Walk against intolerance
The Integra Foundation has been spurred to organise a walk for peace to give people the chance to say a loud, clear 'no' to any form of intolerance.
The walk, themed 'Together Against Hatred and Discrimination', is being held on December 12, from the Christ the King monument in Floriana (by Le Meridien Phoenicia Hotel), at 5.30 p.m.
"For too long the silent majority has stood by and allowed individuals to spout their hatred under the guise of freedom of speech and Christianity. Instead of bringing the Maltese together, prejudice and discrimination are pushing us apart," foundation coordinator Maria Pisani said.
Together with co-founder Shaun Grech, Ms Pisani launched the initiative that is being supported by all three political parties - Clyde Puli was present at the press conference for the Nationalist Party; Marie Louise Coleiro for the Malta Labour Party, and Ralph Cassar for Alternattiva Demokratika. Xarabank host Peppi Azzopardi and Super 1 TV presenter Alfred Zammit were also present, among others.
The foundation (www.integrafoundation.org) insisted that the walk was not solely centred on the issue of refugees and asylum-seekers, but sought to address marginalised populations across the board - from the gay community, persons with disabilities, the sick and the elderly.
"This walk does not push forward any ideology or belief, instead it puts human beings at the forefront of our agenda. A person's dignity comes before any ideology, organisation, religion or belief," foundation representative Mario Gerada said.
The foundation is a non-profit organisation working to lobby for and facilitate the psycho-social integration of all marginalised groups into mainstream society.
Mr Grech said that apart from the walk, the foundation was working to achieve concrete results and it will be submitting a set of proposals to MPs, calling for provisions in the law that penalise any hate-motivated crime and hate-related speech.
"We have to ensure that whoever spreads hatred is not allowed to get away with it. Integra takes a firm stand and makes it clear that no excuse or reason is good enough to hate, marginalise and prevent any individual from fulfilling his or her own potential and living a wholesome life in our community," he said.
Mr Grech pointed out that each day individuals were isolated in some way. He cited as an example the fate of a young blind girl whose Braille teacher was leaving the island and there was, as yet, no replacement. It could be a gay person or a refugee who had to endure verbal or physical abuse.
Mr Azzopardi, who also coordinates the annual fund-raising event L-Istrina, said that once again the committee had agreed to allocate a small percentage of the money raised towards refugee services.
"Last year we were criticised for allocating one per cent to the Jesuit Refugee Service. This year we still plan to donate to similar organisations, at the risk of collecting less - yet this is the right decision," he insisted.
Mr Azzopardi also stressed the need for education in schools and then it was importanct that teachers became aware that in this day and age many children do not come from a traditional family.
Mr Zammit touched on the problem of irregular migrants and said it was sad to see people attacking the person, as opposed to the problem.
Mr Puli spoke on the need for education on diversity to start at home. He mentioned that foreign television programmes included the participation of children of different races and suggested that this could be the first step towards getting the message across.
Ms Coleiro advised the foundation not to succumb to those who disagreed with their philosophy and to stand tall in the face of adversity. This was the only way to succeed in achieving their goals.
Meanwhile, Mr Cassar said that nobody should be allowed to capitalise on ignorance through simplistic arguments of fear.
The foundation called on all those who wanted to dispel any form of discrimination or hatred to join them on their walk. People were encouraged to bring a candle along.