Right in the heart of Paceville, the Millennium Chapel is to be found - a venue well-known by many in Malta. It is a place that is frequently sought for its appealingly tranquil and calming atmosphere as well as the many services offered by those who volunteer to work there. However, few are aware of the variety of activities that are held especially one in particular “ The Wow Xperience” addressed to young people.
The WOW (Wishing Others Well) is a building extension to the Millennium Chapel and is known as its social arm. Most socially-oriented activities take place in this venue.
One of these is the WOW Xperience, a learning experience offered to students of both public and private schools in Malta and Gozo during the scholastic year. This educational initiative that has been going now for the last three years has the full backing and support of the Ministry of Education .
The students, whose ages range between 14 to 16 years, are accompanied by their respective teachers arrive at the premises at 9 am, where they are greeted by Fr. Hilary, the Director of the Millennium Chapel After a short introduction to the many meanings and symbolisms of Richard England’s sacred space of the Millennium Chapel, Fr.Hilary invites the students to spend a few moments of silence and prayer in the Oasis of peace. Various power point presentations will follow various topics, like the beauty of life, self- esteem, the dignity of the human person, human rights, racism etc. etc. according to the topic chosen beforehand by the guidance teacher of the class. The vast sports experience of Fr. Hilary comes in handy at this moment in narrating anecdotes and life stories of famous football players that he met, especially if the students are boys.
The first part of this experience is oriented towards the viewing of a particular short film and a discussion of this film follows. Currently, the film being shown is “The Red Balloon” by Albert Lamorisse (1956) a short story of a “friendship” formed between a young Parisian boy and a balloon tied to a lamp post that the boy retrieves and gives freedom to. The bond that is formed between these two is jeopardized many times throughout the film and yet it persists albeit all endeavours to separate the boy and his balloon by other children. Other movies have been used in the past like La Vita e’ Bella of Roberto Benigni, Chocolat of Juliette Binoche and Tuesdays with Morrie of Jack Lennon.
Following the discussion of this film, the students are offered a break and are invited to make use of the games room where they can enjoy playing table tennis, table soccer, billiards and other indoor games. They can also visit the Book Shop of the chapel which offers an extensive collection of reading material, gifts, etc.
The second part of the morning is devoted to the experience of other young people who have been victims of addiction of alcohol, drug abuse and gambling. They share their life stories to reveal to them how they started to be hooked into these addictions. This is a very powerful moment for the students as they hear the first hand experience of a young man/woman hardly 5 or 10 years older than them.. These young people, who volunteer to speak to the students, are members of Narcotics Anonymous Group and they hold meetings regularly at WOW . They have accepted to speak about their life ordeals due to their addictions. This intervention helps not only the school students but the NA Members themselves who feel the responsibility today to heal their past by this active mission.and act as eye-openers to these youths believing it too as a redeeming factor of their life. .
The personal stories of these encounters is received in awe and dead silence by the students who remain mesmerized for quite a long time until we help them to open up by asking questions. Normally we also ask the school teachers or facilitators to leave the hall at this moment in order that the students feel free to ask questions and talk.
Drug addiction is a particular topic for young people today to which they might have been exposed to already by being tempted to experiment it themselves through peer group pressure, or by informative talks in an educational setting , but being exposed directly to the experience of a person who has suffered the addiction is a different matter altogether!
Once the students begin to slowly participate in the discussion of drug addiction via their questions, it becomes evident how necessary these talks are, not only from an informative point of view but also from an emotionally and psychologically therapeutic one. Some students might have had direct experiences with drugs themselves or have family members or friends who are suffering from the problem of drug addiction. Therefore, listening to such experiences, elicits various emotions in them. Some are invited to speak to me directly during this time (obviously in private, away from the rest of the students) about any overwhelming emotional experience they might be facing whilst some are encouraged to seek further counselling or psychotherapy, in order to come to terms with any painful circumstances they might be facing.
Ms. Micallef is a psychotherapist who is employed with the civil service but who has been granted a release in order to offer her services within the Millennium Chapel which is a fully registered voluntary organisation.