Caring for Carers

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a complex, progressive, neurodegenerative condition affecting around 10 million people worldwide. But for every person directly struggling with PD, there is at least one carer, if not an entire family, dedicated to managing the disease. Are we doing enough to support these silent heroes? Cassi Camilleri asks.

‘I’m extremely anxious about her balance. Since the diagnosis, it’s been a constant nightmare because of the risk of falling and getting hurt. In reality, it’s only now that it’s started to become slightly affected,’ says Mildred Atanasio. 

Mildred’s mother Rita was diagnosed with PD some years back after her husband passed away. One evening, Rita picked up one of her favourite novels for an evening read and noticed a tremor in her hand.  

‘The worst part is when she tells me that all is ok and lovingly attempts to disguise a PD-caused stumble as something less worrying,’ Mildred continues. 

‘She does this out of love, we know. She is worried about being a burden on me or my siblings, an idea which cannot be further from the truth. We all love her just the way she is. But this, coupled with my own fear and worry is rather draining… though I think sometimes my mind is worse than the actual symptoms.’

Though her experience is unique in many ways, the feeling of anxiety Mildred goes through is one she shares with many others. 

The task of caring for another human being requires time and energy. According to the European Parliament Interest Group on Carers (EPIGC), carers spend an average of 22 hours per week providing for their loved ones. Even when this is done willingly and with love, without the right support network, it can leave carers susceptible to significant strains on their own physical, mental, and emotional health.

The same research by the EPIGC reveals that a third of carers lack sleep and feel depressed. Another third say that they are at a ‘breaking point’; one in five is unable to see anything positive in their life.

Close relatives often take on this important role; however, they often reject the term ‘carer’, seeing their work as a natural extension of the relationship with their affected loved one. ‘I am a daughter first. And the word ‘carer’ does not quite fit in my mental image of things,’ Mildred explains. 

However, this has seen many go unrecognised for the service they provide for our community. Often, those who do not register themselves as carers are less likely and less able to access the services available to them. 

You are not alone

Working hard to reverse this trend is the Malta Parkinson’s Disease Association (MPDA), with Veronica Clark at the helm as president. 

MPDA informs citizens about PD and offers practical help on how to manage symptoms in the home. This includes talks by healthcare professionals so that people with PD and their carers are empowered to better manage their condition.

Peer support meetings foster a discussion about emotional and psychological needs and allow carers to cope with mental health issues they might be facing. Healthcare professionals are employed to further achieve this. 

Mildred and her family make use and speak highly of these services. ‘Thanks to the MPDA, we have discovered and happily become part of a strong network of friends,’ Mildred says, a network she describes as very comforting. ‘We also share useful tips among us for day-to-day life which is nice.’ 

Giving a snapshot of the situation in Malta, Clark is quick to point out the benefits of our national healthcare system, which provides free treatment, accessible to people with Parkinsons in a whole range of disciplines, from neurologists and GPs to physiotherapists, speech therapists, occupational therapists. All this eases pressure on families and carers like Mildred and many others. 

Malta also gives access to most PD medications through the government free at the point of use. The same can be said when it comes to any required surgery. This is available ‘without the need to travel,’ Clark specifies, ‘and this is also free, which I will point out is not the case for all European countries.’

An important role the MPDA has is its dissemination of information on how to access support services which may be required outside the family network. The Active Ageing community, Clark tells us, provides services like a carer at home, meals on wheels, home help, and many more. ‘Some aids are free and some are subsidised,’ Clark explains. ‘It is so important that people know they are not alone.’

Dancing to better health

Mildred has nothing but wonderful things to say about a special group the MPDA introduced her to — Step Up for Parkinson’s (SUFP). 

SUFP are not only dance classes for people with PD and their carers, but a community of people dedicated to uplifting one another. 

Dancer Natalie Muschamp founded the organisation around 2016 and hasn’t looked back since.The binding philosophy is to help maintain physical activity of motor movement through dance, all while allowing the person with PD and their carer to bond and enjoy doing something together that isn’t about service. 

‘When you have a disease or become a carer, you can lose your identity,’ Muschamp explains. ‘When [our participants] come to the class, they’re just two people and not a sick person and someone taking care of them. We sometimes even separate the couples. We put a lot of emphasis on this. And we encourage them to live their own lives. Some people, even after losing their partners, they continue to come. They regain some of their agency here.’

Of course, there is always room for improvement. 

A concern Clark, Mildred, and Muschamp all have is that there are no specialised services tailored specifically for PD — neurologists, PD nurses, therapists, etc. 

‘The lack of PD awareness people have at first hand’ is another point Mildred brings up. ‘There are so many misconceptions surrounding the condition,’ she said, ‘which often lead to added difficulties for people with Parkinson’s. To give a few examples, non-motor symptoms, such as hallucinations and impulsivity may easily lead to conflicts within the family unless they are recognised and understood. Slowness and rigidity may force people with Parkinson’s to take longer to cross the road or pay at the counter, leading to undeserved frowns or the tendency of rushing them, often quite unkindly.’ 

The fact that so many people don’t know what it is like to live with PD creates isolation and damaged relationships across the board. ‘The system needs to address not only the physical part of PD but also the mental, emotional, and social burdens it carries,’ Mildred encourages. 

And while both MPDA and SUFP are doing their best to keep making positive changes, there is no escaping the biggest hurdle of all. 

‘Co-ordinating regular and timely sessions between health professionals (from both the private and public sector) for people with PD is quite a challenge, due to reduced resources,’ explains Clark. ‘This means leaving people waiting longer or not receiving the regularity of sessions they need to manage their condition.’ 

The COVID effect

SUFP are also struggling with funding, especially as classes cannot happen in the real world anymore. ‘A lot of our participants struggle with the online thing,’ she explains, ‘and it’s worrying.’

‘For us not going to the gym, it will have an effect on our jean size. But for people suffering with Parkinson’s, it’s much more than that. Some of our participants started declining,’ she reveals sadly. 

Ever adapting and creative, Muschamp tried to go around this by repurposing the footage from a cancelled tour with SUFP participants performing in shows all around Malta into a feature length documentary called One Day We Will Dance Again and a TV show called Step Up. 

The show will air on ONE TV from January through to June of 2021, providing 15 minutes of daily exercises for the elderly and people with disabilities. ‘Amy, Mildred, Michelle, Roberta, Rowanne, myself, and everyone else — we’re currently in the middle of filming at the moment. Now we just need a good handful of sponsors to come forward — we have adverts to sell!’ she laughs, slapping the table, determined as always.

Knowing full well how infectious her energy is, Muschamp explains where it stems from — community. ‘These people are my people. My family,’ she says. ‘I can’t stop.’ 

The same goes for Clark. ‘When we see a smile on everyone’s face every month during our [MPDA] meetings, we know that the work we do is meaningful, and this really pushes us to continue to do what we do well,’ she says.  

‘It is crucial not to live with PD alone,’ Mildred says, ‘be it the diagnosed person or the one accompanying them, whatever the stage of PD. Get in touch with the MPDA. The committee will be happy to assist them and direct them to any professional healthcare that they may require. And go to the dance classes when they start again. It makes a difference.’

‘We have to remember the bigger picture,’ Muschamp asserts. ‘What if the carer disappears? What if something bad happens to them? What then? The person with PD would need to be institutionalised sooner. The state would need to put even more resources into their care, and the result would be nowhere near as effective, because family is always family. And that does not serve our community. Caring for the carers. That serves our community.’ 

Resources and links: 

Active Ageing services: 

European Parkinson’s Disease Association: 

Step up for Parkinsons: 

Malta Parkinson’s Disease Association –

#MeTooSTEM: We must do more to protect women

Harassment has to stop

You can have all the role models in the world. You can enjoy grants and empowerment seminars. Yet when a senior colleague you’ve always looked up to corners you, all you want is to run away, fast. Cassi Camilleri writes.

The heightened awareness around equality and representation has reached Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields. The global effort to recruit more women and girls into industries traditionally described as male-dominated is yielding results. In 2017, women outnumbered men in the Psychology, Pharmaceutical Science, and Biology undergraduate programmes at the University of Malta (UM). However, increasing the numbers of women is paving the way to a whole new, and yet despairingly old, battle. Many who brave becoming a minority in their profession report having to face numerous barriers. Sexual harassment is one of them. 

Jennifer (not her real name) had big dreams when she first entered the field, and continues to uphold them, but it has not been easy. She didn’t see red flags in the ‘friendliness’ of a new project colleague, until he crossed boundaries. ‘I had a colleague who was much more established than I am, and every now and then he would make throwaway sexual comments. This was all supposedly in the spirit of “joking around”. But I think when you have a position of authority, you have to be even more careful about the comments you make. Your subordinates are not really in a position to make their discomfort known,’ she says. Reporting this behaviour is difficult in closely knit teams, like innovative startups, laboratories, or teams sharing grant funding.

Sexual Harassment Isolates 

Jennifer felt all alone in this, but sexual harassment in the workplace is a known issue in Malta. According to research conducted by the NGOs Men Against Violence and the Women’s Rights Foundation, three out of every four female respondents reported experiences of sexual harassment in the workplace. 

‘Many of respondents to our survey who had reported instances of sexual harassment said that they were silenced in some way, usually by being ignored, not taken seriously, but sometimes they were even demoted or threatened with dismissal,’ says Aleksander Dimitrijevic, founder and president of Men Against Violence. Internationally, the movement to expose STEM-specific patterns of sexual harassment became known as #MeTooSTEM. In 2018, the US’s National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) published a damning report titled Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The research showed that ‘[w]omen in STEM endure the highest rate of sexual harassment of any profession outside of the military.’ It also stated that ‘[n]early 50% of women in science, and 58% of women in academia, report experiencing sexual harassment, including 43% of female STEM graduate students.’

I think when you have a position of authority, you have to be even more careful about the comments you make. Your subordinates are not really in a position to make their discomfort known.

‘When my colleague found out that I was in a relationship with another woman, he started making comments about how attractive my partner was and how she couldn’t possibly be gay. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I found this very jarring,’ Jennifer tells. Just how many young women share her experience is not known, as local research is sparse, and looking for stories on social media was challenging because each unique testimony risks exposing the survivor.

The fight against sexual harassment needs institutional structures in place to handle such cases. The UM has been at the forefront of this since the early 1990s, according to Dr Maureen Cole (Faculty for Social Wellbeing), an advisor appointed to support the UM’s efforts to quash sexual harassment and help victims achieve resolution. ‘Thanks to the efforts of the Gender Issues Committee, the University of Malta has had a sexual harassment policy in place since 1994,’ she explains, noting that this preceded national legislation. ‘There were times when one of the [local] banks looked to us for guidance and advice in the late 90s. It was, and is, a clear commitment from the Rectorate to make sure people are protected. The University should be given some recognition for this. I feel that it is important to recognise good practice,’ Cole asserts. This openness is notable, as messages to human resources staff at other relevant institutions were left unanswered.

Are people like Jennifer using these services? Cole reports that the number of sexual harassment reports made at the UM per year average between one and two in an institution with 11,500 students and nearly 1,600 members of staff (latest published data). Cole admits, ‘It is a low number.’

Illustration by Gabriel Izzo

Communities of silence 

The fearful climate poisons the work environment. ‘It made me feel like it was no longer a professional environment, and it was isolating. I had to politely laugh off the comments because I didn’t want to damage a professional relationship I knew was important to my career. The sad thing is I know I’m not the only one, and it makes me feel guilty not speaking up when I hear there are others,’ says Jennifer. 

Academia’s hierarchical structures lend themselves easily to abuse of power. The NASEM report revealed that ‘90% of women who report sexual misconduct experience retaliation.’ Malta’s small size and hugely connected networks makes this even more of a threat to those considering speaking up. Cole highlights this point in her lectures. ‘I say to my students, imagine if I were the harasser. I’m teaching you here at University. There were times when I was on the social work profession board. So you’re coming to apply for a warrant, and I’m sitting on the same board. I’m an advisor to this person and that person. You can’t get rid of me. Because Malta is what it is. […] If you’re a lawyer, you’re going to be encountering these people. […] If you’re a medic, you’re going to be in the same hospital. I’m not saying people shouldn’t report, but I understand why they don’t.’

The sad thing is I know I’m not the only one, and it makes me feel guilty not speaking up when I hear there are others

‘On this occasion, the reports and comments made against my colleague were acknowledged by my team when I brought them forward, but it was difficult. I knew that I would still have to work closely with this person,’ says Jennifer. ‘Communities at this level are tiny and people bump into each other all the time. My network and my prospects could have suffered significantly if my other colleagues did not receive the complaints as well as they did. And I’m grateful for that.’ Finding a safe space feels more urgent than seeking justice. Sending an anonymous message to the popular Women for Women group feels more urgent than describing very personal encounters in a formal report. 

The current reality is that when a report comes to the Sexual Harassment Advisors, anonymity cannot be afforded for very long. ‘We cannot investigate [a complaint] without seeing the other person’s side of the story according to the regulations,’ says Dr Gottfried Catania, also a sexual harassment advisor at the UM. ‘The other side has to be made aware of the accusation, Cole continues. ‘There will be a point where the accused will receive a report saying this person is making this report about your behaviour. And many times, even people who come very determined to take action do not go forward once they realise that.’

Speak up Malta 

Dr Lara Dimitrijevic (Department of Gender Studies) has a lot to say about the shame surrounding sexual harassment, not only in STEM but in Malta as a whole. ‘We have a culture of dissuading people, silencing people. Malta has a very high percentage of the population that believe that women make up stories. I find this very shocking.’ According to data from the research quoted earlier, a third of all respondents believed that victims of sexual harassment were partly to blame due to the way they dressed or behaved. Victim-blaming is clearly still pervasive. ‘The reporting for sexual harassment to the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality has decreased from three cases in 2015, to zero in 2016, to zero in 2017, to just one in 2018. Does this mean sexual harassment isn’t happening in Malta? No. Of course not. It’s that people are not speaking out. While awareness is increasing, we feed into the victim blaming and we’re not addressing that at all.’ 

‘The only way to deal with sexual harassment at [the] workplace is for [a] company to take [a] pro-active approach: create policies and [a] clear reporting system, inform every new employee on their first day about it, have [the] policy printed and hanged on the walls of the offices, have HR department organise training, Aleksander Dimitrijevic suggests. 

Innovation binds all STEM disciplines. Without fresh minds, innovation stops. We stop creating new solutions for the problems our societies continue to face. We owe it ourselves, to our communities, and to those taking the helm, to provide safe spaces and break the silence.  

What does sexual harassment look like?

According to the Code of Practice compiled by the Maltese National Commission for the Promotion of Equality for Men and Women (NCPE), sexual harassment at the workplace is defined as ‘unwelcome sexual conduct’ and is unlawful under the Equality for Men and Women Act, 2003 (Cap 456) and under The Employment and Industrial Relations Act, 2002 (Cap 452).

Sexual harassment may take many different forms and can involve:

  • unwelcome physical contact such as touching, hugging, or kissing; 
  • staring or leering; suggestive comments or jokes; 
  • unwanted invitations to go out on dates or requests for sexual interaction; 
  • intrusive questions about an employee’s private life or body; unnecessary familiarity; 
  • insults or taunts based on your sex; 
  • sexually explicit emails or messages; 
  • sexually explicit pictures, screen savers or posters; 
  • behaviour which would also be an offence under the criminal law, such as physical sexual assault, indecent exposure, and obscene or pornographic communications.

Sexual harassment procedures at UM

The procedures to deal with sexual harassment at UM start when the sexual harassment advisors meet the person reporting sexual harassment to listen to their account of the incident/s. From here, the advisors provide information on other support services available at the university and nationally, and offer referrals as needed. 

The next stage is making a decision about the action to take. The informal route involves a written agreement signed by the complainant and the alleged harasser as a form of assurance that the behaviour is not repeated. The formal route involves a report being made to the police and potential disciplinary action being taken. 

What’s love got to do with it?

Intimidating figure

While some of us are privileged to be shielded from it, the truth remains — violence in Malta is rampant. From popular songs to neighbours’ conversations, the normalisation of abuse is shaping our communities and our basic understanding of healthy relationships. Words by Cassi Camilleri

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Beach bodies FTW

Author: Cassi Camilleri

In formal art instruction, especially in contemporary art, the human body is but a mere shape and structure. Tina Mifsud’s latest series of paintings, collectively titled Plajja, takes the trope and turns it on its head. She uses forms not to create the perfect aesthetic, but to address issues of insecurity.

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I <3 potato

Plant-based diets are going mainstream all over the world. Cassi Camilleri sheds light on the local vegan movement and how reducing our meat consumption can benefit us all.

Some label the rise of plant-based living as evidence of ‘trend culture’. And they’re not all wrong. Traditional media bombards us with countless headlines on the topic’s pros and cons. Hard-hitting advocacy films like Cowspiracy and Forks over Knives expose the horrors of the meat industry. Social media influencers share their experiences with the diet, turning it into lifestyle content. And now the market is following suit with vegan and veggie lines and options popping up everywhere.

In 2016, an Ipsos MORI survey for the Vegan Society identified that 3.25% of adults in the UK never eat meat in any form as part of their diet, equating to roughly 540,000 people. Vegan January—commonly known as Veganuary—is growing in popularity. This year, a record-breaking 250,310 people from 190 countries registered for the month-long vegan pledge. And Malta is no exception.  

While the official number of people following a plant-based or vegan diet are unavailable, interest is clear. Facebook pages Vegan Malta and Vegan Malta Eats have a combined following of over 16,500 people. 

The reasons behind people’s decision to take up veganism are various, however three main motivators keep being cited: health benefits, ethics, and environmental concerns. For vegan business woman Rebecca Camilleri the process was natural and gradual. ‘There was no real intention behind it for me. But after a couple of months of following this diet, I noticed that my energy levels were better than before, and this encouraged me to learn more on how I needed to eat in order to nourish my body with the right nutrients to sustain my active lifestyle.’  

Researcher and nutritionist Prof. Suzanne Piscopo (Department of Health, Physical Education, and Consumer Studies, University of Malta) confirms that ‘moving towards a primarily plant-based diet is recommended by organisations such as the World Health Organization and the World Cancer Research Fund, for health and climate change reasons.’

Oxford academic Dr Marco Springmann has attempted to model what a vegan planet would look like, and the results are staggering. According to his calculations, should the world’s population switch to a vegan diet by the year 2050, the global economy would save $1.1 trillion in healthcare costs. We would also save $0.5 trillion in environmental costs, all while slashing greenhouse gas emissions by two-thirds. 

Despite all this, veganism has earned itself quite a few enemies along the way. The vitriol thrown back and forth across both camps is shocking. Relatively recently, UK supermarket chain Waitrose came under scrutiny after magazine editor William Sitwell responded to plant-based food article ideas from writer Selene Nelson with a dark counter offer—a series on ‘killing vegans’. Sitwell was since forced to resign. Nelson posited that the hostility stems from ‘a refusal to recognise the suffering of animals. Mocking vegans is easier than listening to them.’

Abigail Higgins from American news and opinion website Vox agrees that guilt plays a role in the hatred aimed towards veganism, but also proposes that the whole movement ‘represents a threat to the status quo, and cultural changes make people anxious.’ This notion is based on research on intergroup threats and attitudes by US researchers Walter G. Stephan and Cookie White Stephan. 

It however remains a reality that some of the loudest voices in veganism in the past have been militant. Some have invoked hatred and threats towards those that they perceive not to be sufficiently aggressive in promoting the cause. Piscopo calls for a respectful discussion.

‘Food is not only about sustenance and pleasure, but has symbolic, emotional, and identity value. Take meat for example. Some associate it with masculinity and virility. Others link it to food security as meat was a food which was scarce during their childhood. Some others equate it with conviviality as meat dishes are often consumed during happy family occasions. What is important is that we do not try to impose our beliefs, thoughts, and lifestyle on anyone.’

The way forward is a ‘live and let live’ approach, according to Rebecca Galea. When her journey started she had people ‘staring strangely at [her] food’. Even her family didn’t take her seriously. ‘They were very sceptical as their knowledge on veganism was very limited at the time,’ she remembers. Now, seeing the effect the switch has made to Rebecca’s life, her positive choices are naturally impacting theirs. ‘Everyone is free to make their choice,’ she says. Embodying the philosophy of leading by example, Rebecca has even set up her own business making delicious vegan nut butters, spreads, and more, to great success. ‘The more vegan options are available [in Malta], the more people will be attracted to learning and accepting the benefits of veganism. This might also lead to them following a vegan lifestyle!’

With that, and sharing valid, up-to-date research-based information, as Piscopo suggests, it seems there is no stopping this ‘trend’. And who would want to when veganism can lead to a lower carbon footprint and better health for everyone? 

Crafting business from hobbies: The HUSKIE story

Put a physicist and an engineer together and what do you get? A brewery. Obviously. Cassi Camilleri sits down with Jean Bickle and Miguel Camilleri to talk about entrepreneurship, beer, and how variety really is the spice of life.

As you read this, a warehouse in a Qrendi quarry is bustling, undergoing hefty conversions as it morphs into a dream brewery. Water and electricity supply is solid, the walls have a fresh lap of white and the steel housings are in place. Now, the countdown begins until the tanks are set up. But they’re used to it. This waiting business.

The Huskie Craft Beer company was but a twinkle in their eye when Jean Bickle and Miguel Camilleri first met as workmates during a stint in Leeds, which is where they discovered a thriving craft beer scene. 

‘We were part of a club at the Wharf Chambers,’ Bickle remembers. ‘It’s what we did after work. We played table soccer and tried beers.’ Learning about the process, the recipes, and the different flavours that are possible to incorporate in a beer, planted a seed in them both. ‘Eventually, when we came back home, we wanted to give brewing a shot ourselves,’ Bickle adds. And so they did.

Getting the basics down 

Their first investment was in education. ‘We spent quite a bit on books and materials to learn how to brew,’ Jean says. They had the ingredients down—water, malt, yeast, and hops. Hops being the flowers of the hop plant which are used as a bittering, flavouring, and stability agent in beer. They understood the role temperature played and gained plenty of experience with identifying flavours through taste tests. Beyond this, however, they also needed to be familiar with how these ingredients interact with one another and the techniques involved in creating a beer. 

They were more careful with their purse strings when building their first set up in early 2017. ‘We could have very easily gone online and found these home brewing kits. But you have to spend a lot of money to get those. And this was all coming from our own pockets. So, with Miguel being an engineer, we just bought stainless steel tanks and sheets, shaped them, and welded the parts together. We even built the control panel and electronics ourselves. Everything was done from scratch.’ 

This is not to say that it was all smooth sailing. ‘Sometimes you get ahead of yourself. You start rushing in your eagerness to try out new things. Which is fine. But sometimes you have to take a step back and go back to basics. We keep each other in check,’ Jean notes, smiling. ‘We both come up with radical ideas on how to approach the task at hand, but you can’t do everything at once, otherwise you get careless.’ 

‘You’ve also got to be adaptable and not follow others’ rules to the dot. Malta’s ambient conditions and accessible raw materials make brewing harder than in many other countries. With the right technique though, it’s definitely possible,’ Miguel points out.

Creative thinking meets business

Initially, it was all about making beer. ‘Our focus was that the quality of the process should be done to a certain standard,’ Jean says, but the creative element soon started becoming a priority. ‘Now we have shifted to the actual product being top quality. You have loads of recipes online if you want to find them, but we wanted to create our own.’

From a business standpoint, finding what makes you unique is an essential part of building a company. What is the value you are bringing to your client base that others are not?

Huskie’s approach harkens back to the reason the boys started the company. They loved beers and wanted to continuously try new ones. When they had the brewing process perfected, it was time to start being experimental. 

‘We started thinking about creating recipes we hadn’t seen before, with flavours we hadn’t seen anyone use before. We made beers using Maltese strawberries for example, and we also produced a range of beers inspired by the flavours of the traditional qagħaq ta’ l-għasel (honeyring).’ Of course this isn’t as simple as adding some extra water to a cake mix.

‘Experimentation brings about its own set of challenges. Some ingredients have their own sugars, so including them in the beer recipe drives the yeast crazy.’ And when Jean says crazy, he means it. ‘If we don’t get everything right, the pressure in the bottle can build up and they literally explode. We’ve had this happen a few times,’ Jean admits. ‘We call them molotovs,’ Miguel grins.

But even with the added cleaning time, all’s well that ends well. This curiosity has given Huskie a very niche service they can provide to clients. ‘We can create beers exclusive to our clients. If someone comes along and tells me I like cinnamon or whatever, we can create something specifically for them.’

Coming up with each new recipe involves another process of trial and error, tinkering, and perfecting. ‘When we come up with a new recipe, we usually come up with three different versions and we taste each different beer on the same day. We write down notes, we compare, and if there is some kind of consensus, we move onto that.’ Now, Jean and Miguel have a spreadsheet with all the beers they produce, each marked with a rank. So far, over the course of two years, they’ve already finalised 11 beer recipes and released four to the market!

No to mass markets

The culture behind craft beer is one that is very close to Jean and Miguel’s hearts. This is not about making three beers, sticking to them, and selling them en masse. They want to keep the personal touch, the Maltese identity in their product, while pushing boundaries and trying new things. ‘So our philosophy is get this beer now because it won’t be around in six months. We want to continue creating.’ 

Of course, this isn’t always easy. And Jean is the first to say it. ‘It’s hard letting go of a good beer,’ he admits. ‘Even we fall in love with some of the recipes. But you have to come from a place of abundance. We know we can continue to create good beers. And we will.’ 

Now they’re in the growing phase. Setting themselves up to expand their brewing power. With the new brewery they’ll soon be able to increase production tenfold. ‘Then it’s about creating our own events. Entering competitions abroad. We want to put Malta on the map.’ 

‘We’ve already spent a year working on the new brewery, so we’ve had a lot of time to think about what we want to do and where we want to go, and this is essential in building a business that is sustainable. You have to do things right and really think about things properly,’ Miguel asserts. 

This measured attitude has definitely worked in Huskie’s favour. Research led to new funding opportunities. ‘Miguel found out about [the] TAKEOFF [business incubator] and we met Joe Bartolo. He really motivated us and was of great help in the vital early stages,’ Jean says. After a few months Huskie was awarded a TOSFA fund that they used to purchase more equipment, allowing them to try more recipes and scale up production. They followed this up with some EU funding applications. ‘We [obtained] funding to purchase more equipment for the brewery,’ he notes. 

Jean is quick to mention the help and support from their family and friends.

‘We got a lot of help. Really a lot. Miguel’s father helped us with the building of the brewery. His uncle did all the electricity. And Connie, Miguel’s mum is a star. Miguel did all the planning, plumbing, and the majority of the rest. He’s even got the scars to prove it! I painted a wall. It was a real team effort,’ Jean laughs.

Maintaining Balance

For such a new business, Huskie is already growing with leaps and bounds. But hours in the day are limited and questions about priorities and goals are already circling. ‘Managing Huskie at its current level already takes up loads of our time, and we’ve had to sacrifice a lot from our private lives,’ Jean says. ‘But in doing that, Miguel and I manage to run it whilst still holding full time positions. Where it will take us in the future—well, who knows? We wouldn’t mind employing people to take care of logistics and cleaning for example. We’re also looking into hiring a driver to take care of distribution for us.’ 

The love they have for medical physics has in no way diminished. ‘Miguel and I both love what we do. Working in healthcare is extremely satisfying and keeps us well in check on life’s priorities,’ Jean says. ‘And that is just as much our passion as brewing beer is. But I believe that if you work hard enough at something, and if you love it enough, you’ll find the time for it.’ 

‘Everybody will say you’ll enjoy it once you get there. But for us it’s more important to enjoy what we’re doing while getting there. God forbid Miguel and I weren’t friends. We’d kill each other with all the time we spend in the same room. For us, the brewing thing works because it’s part of the development of our friendship. We brew, drink, chat, and joke. It’s about enjoying the process. Not just tunnel vision towards the end goal. 

The revolutionary act of owning less

When our wardrobes are bursting, when cars take over our streets, when stuffing our fridges and eating out trumps reading, theatre, cinema—how does that impact us? Cassi Camilleri writes.

Marie Kondo’s epic trajectory began in 2014 with a little book called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Available in over 41 regions and countries, she sold over five million copies. Now she’s on Netflix, reaching millions more with Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, all the while becoming the most badass / kawaii meme the world has ever seen. 

At this point, Kondo has almost single-handedly made decluttering a global trend. But there is more to this movement than getting rid of junk. 

Kondo’s approach is about making the time to actually look at the items we own and purposefully ask whether they serve a true function in our life—whether they give us ‘joy.’ In a world where ‘more is more’ and hundreds of ads scream at us daily, creating neuroses while simultaneously providing the avalanche of products to fix them, the attitude is sadly novel. 

Taking time to appreciate our possessions is not something we do often. And this is not entirely our fault. Doing so could see us labelled as ‘materialistic.’ But this brings up the question of what that word actually means. 

Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus


In the documentary Minimalism: A Documentary About The Important Things, Joshua Fields Millburn, one half of The Minimalists duo, flips the notion on its head. ‘We are too materialistic in the everyday sense of the word, but we are not at all materialistic enough in the true sense of the word. We need to be true materialists, like really care about the materiality of goods.’ 

Here, Millburn is referring to quality instead of quantity. One reliable well-made pair of jeans will last you longer than five cheap ones. The result? You generate less waste. You spend less money. 

In Malta, we produce 248,784 tonnes of garbage annually, according to the material flow analysis conducted by researcher Margaret Camilleri Fenech. That’s equivalent to eight houses made entirely of garbage. Think of the pollution generated by waste when transporting and treating it, or the greenhouse gases emitted when it decomposes, or the space it needs. With our countryside disappearing at alarming rates, wasting the remaining space on waste feels sinful. 

But let’s just pretend that this whole environmental thing is being blown out of proportion by a tribe of hippy die-hards. What about us? How do our spending choices affect our quality of life? How do our habits impact our pockets?

In 2015, the National Statistics Office (NSO) reports, total annual expenditure of Maltese private households amounted to an average of €22,346 per household. Suffice to say, this is a considerable number given that the average wage that same year was somewhere around €16,500, according to online platform Trading Economics. What’s more important, however, is how the money was spent. 

A close look at the NSO’s report revealed that the majority of funds went towards food and transport, commanding 34% of all spending. On average, households spent €4,417 on food in 2015. Fuel for cars alone amounted to a yearly bill of €1184.50. We also spent an annual average of €720 on clothing, €1000 on our phones and internet services, and a whopping €1,749 on eating out. 

On the flipside, education accounted for only 2.4% of household spending, €624 yearly, making this category second to last on the priority list. Yes, this can be partly attributed to free education in Malta; however, in households without dependent children, we can also see that only €36 were spent on books that were not textbooks over the entire year. Another NSO survey (with Arts Council Malta and the Valletta 2018 Foundation) found that 55% of the population didn’t read a single book in 2016. That same study looked at the experiences we fill our time with, finding that less than half of us (42%) went to the cinema even once that year, while only a third (31%) visited an art gallery or experienced theatre (32%). 

Looking at these figures, it seems our priorities are dominated by cars, internet services and restaurants. Yet isn’t that ironic when a quick scroll through Facebook reveals so many complaints about unprecedented levels of traffic, narcissism, laziness, and a lack of critical thinking? 

What is powerful about this, though, is the realisation that we can change it instantly. Instead of going to the fancy new restaurant in Valletta this weekend as we always do, we could choose to cook a nice meal at home for friends then sit down with a good read. We could switch out the Sunday drive with a run in the rural parts of our island. And question yourself: Do I really need that new €15 sweater when I have another 20 that look just like it sitting in my wardrobe? Or do I want to put that money towards a family weekend away? 

All this might sound minor, even ridiculous. But making deliberate choices about how and where we spend our hard-earned resources has a profound impact. Asking whether a particular purchase will ‘bring joy’ can spark answers that surprise us. And those answers may well trigger a ripple effect on our lives as a whole. 

Saving money will allow us to work less and free up more time for meaningful activity with the important people in our lives. Investing in ourselves and our minds will see us becoming better, more well-rounded people. Can we say the same for the momentary rush we get after dropping an obscene amount of money on a new phone manufactured under questionable ethical standards? 

At the end of the day, it’s all quite simple. If we all tried to be a little bit more mindful, a little bit more careful about where our money goes, which systems we feed, and what we allow into our lives… well then we could—quite literally—change our world.  

Read more: Household Budgetary Survey 2015. National Statistics Office, 2018.

Architecture: A dying art?

Making smart choices for our current urban fabric through architecture requires a massive understanding of all the moving parts of the industry. But is it time to go back to basics? Cassi Camilleri speaks to Prof. Antonio Mollicone and the talented people at AP Valletta to come up with an answer.

The changes in the Maltese landscape over recent years has been drastic. All over social media, petitions keep being shared to prevent one original building or another from being torn down and replaced with contemporary apartments. This has ‘resulted in discomfort for many,’ says Prof. Antonio Mollicone, an architect lecturing within the Faculty of Built Environment (University of Malta). 

Prof. Antonio Mollicone

The discomfort is multifaceted. On one level, it has to do with the physical climate within buildings. Over the last few decades, Malta has seen a shift in the property types people buy, and these properties seem to be leaving people hot or cold in their own homes.

Through his research, which used an old Maltese farmhouse as his case study, Mollicone found that ‘a property’s orientation, double skin (having two layers of brick walls), ceiling height and window measurements all have a role to play.’ Mollicone points out that ‘orientation is most important.’ In an ideal world, based on Malta’s position on the globe, ‘houses should be north-south facing and rotated clockwise to east by eight degrees to get the best of the sun in winter and the least of it in summer.’ Higher ceilings can create a four-degree difference in the temperature inside a room. As for the floor to ceiling windows you see in all the glossy magazines, Mollicone finds them problematic, noting the costs involved in terms of energy efficiency when replacing stone with glass. ‘Certain basic techniques in design are being lost in the fast-paced world of today,’ Mollicone asserts. 

Konrad Buhagiar (AP Valletta)

On this note, founding partner of AP Valletta, Konrad Buhagiar, says that with the ‘era of radical pragmatism’ we are currently living in, ‘the commercial aspect of a project is paramount,’ adding, ‘It will always be so. It is the nature of the industry.’ But with this being said, effort needs to be put into giving buildings and new projects a depth that ‘connects [them] to [their] context.’  

Even with the best of intentions, challenges still arise. Mollicone laments the flashy features he sees added to a building’s façade before a thought is given to function. ‘It’s make-up for buildings. Nothing more. I call it lipstick architecture.’

Luca Caruso, an environmental architect at AP, also speaks frankly, noting that the ‘construction sector is the least innovative worldwide.’ However, by putting an emphasis on quality and criticism, this can change. ‘Criticism is important in order to raise awareness about the possible consequences of Malta’s ‘uncontrolled’ growth. […] Debate can lead to new, innovative ways to inspire decision-makers while respecting local characteristics.’ 

The reality, as Caruso states, is that ‘Malta has undergone massive changes over the last 30 years, and this is a process that requires some more years to mature.’ Buhagiar announces himself a cynic, saying that ‘to produce something excellent, you need an enormous amount of thought and discipline, rigour, and dare I say, sacrifice, all words that do not describe the current culture in any way.’ But Mollicone has hope that common sense will prevail. ‘All we need is to take more time to think about things. Create mindfully. That’s all.’