by James Vella Clark
In 2007, Fr Mark Ciantar OFM, together with a group of young volunteers, co-founded a green community space for youth in Malta based on permaculture values, a project which eventually led to the founding of a non-governmental organization named Inteko. “The aim is a simple one – to protect the island’s environment, while providing a refuge for young people who were dealing with personal conflicts and obstacles at risk of exclusion,” explains Fr Mark.
It all started with the founding of Dar Frate Jacoba, and as Fr Mark explains, the initiative seemed to be the beginning of something that needed to spread.
“Circumstances however pushed us to a different path. The pandemic happened and with it came the rejection of a project I had long been working on. When this happened, I chose to take a step back to reflect. I moved to Qawra with my elderly sick father which turned out to be an amazing experience. Being away from everything helped me realize that when circumstances are tough, the best way is to co-operate with life by going with the flow. I started looking at life from a different perspective and felt reborn. And with me, Inteko was born too.”
Fr Mark reminisced on how he had found his vocation in Ħamrun where he also grew up.
“As an adolescent, I used to go to my oldest brother’s house next to the church of the Franciscans in Ħamrun and on Sunday, go to mass there. It was ‘love at first sight’. There were young friars in formation back then, and as a youth myself, I was attracted to the idea of becoming one of them. They were visibly happy.”
Fr Mark and his team, work from home with no specific base but currently, the search is on for a hub for this project.
“What we have in mind is a Centre for Integral Ecology which will act as a focal point for the network of people and communities that are striving to re-connect humans with their common home and family. The creation of this big family is Inteko’s purpose,” he adds.
Through his ongoing work with young people, Fr Mark has come to understand that many of today’s young people are at risk of exclusion due to the lack of affordable housing which he describes as “a terrible problem”.
“I personally think it’s a very unjust situation and that authorities urgently need to address this problem because it is causing a lot of confusion and anxiety amongst the younger generation. On a deeper level, we need to talk straight to young people about their fundamental role as artisans of this changing society where albeit the pain involved in the process, they also need to be told that there is hope.”
As we speak, it becomes clearer how Fr Mark avoids the word ‘solidarity’ and prefers the word ‘compassion’.
“We find compassion when we look within us. People are becoming more alienated from what is real, which makes them more aware of their increasing loneliness and drives them to look for happiness in other things. The general crisis of leadership where we lack inspiring personalities who can offer direction to people in this difficult, yet beautiful journey of personal introspection does not help.”
“Being compassionate also means believing that people can find their solutions within themselves. It is what real education should be about. Compassionate people never impose; they inspire, offering support while respecting the dignity of others,” added Fr Mark.
We shift the conversation to nature and the environment, which is what Inteko is all about.
“Connecting with nature has a healing effect on land and people and I have experienced this myself. When I lived in Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq, any negative thoughts would fade away with an early morning jog along the coastline as I enjoyed the beauty of sunrise and the smell of the sea and the fresh air. And when I farmed the land in Marsascala, the rhythms of the seasons, the growth stages of the crops and the beautiful variety of life forms had a calming effect on me and on our community as a whole.”
Can we realistically aspire to a better environment?
“We need to first stop its destruction, not only of the natural environment, but also of our overall quality of life. Then, if we want a lasting effect, we need to keep educating people until everyone realises what we are missing. This requires a true commitment from all sectors of society.“
Through Inteko, Fr Mark and his team are already doing their part as they build a network of communities that embody Integral Ecology in their lifestyle.
“Our mission is to inspire change makers to help protect our planet and its inhabitants. We are dreamers and we want to do much more. But besides financial support, we also need passionate people who are willing to give some of their time to this cause,” concluded Fr Mark.
For both volunteering and donating, more details may be found on http://www.intekomalta.org or on the project’s Facebook page Intekomalta.
Some quick-fire questions:
Favourite music / band: Beethoven.
Tea or Coffee? Coffee.
A place in Malta or Gozo you would visit for inspiration: Dingli Cliffs.
Your favourite season and why: Summer when I find the time for camping.
A life lesson learnt: People grow!
Your favourite comfort dish: Soppa tal-armla.
A fond memory: My long walks in the countryside on Sunday afternoons with my father.
A pet hate: Egocentric attitudes.
What calms you down: Sport walking.
If you could board a plane tomorrow where would you go? Tibet.
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