Young Maltesers – Mountain-Busting Youth
Young Maltesers in Lithuania started they activities in 1993 and now they are a very important and integral part of the Order of Malta’s Relief Organization, made up of modern, enthusiastic and active young people aged 14–29 who are ready to devote all their energy to voluntary social work. Currently, celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of the Maltesers’ activities, the Young Maltesers can be seen in 20 locations in Lithuania, where almost 500 volunteers are gathered. Through their social experience, young people not only develop spiritual values and compassion, but also accumulate a common human experience, getting to know every person, whether old, lonely or sick, which leaves an invaluable imprint on their lives.
First steps and growth
The Order of Malta’s Relief Organization in Lithuania was established in 1991, and in 1993 – just a few years after the first Maltesers’ steps towards social solidarity – the organisation’s young people, Young Maltesers, started their own separate activity. The first Young Maltesers were the children of adult Maltesers, teenagers who came to help their parents and were invited to form a separate organisation. Later on, most of the young people were brought together by teachers or students, when they saw that young people really wanted to help the less fortunate and to give their energy to do meaningful work. The first activities of the young people were focused on helping at Vilnius University Hospital, the neonatal ward, and activities with a disabled boy named Kaziukas.
With the emergence of helpers and benefactors who helped them along the way, the organisation began to grow and develop significantly: groups were quickly established in various regions of Lithuania, young people became indispensable helpers in hospitals, Children Day Care Centres, orphanages, started visiting lonely elderly and disabled people, actively contributed to household and farm chores, and got involved in the project “Meals on Wheels”. Young Maltesers willingly organised youth days, joined charity campaigns, Christmas fairs – they were involved wherever their help was needed.
It was possible to meet and get acquainted with the work carried out by Young Maltesers in other cities not only at rallies in Lithuania, but also at international camps, as well as at seminars and trainings to gain knowledge. Already in the first year of its existence, a very close and beautiful friendship was established with the German Maltesers (Junge Malteser), as well as with the Maltesers of Poland, Romania, Ukraine, Hungary, which was a great opportunity to learn from the experienced youth communities. And it didn’t take long for Lithuanian Young Maltesers to become a large, significant part of the Maltesers community themselves. Today, we are delighted with the impressive numbers of almost 500 young Maltesers volunteers in 20 locations in Lithuania who are involved in social activities.
Volunteering is the best choice during adolescence
Young Maltesers are first and foremost young people who cannot stand by and watch the pain of poverty and hardship. It is a meaningful and right choice for a young person, which not only shapes spiritual values, but also gives lessons and experiences – life rewards all the work done. One of the many proofs of this is Asta Borusevičiūtė, who became Young Malteser at the age of 12, and worked as a leader of the Lithuanian Young Maltesers from 2004 to 2010. Asta says that one of the most memorable experiences of her social work was interacting with children from Children Day Care Centres. “When a little person, who at the beginning was distrustful, reluctant to communicate and fearful, finally sees and hears you, all boundaries disappear and a great trust emerges – the feeling is extraordinary”.
Asta, who has spent so many years in the Maltesers’ community, is happy to continue her activities and growth being Malteser and encourages young people to try this path. “My circle of friends has been formed through Maltesers’ activities, and all the acquaintances and experiences I have made along the way have brought me to where I am now, and I am extremely grateful for that. Adolescence is the best and most appropriate time to volunteer. You develop true values and gain experience with both old and sick people. Every young person should follow this path.”
Enthusiasm never ceases to amaze others
Young people usually learn about Maltesers’ activities at school, through interactions with their peers, or by hearing older pupils’ stories about extracurricular activities. The teacher is usually the centre and the primary person who brings young people together in meaningful activities. This scenario was repeated in the life of Laimutė Žemaitienė, a Lithuanian language teacher working in Simnas and Pivašiūnai schools. Volunteering, 40 years of work experience and the beautiful friendships she has developed with young people have encouraged her to continue her good deeds in a larger company with a youthful energy. “When I was volunteering, I saw that there was a need for more help in the villages – this was an inspiration to get the young people involved and they were really eager to join the group. Children are wonderful, but sometimes they just need a light, a direction. And I was able to continue my work, but this time the lessons were different, more life-like.”
As times and circumstances change, it would seem that it is quite difficult to find young people with such values and aspirations today. Laimutė Žemaitienė refutes this fact. “When I ask the children “why did you come here?”, they say firmly “teacher, we are wasting so much time”. It is obvious that this is well supported by their actions: even during the summer holidays, the youngsters visit the elderly Antanas, take care of his house, stack firewood, and have taken the initiative to renovate his house themselves. Young Maltesers living in villages go to schools by bicycle instead of bus, so that they can stay longer and help, they gladly join the “Food Bank”, “Lourdes candles” and “Maltesers soup” campaigns, and they have undertaken to help deliver soup in Pivašiūnai. “The young people are learning a living lesson and I can see that this activity is genuinely important to them”, says Laimutė admiringly.
Young people who don’t chase glitter
Although you can officially become a Young Malteser from the age of 14, it doesn’t mean that you can’t start even earlier. Lina Suchorukovienė, a teacher and leader of Young Maltesers at the Prienai “Ąžuolo” Primary School, says that a very large part of the local community is made up of Little Maltesers, who have started their social activities as soon as they entered school. “My colleague, another Malteser and teacher, used to lead a Little Maltesers group – the children would help sort the products of the “Food Bank”, create cards for the elderly homes and go and visit them. Now most of those children have come to the Young Malteser. Since we didn’t have soup for the elderly yet, we used to go to the Prienai orphanage every two weeks to help clean the library and the environment of the house, to communicate with the elderly, and to take cakes to them. We started organising Christmas concerts, a Christmas fair and a Christmas Eve concert in the Church, and in 2017 we started the “Meals on Wheels” project – bringing soup to the homes of lonely elderly people.”
The main goal of the Young Maltesers’ activities is to educate young people as socially responsible individuals. It is not by chance that the activities are chosen for this purpose – the Prienai Young Maltesers not only bring soup to the elderly, but also celebrate Lithuanian and religious festivals together. “Traditions are very important for grandparents, and for children it is a great reminder of important dates. Every child goes to their grandparents with a small gift on a festive day, which makes the grandparents extremely happy and grateful, and these little things are very meaningful.”
For young people to stay on this path and not run away, their hearts must be filled with purity and patience. Lina emphasises, “Being around young people, I see who grows up on glitter and who has deeper values. Those who persist have depth. To remain a volunteer for so long and to be willing to give so much to others, spiritual values must go hand in hand.”
It’s not just about helping others – it’s about growing personalities
Nowadays, we can’t help but notice that the activities of the Young Maltesers are not lagging behind any other large organisations and communities: young people not only do beautiful, meaningful works, but also are able to contribute to the education of others. Vaidas Tumėnas, currently a member of the Presidium of Maltesers, who was once not only a Young Malteser, but also worked as a Young Malteser leader in 2013–2017, remembers: “In Visaginas I had to contribute to the organisation of “Maltesers Soup” several times, we also visited nursing homes, and when I moved to Vilnius, I contributed more to the project activities. I had to work on the “Ideas Assistants” competition project – we invited schools, youth, community to create, implement various ideas and thus collect funds, which were later donated to “Maltesers Soup”. Later, when I became a manager, I devoted a large part of my work to improving the quality and understanding of volunteering, creating a JM training team, a team of young people who were trained to work with volunteers – to help them plan activities, to teach them how to write projects in order to receive funding for their activities. We have also started to move first aid training.”
Today, Vaidas, who represents the voice of youth in the presidium, says: “Maltesers’ youth have not changed much over the years – they are curious young people, driven by an idea and a desire to not only help others, but also themselves. This is a growing conscious citizen of Lithuania.”
The pandemic has not extinguished the smouldering fire
During the pandemic, Young Maltesers, together with the current leader of the Young Maltesers Neringa Sukauskaitė, seeing an even greater need to help the lonely and the elderly, took the initiative to establish remote volunteering, which includes emotional support and education: they not only started educating seniors on media issues (how to find the right information, use social media, register for vaccinations or get a passport), but also ensured that every elderly person has the opportunity to communicate remotely (by phone) on a regular basis, in order to make sure that they are in the best possible emotional state.
The young people, active and enterprising, have shown that volunteering and willingness to help knows no age or time limit – if even a pandemic, which has restricted their ability to act and move freely, has not limited their determination to continue their good deeds, we can be sure that nothing can extinguish these hearts of kindness.