by James Vella Clark
Anthony Gatt has been Director of Caritas, one of Malta’s largest community organisations, for the past four years, however, he has been involved with voluntary work for most of his life. Having worked in the addictions field for 22 years and been a counselling psychologist since 2004, he certainly needs no introduction amongst all those working, or involved with the local social services sector.
Whilst his upbringing has allowed him to “discover the joy of living from a very young age,” Anthony feels inspired by strong religious beliefs and fuelled by a deep motivation for life. Today he feels that he has managed to strike the right balance between his life as a family man, his work at Caritas and his newly found passion for endurance running.
“Ultimately, I am driven by what I feel is our scope of existence – learning how loved we are and feeling compelled to reflect this to those who cross our path.”
Tell us a bit about yourself, your upbringing, education, and current profession.
I am 46, grew up in the tal-Karmnu neighbourhood in Valletta and I come from a family of four siblings raised in Christian values. After my primary education at Stella Maris College in Gżira and my secondary at Tal-Handaq Junior Lyceum, I completed a first degree in psychology at the University of Malta and a Master’s degree in Counselling Psychology at the University of British Columbia in Canada.
For the past 21 years, I have been married to Marisa, a social worker with whom we have four girls and a boy, as well as Lilly our pet dog. These last couple of years I developed a love for trail running and obstacle course races, an activity that has helped me discover the joy of physical exertion. To date, I am hooked!
How did you get involved in this sector?
As a child, I was in Legion of Mary and I remember visiting children in hospital. Witnessing their pain and trying to be of solace has had a lasting impact on me. So as I grew up, I felt more inclined toward helping and engaging with various voluntary organisations such as the Diocesan Youth Commission. Eventually helping became my job. Having worked at Sedqa, in private practice and more recently with Caritas made me realise that more than a job, mine is a vocation.
When did you start working with Caritas?
Incidentally, my first paid work was a year with Caritas in 1999 after graduating from university. I was responsible for volunteers. I moved on to Sedqa where I worked until 2011. During this time, I trained as a psychologist. In 2015 I joined Caritas again as a Clinical Coordinator running the drug rehabilitation programmes and services. It felt like a homecoming. After three years in this role, I was appointed Director.
Describe a typical week.
There is no typical week because the work is so varied! The biggest chunk of my time is spent supporting senior management with operational, infrastructural, administrative, fundraising, human resources, and financial issues. However, I also find it important to keep in touch with the grassroots, so I visit staff and residents in our centres; I carry out media interviews as part of Caritas’ advocacy work; I network with stakeholders within the church, other NGOs and government services. Since I started running, in weekends early morning, I join the Caritas’ running or cycling groups that most often start from San Blas or the Prison Inmates Programme.
What are the current challenges and how do you seek to overcome them?
In the last years, the major challenge was managing the growth of Caritas as the Tal-Ibwar Adolescent Therapeutic Centre and the Caritas Community Centre was being built and new services started being developed and implemented. Covid-19 of course did not help and made it more challenging but I am deeply grateful to our staff and volunteers who soldiered on day by day with passion and dedication. Currently, the challenge is to recruit professionals in the social field because there are not enough in the field. Combating poverty and substance dependence also remains a daily challenge.
What inspires you most in life?
A dear Jesuit friend of mine, Fr Paul Chetcuti, describes God as the constant and infinite transaction of giving gratuitously and receiving worthily and humbly. Therefore, my belief in God’s love for me, for humankind and all creation as well as Christ’s suffering that accompanies all humans going through their suffering is what inspires me the most. There is no greater love than giving one’s life to others and perhaps this is why I do what I do.
You recently found a new passion – endurance running. How did this happen?
As I turned 44, my work colleagues started pushing me into starting to exercise. With Covid, I started following workouts online which led me to lose 20 kgs. So then, I started running after a friend of mine David Saliba introduced me to it. Eventually, I took up trail running which I not only find magnificent but almost meditative because I am constantly running amidst nature. All thoughts and worries vanish and for a few moments, it feels like freedom. Connecting with nature becomes a very spiritual experience and I have come to know a lot of new people who share the same passion. The races and the teamwork in obstacle courses also give me an indescribable natural high. Very recently I ran my longest distance 32.5 km over 4 hours. I wish to complete a full marathon and eventually, graduate to ultra-running by going beyond the 50 km distance.
How do you personally seek to strike a work/life balance?
By enjoying all that I do, as challenging as it may be. I love my family, I love my work and I love my running and my motivation for life fuel me. I try not to overdo it and I try to be more available to my family. My wife is a huge anchor for me and she keeps me grounded.
Can you briefly outline some future projects for Caritas?
After the opening of the Tal-Ibwar Adolescent Therapeutic Centre and the soon-to-be officially opened Caritas Community Centre, we will be doing some consolidation work. We have also started working on two new significant projects – a specialised housing project for women transitioning out of addiction and a partnership with the St Peter’s Foundation supporting activities related to the storage and distribution of food to people in need. We are also developing social enterprise as a tool to help integrate vulnerable persons into work while raising funds to support the delivery of free psychosocial services to those who need it most.
SOME QUICK-FIRE QUESTIONS
Favourite food? Salads
Favourite drink? Water
Favourite spot in Malta? The clay slopes between Ġnejna and Għajn Tuffieħa
Summer or Winter? Summer mostly but love to run in the rain on slippery slopes too!
A very cherished memory? The birth of my children
A disappointing moment? Whenever I let my family down
Your favourite trait about yourself? Positivity and Humour
What would you like to be most remembered for? Loving Kindness
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