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Santa comes late for homeless twins

The twins playing on their new PS2 console at the YMCA shelter. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

The twins playing on their new PS2 console at the YMCA shelter. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Sitting on a pink blanket, the twins could barely wait as the Playstation console loaded the action game Tekken. A few seconds later they were so absorbed that nothing could drag them away from the television set.

Their father, Ali*, looked on lovingly, content that his girls had received something he had wanted to buy himself but had not yet saved up enough money.

The Playstation 2 is one of four consoles donated by generous families who were touched by the plight of Ali and his two seven-year-old girls, featured last week in The Sunday Times.

Ali, 30, ended up at Dar Niki Cassar, YMCA's shelter for the homeless in Valletta, after his abusive wife insisted he leave their home and "get her rid of the girls", so that she could move in with her new boyfriend.

He had started working night shifts, between 2 and 6 a.m., so he could take care of the girls full-time and give them some form of security.

Seeing the girls so happy, he found it hard to describe his feelings of gratitude.

One of the Playstations donated came with a letter to the twins from a father that will soften any hardened heart: "Enjoy the Playstation. Please don't fight over it OK! May God bless you with a beautiful year... When my children heard that you wanted a PS2 they immediately packed it in a bag so that they could bring it to you..."

Ali was overwhelmed when the YMCA Homeless staff presented him with four Playstations. Believing that one good turn deserved another, he kept one and donated the remaining three to the YMCA, which in turn distributed them to the other families in the shelter, who were over the moon.

As 2007 drew to a close, Ali had felt disillusioned with his state of affairs and his one wish was to be able to afford a small home for himself and his girls, a place that he could call their own and where nobody had the power to kick them out.

His wish has been answered, because after reading the article, Housing Authority chairman Marisa Micallef called YMCA Homeless chairman Jean Paul Mifsud to get things rolling to provide this family with a home.

"I saw the story in the paper and immediately set about seeing how the authority can help. I'm very happy it's worked out - it's so rare to see such a devoted father," she said.

Meanwhile, Mr Mifsud, happy at the news, said this clearly showed that people benefitted when the authorities and NGOs worked together.

Mr Mifsud said he was moved by the generosity of the Maltese who donated more than €465 (over Lm200) through SMSs after reading The Sunday Times story, despite the fact that the article appeared the day after the marathon fund-raising campaign L-Istrina.

"A big thank-you to all those who come forward to help in whatever way they can whenever they are made aware that such realities exist among us," he added.

However, nobody was happier than Ali and the girls: "I was so touched by the feedback. People's kindness really filled me with a lot of courage to go on," he said.

"I thank everybody from the bottom of my heart for everything. I was never expecting such a reaction. I have finally found people who believe me. All too often people refuse to accept I'm telling the truth because I'm Libyan," he said.

Ali had faced difficulties when his wife accused him of kidnapping the girls and beating her. The police had deported him. It took a long time for people to accept the mother was not interested in her family and she even signed a police document relinquishing custody of her children to Ali.

As he prepared dinner for his girls in the common area of Dar Niki Cassar - a stir-fry of meat and vegetables and eggs - Ali reflected on the year ahead.

"I felt things couldn't get worse. I'm so happy now that things are falling in place and we can finally get our life back on track."

Those who wish to help YMCA Homeless and pledge year-round support, or would like more information may visit www.ymcahomeless.org or call 2122 8035. To make a donation of Lm2 (€4.66), send an SMS to 5061 8088, or for Lm5 (€11.65), send an SMS to 5061 9212.

* Names have been changed to protect the people's identity.

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