On the 25th of May 2018, FOPSIM organised a training event on the role that arts play in the integration of Migrant people into a foreign society and more specifically into the Maltese society. The event took part in Mosta and it forms part of the activities of the Risk Change project.
Three individuals joined us to share their experience of migrating and integrating into Malta. For some of them coming to Malta was a choice, for some not, but they all agree that it was not an easy process. Our Speakers were Mr. Badereddin Elsaafi, or BeLights as is his stage name, Ms. Heba Al-Shibani, and Ms. Jeni Caruana.
Mr. Elsaafi was born in Libya, however he grew up in New Delhi, India where his parents worked at the time as diplomats. Life in New Delhi was fundamental in Mr. Elsaafi’s life and his main influence for his activities here in Malta. While leaving in New Delhi, he became part of a world where people from different backgrounds, with different cultures and dialects, all searching to make a life in a very crowded capital city. However different the people in New Delhi are, they managed to leave in harmony with each other. In the city of New Delhi there are numerous events taking place in every part of the city on a daily basis. Mr. Elsaafi became part of the Reggae Rajahs an Indian reggae group, which has been his inspiration for his activities in Malta.
Mr. Elsaafi came in Malta in 2013 and has been leaving here since then under the UNHCR Subsidiary Protection Status, as returning to Libya poses a danger to his life. He started the Rootz Island, an online platform that promotes young musicians in Malta. As he says, “I don’t like labelling things”. In other words, although the message of integration and solidarity are part of his activities, it is not explicitly stated like that but is an inseparable part of the activities, as all activities are organised on the basis of non-discrimination and inclusion, not targeting a specific audience, but welcoming anyone who wants to take part. He sees art as a form of therapy that offers relief through art and promotes the dignity of people, like marginalised groups in the society. Music is a universal language that doesn’t have borders. Through reggae, Mr. Elsaafi and his associates promote social values. In the local scene, he sees that arts must be promoted on a national level as it can, not only promote diversity, inclusion and solidarity, but also boost the economy. Apart from the need for national support, he stresses the need for the local communities of Malta to open up and welcome emerging communities, that are a reality for the Maltese society anyway and need to belong in the local sphere as well.
An M.C. himself, he is organising various activities and music events to promote young artists and spread the message of unity. He helps young artists with their music, as well as with their promotion, to make their path. He also organises music events with both recognised and upcoming artists. This helps promote young artists, as well as bring different people together, who can be very different from each other, but find common ground in these events. Mr. Elsaafi also cooperates with Spark15, an organisation organising cultural activities and trainings to promote young people’s participation into education and the society.
Following Mr. Elsaafi’s presentation, Ms. Heba Al-Shibani took the floor. Ms. Al-Shibani is a photographer and journalist, also coming from Libya but with a very different story. Ms. Al-Shibani was born and raised in Libya where she grew to become a TV producer, photographer, and documentary filmmaker. As experienced journalist, Ms. Al-Shibani has worked for various international news channels and agencies. Before fleeing Libya, Ms. Al- Shibani worked at Reuters Libya, where she advocated for women’s rights.
While in Libya, and because of her opinion and activities on sensitive issues, Ms. Al-Shibani received several threats against her life and eventually an attempt. Ms. Al-Shibani received information of an organised attack against her life. As soon as she was informed about it, she and her husband took their –at the time– six-month-old daughter and a handful of personal things, as much as a backpack could fit, and fled the country. Later on, she learned that her home had been raided and destroyed. She has not been able to return since then and keeps communication with her family to the minimum to protect them.
She chose to come to Malta four years ago because of the proximity to her home-country, the similarity in language, and the close cultures. Because of these reasons, she expected that her integration would be easier than elsewhere. Instead, she found herself in a very closed society, where she was rejected. Her failure to successfully integrate led to a severe depression, accompanied by other health issues. She found refuge in photography and through that a renewed determination to become part of the society. Instead of trying to become part of the society, she adopted a different approach. She decided to learn first why she was rejected, to find out what she would have to do to change that. She started talking with people, asking what they were afraid of. Trying to put herself in the position of the Maltese people, leaving in a very small country with small population, the most common reason appears to be the fear to lose their own (the Maltese) integrity as a society. Keeping this in mind, Ms. Al-Shibani started taking steps to become part of the Maltese society.
Ms. Al-Shibany has joined the Malta Photographic Society and using her photographs to tell her story. As she says, compassion, tolerance, persistence and patience is what it takes to become accepted in the society. In her words, “My photography helped me adjust, open up and make connections I never imagined myself making, discover that we have more things in common than things that divide us, and at the end, the good and bad was all part of my journey”. She still uses photography and the social media to “tell stories through the lens and share my experience via social media to encourage more people to join Maltese civil society in an attempt to influence a change of perspective, and to bring the different point of views within the Libyan and Maltese communities closer to each-other, especially since they have a lot in common”. At the same time, she works as a freelance Media & Communication Consultant.
Our last speaker was Ms. Jeni Caruana, an artist from the UK who chose to move to Malta in the late 1970’s because she “fell in love with the country, the sunshine – and a young man who later became my husband”. Ms. Caruana was already an artist when she came in Malta, having completed six years of art studies in the UK. She came in Malta and started a family. She stopped drawing for eight years but when both her daughters entered education, she realised she had a lot of time in her hands and she decided to start drawing again.
Although she is an EU citizen, married to a Maltese and having a Maltese family, with children born and raised in the country, she did not feel accepted in the society. As she started drawing again, she realised that she had to re-teach herself how to do this. This experience motivated her to go out and find inspiration as well as to start teaching adults how to draw. As she believes “If I can learn, anyone can, if they are given the right directions”.
Ms. Caruana, enjoys drawing people in movement as it is fast and therefore does not leave time for the brain to interfere into the creative process. She enjoys drawing in concerts, or dancers while they are practicing. Her initiative of going to classes to draw people while they are training brought her closer to the society. Her teaching and drawing opened a way for her to become part of different social groups and nowadays she represents Malta through her art both nationally and internationally. As she says, “I still feel like a foreigner, but now I see it as a positive feeling”.
The people that attended where all foreigners, both EU and non-EU, leaving and working in Malta. Their participation was either of personal interest or representing the organisations for which they work, or, most commonly, a combination of the two. We, at FOPSIM, would like to thank the people who joined us, and we hope to see you again soon as well as new people who want to participate. We would also like to see Maltese people coming, as we believe it is important to have an open conversation with diversity of opinions. As part of the project Risk Change, we are going to organise more events like this where we hope you will join us. Bellow, you can find some photos from the presentations of our speakers. For more information about the project you can visit riskchange.eu or visit our website at fopsim.eu