGO offers counselling and social work services, works with victims of usury and has a number of support groups for gamblers, alcoholics, people with emotional issues, widows and widowers, young people, individuals with mental health problems, those suffering from epilepsy and Huntington’s disease and the elderly. Group sessions for their family members are also held. Furthermore, its Community Outreach Services seek to identify individuals and families in need to assist them. Prevention education for children and parents is also carried out.

As part of New Hope – rehabilitation services from substance abuse, Caritas has an Outreach Centre in Floriana where drug users and their families receive support. There situations of users are assessed and with his or her agreement, the user is given direction to start rehabilitation.

The Harm Reduction Shelter at San Blas offers shelter for drug users, who are led towards rehabilitation and the San Blas Therapeutic Community offers male clients a full rehabilitation programme including residential, semi-residential and non-residential services. Similarly, Dar il- Vittorja in Birkirkara is a residential setting for women. A prison inmates’ programme is also offered at another residential setting in Bahar ic-Caghaq and recently, an evening rehabilitation programme for people who cannot attend residential programmes due to particular commitments, has started to be offered.

Caritas has reacted to developing social issues and created services according to needs. While Mgr. Farrugia feels the services are sufficient, he believes some need to be updated. The financial challenge is always an issue for Caritas since as a non-profit organisation it does not have funds available from year to year. Despite receiving state-funding, it is barely not making ends meet.

Expenses are on the rise and salaries have to be paid. In recent years, it had to resort to a bank loan to be able to pay salaries but this too has to be paid. The idea behind the Caritas Trail is therefore to raise funds from those who would like to join the Caritas family while creating awareness on the social issues and the services offered.

Caritas fears a time will come when people knock on its doors and it would not be able to give the necessary services. However, it is determined to fight this and rather than compete with other NGOs, raise its profile through activities that can be held.

Another challenge is the fast paced world and frequently changing lifestyles. While this results in progress, problems also occur as a consequence. Bringing the example of the financial crises that affected the world, Mgr. Farrugia noted this has created social pressure and although not affected as negatively as other countries, Malta is not immune.

When it comes to poverty, although one can notice that restaurants and shops would be full and making profits, statistics also show that not everyone is doing well.

“These people must be identified and offered assistance,” Mgr. Farrugia emphasised – a duty in line with Caritas’ mission statement: “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt: 25: 40).

The human being is limited but this is something we are often afraid to admit, he said. Education needs to be focused on empowerment, solidarity and the fact that no one can achieve full potential alone.

In the recent past, Caritas has also acquired EU funds mainly for staff and volunteer training. A total of 20 volunteers were selected to take a job experience in Italy while through another project, rehab professionals will be participating in an exchange programme in Germany. Though they would like to maximise more on the potential of such funding, identifying programmes for which Caritas is eligible and preparing the necessary documentation is time consuming, to say the least. As a result of limitations, such initiatives are often managed by volunteers.

Caritas Malta is also associated with Caritas organisations all over Europe and thanks to these connections, it will be working with a fellow NGO in the Bavaria region of Germany over the next two years, to study services offered in the EU.

Discussing limitations, Mgr. Farrugia noted Caritas would like to find another residential setting for the female programme explaining that the house being used in Birkirkara is far from ideal. While San Blas is situated in the countryside, in the limits of Zebbug, consequently offering a therapeutic and peaceful setting, Dar il- Vittorja is amid the community and this creates particular challenges.

Stigma at times hinders Caritas from acquiring a better location. Stigma against drug addicts is very strong as a result of their chaotic lifestyles which create fear in family members, the extended family, the street they live in and at the work place.

Recovering addicts are aware of this and once they gain trust at their place of work they would be very happy when they start to be trusted with the company’s vehicle, money or to supervise staff members. Stigma also affects fund raising however, when people are invited to a rehab centre, their perspective is changed after meeting addicts in rehab and understanding they are human beings with feelings and insecurities.

Fear that emanates from stigma also hinders addicts in rehab to find employment and for some individuals, it is much more difficult than others to find employment. Caritas professionals meanwhile support them throughout.

Over the coming days, recovering addicts have a new sense of purpose and the challenge to carry out the necessary works ahead of the Caritas Trail.

While San Blas, where the activity will end, is always kept in top notch condition, thanks to the work of residents supervised by staff, the upkeep is now being extended to its environs. Decorations and signs also need to be put up.

Residents are looking forward to the event and some will also be making a contribution. This in itself gives them a feeling of belonging as well as satisfaction.

“This is the beauty of the Caritas family – you see cooperation from within,” Mgr. Farrugia said.



Mgr. Karm Farrugia was ordained priest 36 years ago, coincidentally, the same year when Caritas Malta was established.

He served at the Parish Church dedicated to St George in Qormi and later as parish priest in Ghaxaq, Zejtun and Zurrieq up to 2006, when the archbishop asked him to assume responsibilities of Caritas Assistant Director.

Besides administrative duties, he helps in rehabilitation programmes as a priest by supporting staff members and holding rehabilitation groups with residents on a weekly basis.



Caritas Trail is an activity consisting of a walk, a jog or a cycle mainly in the environs of Zebbug Dingli and Rabat.

The walk will take about 35 minutes departing from near St Dorothy’s School and parking will be available near Cortis Timber in Zebbug. Joggers will depart from near the Chapel dedicated to Mary Magdalene in Dingli toward San Blas while the cycling trail is from Dingli cliffs to Rabat, the Mtarfa by-pass, Ta’ Qali, Attard, and Zebbug towards San Blas.

Activities will come to an end at around 11.15am and refreshments as well as goody bags will be given.

The application may be downloaded  from, and registration against a fee of €10 can be done by means of BOV internet banking services or at one of the BOV or Maltapost branches. T-shirts will be given on a first come first serve basis.

Caritas is encouraging individuals, families, friends, NGOs, companies and social groups to join in. The two Zebbug band clubs will also be participating.

Caritas Trail is part of Caritas Week to be held between 27 September and 5 October. A mass for the elderly will be held as well as a visit to refugees, and an experience with auxiliary bishop Charles J. Scicluna at the Corradino Correctional Facility.

Smile with Caritas, to be held as part of Notte Bianca activities on 5 October, will close the week. The event will be held at The Palace courtyard, in Valletta featuring the character Mr Smiley, with the aim of promoting a positive approach to life.

Donations to Caritas can also be made on SMS numbers; 5061 9211 (€11.65), 5061 8914 (€6.99), 5061 8074 (€4.66) and 50617354 (€2.33).





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