The Malta Independent 29 February 2024, Thursday
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‘I never felt lonely’ – A former orphan’s Christmas experience

Sabrina Zammit Sunday, 2 January 2022, 07:30 Last update: about 3 years ago

The Malta Independent on Sunday met with Antonio Pace, a 28-year-old former resident at the now closed Lourdes home in Ghajnsielem, Gozo.

Antonio does not remember how he spent Christmas during his first years of life because of the trauma that he had to endure. He added that he had only known Christmas as a festive season from age six onwards, after asking his social worker to find him “a home far away from his family”.

Pace said that the sisters at the orphanage organised concerts for the children during the Christmas period, where they felt more like a family as they shared such experiences. Apart from that, there was also a family who decided to foster him in Gozo, where from the age of six to 18 he used to spend Christmas day and several weekends with them.

This is the only family environment he has ever known. To the contrary, many of the children could choose to spend their Christmas holidays with their biological family, even if they did not live with them permanently; this was done on a case-by-case basis.

Recalling events organised by the sisters of the former orphanage in Ghajnsielem, he said that it was not the first time exchanges were held between orphanages, namely with the San Guzepp orphanage in Zabbar. He still remembers when they took them to the Valletta Waterfront for a party and the time the archpriest of the locality organised a party for all the village children, which they also used to attend.

Speaking about the presents they used to receive at the orphanage, he said that usually all children would receive toys based on their gender, not their requests, meaning that girls would receive dolls and boys would get cars. He added that it was not the first time the children exchanged toys. As they got older presents were more in the form of monetary gifts, which the children liked best as they could choose to spend it on something they wanted or save it for some special occasion.

Antonio said that, during this particular festive season, many helpers and volunteers used to help the sisters make sure that they gave these less fortunate children the best experience possible.

Some individuals bullied him at school during his secondary years because he came from an orphanage, yet Pace said the teasing somehow subsided during this festive season.

All in all, Antonio said that when he spent holidays, especially the Christmas holidays, at the orphanage or with the family that fostered him, he never felt like something was missing, and he was never made to feel lonely as that is where he wanted to spend it.

Having been brought up as a humble person, Antonio said that as he grew older he saw his reflection in the younger children when they made requests for toys that the orphanage could not afford.

The sisters acted as parents for the children, but they would sometimes not buy particular presents for the children even if they could afford them, so as not to give the children the idea that they could get anything they wanted just by requesting it.

Knowing that these children’s unfulfilled wishes made them feel defeated, he still felt sorry for them. When he got his first job in a hotel at the age of 16, he used to buy gifts that he could afford for these children, adding that the smile on their faces made it all worthwhile.

Recalling such events, he said that there was a boy, aged 11 that he used to buy gifts for during all the holidays of the year.

Pace said that when comparing this generation of children residents to his own, some values instilled by the sisters still remain the same, and they still value the time spent with each other, even given that now they have access to the internet and technology, which could act as distractions in today’s age.

Nowadays, Antonio finds new ways to celebrate Christmas. Mentioning this year as an example, he said he was very excited to have Christmas lunch with his work colleagues in a simulated family environment.

Looking back he said that although he was unlucky with his biological family, he still respects his parents as they did the right thing in letting him go, recognising that they could not afford another child.

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