When *Janet’s husband broke her hands to stop her from working as a hairdresser, she decided she had had enough. After enduring years of abuse, she finally took the first steps towards a new life and this time she would be the boss of her own fate. However, her injuries forced her to rethink her job prospects. She needed to retrain and, at the age of 35, she wanted to fulfill a long-held dream of completing her school education. So she started studying for her O’levels together with her teenage daughter.
As if starting over weren’t challenging enough, she needed to find the funds to cover the costs of private lessons, a laptop to help her with her coursework and books, so she turned to Fidem Foundation for help.
Set up in 2018, Fidem Foundation is a non-profit organisation that helps women and adolescent girls with accessing training courses in order to help them improve their chances at finding a job that will enable them to stand on their own feet. The overwhelming majority of the women Fidem has worked with over the past five years have been victims of domestic abuse and, as its founder Sabine Agius Cabourdin explained, the foundation offers holistic as well as practical support. “We don’t just cover the costs of their training courses or course material, we also ensure their mental wellbeing is taken care of,” says Sabine, a lawyer by profession who dedicates every spare minute of her time to her “second unpaid full-time job” of philanthropy. “Some of them go through traumatic experiences so we need to make sure they are adequately supported both psychologically as well as in a practical way.”
So far, Fidem has helped over 50 women through its Educate to Empower programme and over 340 people overall. “Fidem was born to educate and empower. That is our ethos. We want to empower vulnerable people, especially women, through culture, arts and education,” continues Sabine. “The majority of our service users lacked basic academic skills – English, computer literacy – without which they couldn’t progress to improve their life and career prospects.”
After years of sending women to private teachers and ad hoc courses, Fidem came up with the idea of organising their own course – Skill Up – covering English and computer literacy up to O’Level standard. “The Skill Up Programme is going to be the pinnacle of what Fidem was set out to achieve,” points out Sabine.
“Yes, other adult literacy courses are available but most of the women we are in contact with complained that these lessons often take place in the evenings when they have no one to look after their children or do not have the means to get to the school. We heard their plea. We think there is a large number of people who are lacking in basic educational resources not because it is not out there but because they cannot access the infrastructure. We need the access to education. It is a basic human right. If a person cannot afford to buy a school uniform, books, course material, it is useless saying there is school if they cannot access it. Education is the stepping stone to future careers so there is a socio-economic benefit to ensuring people have access to education as they will not be a burden on the state if they can secure a job.”
Malta still holds the record for the highest number of early school leavers in the EU and the Central Bank reports that those who leave school which just basic qualifications earn up to 65% less than those with tertiary level of education. As highlighted during Fidem’s first International Women’s Day conference last March, “educating girls is smart for all of us”. UNICEF states that “girls’ education strengthens economies and reduces inequality”.
Fidem’s 12-month Skill Up course will begin in June and is being supported by Atlas Insurance Community Involvement Fund which will be investing €60,000 over two years in this project. Places for this first intake are limited to 20 women. Participants will not only receive an MQF3 certificate which is equivalent to an O’Level but will also benefit from free transport to and from the course and free childcare during the lessons. “We are making their life as obstacle free as possible for them to feel the motivation that they can do it now.”
“We hope the group of students will become a community,” says Sabine. “This is an ambitious project. We had to source teachers and instructors who are as passionate about the ethos of Fidem as much as we are.” Lessons will be grounded in real-life scenarios and have a practical nature, more in keeping with the participants’ requirements. There won’t be any Chaucer or Shakespeare but the women will learn how to write a CV in English and how to present themselves for a job interview. They will work towards regular milestones that will keep them motivated and will perform in a play which will teach them presentation and public speaking skills. The home economics side of the course will teach them how to budget and follow a recipe in English while learning how to cook wholesome food for their family.
“At the end of the year we will hold a graduation ceremony. We hope it will be a real achievement for them,” continues Sabine. “It is very important that this community of students becomes like a family. It has to be more than just an O’level in English. How are we going to keep them there? Some are very motivated while others have had everything sucked out of them. Once a month we want to create different types of activities for them, all in English, and do something empowering. The most important thing is that this must be a supporting environment. There is no judgment here.”
For further information about Fidem Foundation visit www.fidem.org.mt If you wish to enroll on the Skill Up Programme contact firstname.lastname@example.org. For more Pink magazine features check out these tips on achieving work-life balance and 4 ChatGPT tips.
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