The Malteser Way of Life
The Order of Malta Relief Organisation in Lithuania was established in October 1991, and at the end of that year the first Maltesers’ groups started to establish in various cities of the country. Energetic, active, creative and selfless people took the initiative to build a socially stronger and more resilient country, and the organisation grew from 12 initial groups to 42. Every day these people get up with the noble aim of making someone‘s existence easier: they nurse and take hot meals to the elderly, care for the education of children in Children Day Care Centres, and help people with disabilities. Dedication and a sincere desire to help the weaker not only gives inner fullness, but also infects others – the malteser way of life connects friends and family members and passes from generation to generation.
Shining personality in Tauragė
Maltesers in Tauragė are famous for their successful ‘Meals on Wheels’ project since 2014. At the forefront of the project stands a special person, the soul of Maltesers, Saulius Oželis, who is already recognisable from afar with a long beard and a motorbike, which are known to every elderly in care. “I am very lucky – not everyone has conditions to do this kind of activity. I get a lot more than I give – it’s their emotions and gratitude. Of course, there are difficult moments, but the tears of gratitude and the genuine smiles are so strong that you just can’t stop doing it.”
Maltesers in Tauragė even cook soup for the elderly in a different way; their kitchen is on the wheels and mobile, so it is impervious to any pandemics. Up to 50 litres of soup can be prepared at the time – it saves a lot of money. Firstly, there is no need to pay for cooking services because volunteers can make the food by themselves, and secondly, it is much more cost-effective because you can use the “Food Bank’s” last day products, vegetables or other goodies donated by farmers.
The whole Saulius’ family has Maltesers’ gene – his sister Lina successfully coordinates the activities of Maltesers in Tauragė, and his wife not only supports Saulius unusual decisions, for example, to welcome the New Year together in Tauragė hostel, but also willingly contributes to the implementation of new ideas. One of them was to turn a motorbike not only into a transport for food, but also into a ride for the elderly, which they still enjoy. By the way, his wife Renata not only supports Saulius ideas – she is an active Malteser herself and manages Maltesers’ Children Day Care Centre in Tauragė.
Saulius Oželis has infected not only his relatives, but also a large number of people from Tauragė with his enthusiasm for helping the weak. He has gathered volunteers and now calls them a “team of goodness”. They include local police officers, schoolchildren and others. Saulius is happy – he is calm about entrusting the elderly in his care to truly responsible people.
Saulius has been awarded for his activities working as Malteser: in 2017, he was selected as one of the 12 people who are dedicated to Lithuania during the project “Heroes Among Us”. In 2020, he was awarded the nomination “Malteser of the Year”. In 2014, the group of Maltesers in Tauragė was nominated as “Breakthrough of the Year” and in 2019 – “Maltesers’ Group of the Year”.
A job that gives lessons
Malteser from Kaunas, Gražina Senvaitienė, after taking a well-deserved rest from all the works of her life, decided to do something meaningful – she discovered Maltesers, became fascinated by their activities, and has been working there for ten years. “My grandson was the first one to help with the soup delivery because he just got his driving licence, and the emotions between the two of us must have affected my daughter Rūta”. Now women working together and enjoying their inner growth.
This work is not just about providing a service to others. “I learn a peace from these people. It doesn’t matter what emotion they show, it is valuable and it gives us lessons. After all, most of the time, people greet us with shining eyes. I come back home physically tired but emotionally recharged. When you see how good these people feel, you feel twice as happy,” shares Gražina.
Maltesers in Kaunas are famous not only for their team of highly socially sensitive volunteers, but also for the growing friendships – now everyone, both the caregivers and the cared for, have become an inseparable family and no longer image their free time apart. Gražina’s daughter, Rūta Kriščiūnienė, who plans the gatherings, says: “When people meet, they share their work, they learn from each other, they support each other, and when they are together, they not only form a beautiful bond with the people in care, but they also develop a stronger friendship among the volunteers in a meaningful activity”.
Gražina has been awarded – in 2017 she received the “Kindness Crystal” award as a Malteser for her significant unpaid work for the benefit of the Kaunas community, and the entire Kaunas Maltesers Group was elected “Malteser Group of the Year” in 2020.
Maltesers’ group in Alytus, which has been in existence since 2009 and is growing rapidly, was established by the efforts of two generous and enterprising women, Onutė Žilionienė and Virginija Lisauskienė. The long work experience of the women has shown them that the most important thing is not the warm soup that reaches the homes of the elderly, but the feeling of need and the opportunity to have a social life. The project of the Seniors Day Centre, which started a few years ago, where elderly come to a specially created space for the day to avoid being lonely, is a good example of this: “There was the old woman who grew up in a “corner”, silent. Once, when she came to the art therapy at the centre, she smiled and said “good morning” loudly and happily to everyone, and that’s how she started to communicate. We all turned around and couldn’t believe it – a miracle had happened. And such miracles happen every day,” Onutė shares. “It feels good to do kind things and to see people’s grateful eyes. We can’t give them a car or a flat, but we can help them in their everyday life – the little things are so important in their life.”
Onutė, the leader of Alytus’ Maltesers, says that she has a very clear vision – to help young people to meet the elderly and to brighten the days of the lonely people in the Senior Day Centre. “Before the pandemic, in the same premises of the Children Day Care Centre, seniors used to gather for an art therapy in the morning, and children used to crowd in while they had coffee. The young people have been baking and leaving delicious gingerbread for elderly, and old women have been knitted them warm socks in return. Being together is very rewarding for both sides – everyone is happy, loved and hugged.”
Their hands were washed away as the country was hit by a terrible pandemic. The elderly they visited every day were very upset when they understood that they would no longer receive warm food, and those desperate eyes were an incentive for the women to look for new ways. The quarantine stopped the cafés that used to cook Maltesers’ soup, so a quick solution had to be found in order to continue: “We negotiated with the municipality, set up a kitchen in the Children Day Care Centre, and we bought the necessary items. From the very beginning until now, a lot of volunteers have been helping, without them we are nothing. We work together as a family – we have nowhere to retreat, we have to do it. This decision has freed us up – we are no longer dependent on the food producers’ schedules and we can continue to make the people we love happy,” says Virginija.
In 2016, Onutė was nominated as Maltesers’ “Angel of Kindness”, and in 2018 the whole Alytus Maltesers’ group was elected as the “Group of the Year”.
Viduklė – another long-standing Maltesers’ point
Here, in Raseiniai district, the good name of Maltesers has been sounding for many years because of Gerda Visockienė, who is a member of the Raseiniai District Council. Maltesers always extends a helping hand to the downtrodden people in need and care living in the nearby town. Supported by her husband and son, Gerda cares not only for the food of the lonely people, but also for the dilapidated homes of the elderly. She initiated the work to get the chimney of Onutė living in Viduklė back in good working order, so that her grandmother would no longer be in danger. The old woman had already experienced the horror of the fire, so the chimney, donated by Maltesers, gave her back the peace of mind and the warmth of home. In 2020, Gerda carried out another project in Viduklė that was very important for the elderly – people would not have been able to do such work on their own. Thanks to the care of Maltesers, 9 houses of elderly people in Viduklė were provided with water and sewerage thanks to the funds of the Lithuanian-American Sandy Baksys, Bill Byrd and the Kazickas Family Foundation. In the winter, the seniors could not be happier: “We felt like real American gentlemen – we didn’t have to go to the well or to the outdoor toilet”. Warm water made it easier for people to maintain their household and hygiene. 11 000 dollars – that’s how much this gift for these people of Viduklė cost.
In addition to the elderly, Gerda is concerned about the future of the children – it is important that young families do not flee the town, that children have a full leisure time, a shelter and the opportunity to pursue their dreams. Three years ago, on the initiative of an active woman, a Maltesers’ Children Day Care Centre was opened. And in 2021, such a centre will open its doors in Raseiniai. The first lady of the country, Diana Nausėdienė, came to open it.
In 2020, Maltesers’ group in Viduklė was awarded a Maltesers’ letter of appreciation for their dedication and work.
Everyday jobs that change lives
Maltesers have always been recognised for their obvious social commitment – to care for the distressed, the weak and the elderly, the sick and the disabled. All this is successful because it is done not only voluntarily, but also in fraternal solidarity: this commitment is made consciously and freely, and the emotions experienced in this work often infect the people around them – not only acquaintances but also family members get involved in the activities.
Daily tasks that seem so simple and obvious to Maltesers make a real difference in the lives of the people they care for – they not only get hot meals, care and help with household chores, but they also have a close and trusted friend, and their gratitude is an incentive for Maltesers to stay and continue their noble work.