The Order of Malta’s work with the elderly is one of its greatest strengths. We spoke to Bronius Einars, President of the Lithuanian Relief Service, about this key part of the Order’s global mission and how it has developed in Lithuania.
How did you become involved with the Order of Malta?
I initially became involved supporting a project run in Klaipeda. I’m a volunteer at heart – I put my hand up for everything! We then began to make plans for other projects, and started expanding our Meals on Wheels programme delivering food to the elderly. At the time I didn’t know anything about the Order of Malta, I just saw how desperately the work was needed. As more projects developed, the Order became a greater part of my life, and I began to see that there was something much bigger than the relief organisation: the wide global family of the Order.
How has your work in Lithuania adapted to the pandemic?
As soon as restrictions came into place, we reorganised all our programmes. Our elderly programmes naturally needed to change a lot. We categorise those we help depending on their level of need and capability, and reflect that in how often we visit them. We keep all contact as short as possible, maintain good hygiene safety and train volunteers thoroughly.
We also launched a new campaign, “#3x3x3”, encouraging people to hold short phone calls with those who were isolated. It was a great success, especially among young people who didn’t realise they could make a difference with something as simple as a phone call.
What are the greatest needs you see among the elderly you support?
Loneliness, without a doubt. Particularly during the pandemic. When we deliver food packages to the elderly we often find them waiting for us at the window, begging that we stay for a few minutes and talk to them. It’s unbelievable how many lonely people there are, particularly in the big cities. Poverty is the other great issue we see. Nearly 21% of Lithuania’s population live on €379 a month. Then there are the 7.7% who live on less than €250. How they do it, nobody knows.
How is your work with the elderly developing at the moment?
We’ve been known for years across Lithuania for our work with the elderly. Our focus is improving the quality and range of the services we offer. In practice, this means offering full health and social care at home and developing care homes for those most in need. With the support of the Global Fund for Forgotten People, we are developing Lithuania’s first residential care home, which will open in 2021. We see such a huge need for this kind of service, and how successful homes like this can be when carried out with real heart and professionalism.
We also want to strengthen our at-home care for the housebound. Our volunteers have a lot of experience of this kind of care – why not harness this to make more positive change? At the end of the day, all our decisions depend on our individual beneficiaries and what they need most.
In closing, are there any projects which are particularly close to your heart?
Too many to mention! Our elderly works are impressive – our home care services, Meals on Wheels, five elderly clubs, three day care centres, various spiritual initiatives. Another area of work which means a lot to me is our summer camps for the disabled, which the Fund has also supported. Next year we’re hoping to develop that project to work with guests’ wider families too, who have challenging needs of their own. That programme will always mean a lot to me because the idea was first born on pilgrimage in Lourdes, as we helped a guest who was struggling with a bad wheelchair. The works of the Order have a real spiritual touch, and our workers and volunteers have a deep commitment to what they do. Combined with the possibility to implement learnings from our partners worldwide, this puts us in a really unique place to care for those who have been forgotten.