Finding the smile hidden in the anger #donotletthemdrown #allivesmatter

    Aaliyah came to Malta in search of a better life. He escaped war and threat and as hard as it was for him having his family scattered around the world, his parents wanted him to be safe.

    Nevertheless, until he found his feet Aaliyah became homeless and we welcomed him at Dar Niki Cassar so that he could start to rebuild his life with our help. He soon settled in but mostly kept to himself. He was always seen with his mobile close at hand and it was a little difficult to engage with him at first as he seemed angry and at times was even disrespectful towards staff members. Living in a residential setting this is taken very seriously and no matter how much he was corrected for his behaviour his hostility remained.

    Understanding that there was a language barrier and that Aaliyah had brought a wealth of pain with him, we did not give up on him. Instead, we decided to increase the amount of support he was given through increased sessions with team members. Language barriers were discussed and clarified and we soon found a way of communicating which increased understanding between us drastically. We learned more about the root of his anger and how he felt misunderstood and then together we worked on ways that Aaliyah could express this anger in a way that did not continue to alienate him. The moment he trusted that we wanted to understand and help was such a turning point for Aaliyah! As he slowly refined these social skills, he was given acknowledgment and recognition for his accomplishments and his whole demeanor started to change.

    We spent time with Aaliyah helping him to also engage more with the other residents, through group activities and within a short space of time he had such a sense of belonging that he started to refer to the other residents as family. His outbursts stopped altogether and without these distractions, we were more focused on working on Aaliyah’s goals to move on to independent living. We helped him enroll in free weekly English lessons which boosted his confidence enormously and then after preparing a CV we helped him to start seeking employment.

    This does not mean to say that his worries disappeared and the team will vividly remember moments like when his mobile phone broke. This was a main cause of concern to Aaliyah as this was his only mode of communication with his family and he would rather not eat than risk not touching base with his family to see that they were safe. The moment he received news that his nephew had been severely injured in a bombing in his home country was again such a striking moment. As a team, we did not have the ability to take away this reality for Aaliyah, but we were able to support him and give him a platform to share his feelings as opposed to internalizing them. He would often approach a team member, needing to talk about an incident and this seemed to offer him some sense of relief.

    This complete turnaround in his approach enabled him to continue to flourish. He ate with the other residents every day, helped at every given opportunity,  started working, started saving money and nowadays he is living in a shared apartment with another of our other ex-residents. He continues to maintain contact, help and meet up with other residents and this emphasizes the importance that the community spirit at ‘Dar Niki Cassar’ had on Aaliyah’s future. Where he had no local social support network, one was now created. He visits us all on a weekly basis armed with a beaming smile which reminds us of the importance of understanding someone’s behavior and not judging it!

    Escaping on a boat, risking one’s own life and having your family scattered all over the world to escape war is a message that should make us think prior we judge, criticize and shut down completely our hearts.

    Dar Niki Cassar is a YMCA residential facility for homeless individuals, families, and children experiencing homelessness and rooflessness. Visit the YMCA Malta website for more information about their services. You may send a blank message on 50619212 for a donation of €11.65.

    This is part of a series of blogs by YMCA Malta called Homeless but Hopeful