The Malta Independent 7 May 2021, Friday

‘We are not going to let COVID-19 keep us from helping mothers’ - Dar Merħba Bik

Jake Aquilina Sunday, 7 February 2021, 10:00 Last update: about 4 months ago

Given that most people were spending more time indoors due to the Covid-19 pandemic, some people who found it to be a challenging experience. As domestic violence reports increased during the time of the pandemic, The Malta Independent spoke to Elaine Pavia, the head of services and administrator at Dar Merhba Bik, which is a Non-Governmental Organisation that offers shelter for female victims of domestic violence and their children.

Dar Merhba Bik was proactive in its efforts to help women face domestic difficulties which were compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The home is where many women seek shelter from abuse in their home. The Covid-19 pandemic made matters more difficult for them, and the home administrators had to find new ways to reach out to them while also adopting protocols established by the health authorities to enable the continuation of services given at the home.


The foundation’s head, Elaine Pavia, noted that all the necessary protocols are followed in order to curb any chance of the virus spreading.

“As of March 2020, we introduced measures for both staff and residents here. During work times, the staff is always with their masks on – which are changed frequently – and even residents while they are in the common areas,” she said.

"We have two homes in the present. Dar Merħba Bik – which is the emergency domestic violence accommodation which hosts 14 families (mothers with children), as well as Dar Santa Bakita, which is a second stage accommodation that hosts 3 families (mothers with children).”

Pavia explained that even when the country was almost in lockdown during the the first wave of the virus – when countries were scrambling to deal with a situation that was spiralling out of control – the non-governmental organisation still made sure to keep in touch with the families which require their service.

"We always kept contact with the mothers through Skype sessions around 1 to 2 times a week according to their needs. Apart from this, the mothers still had access to the therapeutic programme through Skype," Pavia remarked.

"If a mother needs help, and needs temporary shelter due to the abuse that she would be receiving, the mother can call us so we can guide her in order to go to either Aġenzija Appoġġ – which has a sector which deals with domestic violence which would assist her – or else the domestic violence police unit in order to process the necessary reports. Shelter can be provided here as well.” 

Pavia explained that even though the virus is a threat, the foundation still seeks to continue helping such people in need of shelter. They make sure that each individual who arrives there receives the treatment that they need, as well as cater for their bare necessities.

“We are not going to let Covid keep us from helping mothers. A family can come to one of our facilities, we would guide her to her flatlet through a telephone system and internal line that we have, and we see what her needs are and assist her with her basic needs.”

The Dar Merħba Bik head also noted how the process works when one needs shelter during these times.

“Each flatlet has a bedroom, bathroom, and a kitchenette. When the mother (and if there is a child) receive a negative result for Covid-19, they can come out to the common areas and continue with their life normally, as safe as possible,” she remarked.

"We try to anticipate Covid rather than allow it to chase us and tire us out. It's very hard, working against it ... I believe there are a lot of families that need the help but due to Covid, they believe they can’t receive it. It may be because the perpetrator is staying at home more often than not.”

She also observed that it is not only the woman who foes through such precarious situations, and likewise it is not only the man who is the perpetrator.

“It is also good to point out that the perpetrator is not always the man, but any member of the family, such as children, which would stifle one's opportunity to call or go out of the home. I do believe that there are a lot of people out there who need help, but Covid is impeding them from reaching out,” she said.

Apart from physical abuse, there are other forms of abuse, she pointed out. Just because there aren’t any physical marks of abuse does not mean they are not going through some form of abuse, she said.

"Nobody deserves to be abused in any manner. When we mention abuse, a lot of people understand it in different ways. Just because I don't hit you doesn't mean that I don't abuse you with my attitude, words and by keeping control of money. Just because there isn't physical abuse doesn't mean that someone is not abused."

Pavia explained what people need to do to get access to help that Dar Merħba Bik foundation provides.

"People can call us at any given time, our telephones are open 24/7 on 21440035 and there will be staff 24/7 taking their calls. We will guide them accordingly. Apart from this, they can also call Aġenzija Appoġġ, where there is a team of social workers who assist them, or the police as they have a department for domestic violence... we are one team,” she observed.


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