Month: August 2015

The Ride Of Their Lives

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Still fresh from a seven day cycling challenge through a number of European countries for charity, Nicky Camilleri, the chairperson and co-founder of the ALIVE Charity Foundation, tells us how it all started, how far it’s come, and the sacrifice behind getting there.

1399225_798117280309212_2644435901309966797_oEvery year, a team of cyclists commit themselves to 16 weeks of training to increase endurance and stamina in preparation for the cycling challenge, which is normally organised at the beginning of July. Participating is no leisure, and one must be fully prepared for a physically- and mentally-tough challenge across several European countries in any weather condition. Cycling over 1000km to reach their designated end point, they are united in one aim: to raise as much money as they can for cancer research.

This formula has proven to be a very successful one and, in just two and half years, they’ll have raised over a quarter of a million. With that in mind it’s hard to believe that the ALIVE Charity Foundation is, technically, still a relatively new kid on the block.

“The idea for ALIVE first came about while I was cycling with Miriam during one of the weekly leisure rides organised by South Cranks, Malta’s largest cycling group with over 400 members.

“I remember it was just a few days after my birthday and we joked about getting older. I told her I felt that it was time I did

something with my life to give something back to the community,” he continues. “I’m quite the workaholic, you see, but I wanted to do something that made a difference. At that point, however, all we knew was that we wanted to do a cycling charity event on a large scale and that it had to be overseas to be successful. The what, how and where were still blurry”… explains Nicky Camilleri, the chairperson and co-founder of the Charity and one of its most avid cyclists.11010562_800962190024721_6635608230243310768_o

“We were so enthusiastic that it took less than a week for Miriam to rope in three other cycling buddies, Elton,
Gerth and Lydia, who, along with Miriam and myself, are the three other co-founders of ALIVE. It was Christmastime, I remember, but we were so determined that, in a matter of weeks, we set up an NGO and, in January 2013, ALIVE was launched as a Charity Foundation.

For Nicky this was a dream come true and something that would revolutionise his life, particularly because the reason
behind the charity is a personal one: “17 years ago I watched my mother succumbing to cancer,” he explains. “Since then, I’ve lost a good percentage of my extended family to the illness, too. It’s a terrible disease and it’s made me realise that prevention is better than cure and that research is just as important as offering support to those who are suffering.”

The first challenge – which saw 35 cyclists go from London to Paris through Brussels – was a complete success, with the funds raised in collaboration with Action for Breast Cancer Foundation going towards the Research Trust of the University of Malta (RIDT) to sustain a specialised programme in breast cancer research.
The second ALIVE Cycling Challenge for Cancer saw the two main breast cancer organisations in Malta working collaboratively with ALIVE towards this good cause. Action for Breast Cancer Foundation, as well as Europa Donna, saw
the need to team up and support ALIVE to raise more funds from the
community. So, as Nicky points out, “although we are a relatively budding foundation, we wanted to show the people out there that the 11754578_798956340225306_1710280727241957594_okey to obtaining more positive results is by working collaboratively with other Maltese organisations. In fact, this year, since the funds are intended to go towards Children Cancer Research, ALIVE found collaboration from the Malta Community Chest Fund and Puttinu Cares.

Now, fresh from their third cycling challenge, the foundation has become renowned for its honorable work. But what most people don’t get to see or experience is the cyclists’ incredible journey from civilians to semi-professional cyclists who cross great distances in such a short time.

“Adrenaline plays a major role during these events,” says Nicky. “In fact, it was only when I broke my shoulder just six weeks before the last challenge that I learnt how others can feel when, after weeks and weeks of training, something goes wrong and you are down and in the backup van. Will power plays a very important part but I really need to thank God for recovering fast and doing the challenge once again.

“We do take some risks, of course, but we emphasise on the safety of the participants. There was one instance last year where we were called in by fire brigades to shelter due to low visibility, strong winds and heavy rain, and had to wait it out until it was safe enough to continue cycling.  Ultimately, our main challenge isn’t just to raise
funds, but to also get to our destination as one whole team.

“During the challenge, we all become one big family and, sometimes, we would even need to reduce our
average speed to support those who might have encountered an injury on the way or feel exhausted, and encourage them to make it to their next destination. After all, it’s important to remember that these people would have been through 16 weeks of arduous training, and they’ll have raised at least €2,200 for charity each – that’s a must to be able to participate,” he adds.11059622_798956493558624_1738297738026928688_o

What’s most interesting about ALIVE is probably its name, which, as Nicky points out, was inspired by the following idea: ‘A: First we must LIVE then we’re Alive’.

“Many of us take a lot of things for granted, and we don’t take care of ourselves or our health,” he continues. “But, when we are hit with a sickness, we all wish we would have done things differently. That’s why the most important thing in life is to remember to live – and healthily at that!”

ALIVE Cycling Challenge for Cancer would not have been possible without the generosity of the sponsors and the Maltese community at large and together they have helped the Foundation raise thousands of euro for research. This year’s donation – “a record amount which we cannot divulge for now,” explains Nicky – will go towards children’s cancer research and you can read more about that here.

RIDT has been there with ALIVE since the very beginning, too, and Nicky and his team have entrusted us with distributing the funds since the very beginning.

“We had approached Wilfred Kenely, the CEO of Research Trust (RIDT), as soon as we started working on ALIVE,” says Nicky. “Very few people know just how many breakthroughs are taking place in Malta every year and, since we started, educating the public on the importance of cancer research has been one of our biggest challenges. RIDT, however, is at the forefront of both doing that, as well as helping to fund it, and we’re proud to have worked together.”

Preparations are now well underway for the ALIVE2016 Cycling Challenge for Cancer, with the event being launched in the coming months and training commencing in March 2016. Anyone who wishes to join the team can contact ALIVE through their Facebook page.


For more information on the ALIVE Charity Foundation please visit their site or follow them on Facebook.



More about De Soldanis’ Dictionary

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Our blog from last week, De Soldanis Goes Mass Market, elicited a lot of interest.

Follow this interview with one of the researchers Rosabelle Carabott, who together with Joanne Trevisan have the exciting task of giving a new lease of life to De Soldanis’ Dictionary.

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De Soldanis Goes Mass Market

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Written 248 years ago, De Soldanis’s Manuscript is not just a Maltese-to-Latin-to-Italian dictionary, but the immortalisation of the world in which Canon De Soldanis lived. Here, Olvin Vella, assistant lecturer at the Department of Maltese at the University of Malta, gives us insight into De Soldanis’s world, as well as into the ongoing work that will make this rare and unique manuscript available to the public.

Olvin Vella RIDT 2015 269Can you imagine what life was like in the Year of Our Lord 1767? Well, for starters, there was no modern technology, as industrialisation was still in its infancy. People were very superstitious, and religious references and icons would have been omnipresent. More than that, our collective knowledge was still very limited – in fact, we didn’t even have a map of the eastern coast of Australia yet.

The most surprising thing, however, is how little we’d have cared for any of the above. Without social media and with widespread illiteracy, life for many revolved around their parish and livestock, with a rare trip to the capital being the only way of escaping the daily grind for a few hours.

Gian Piet Agius de Soldanis was different, though, and, in a world in which illiteracy reigned, he had mastered the pen; and in a world in which most people never traveled far from home, he left our shores for years at a time. All this is made even more awe-inspiring by the fact that De Soldanis was a Canon from, and who lived in, Gozo – which was far less connected to the outside world than it is now.

“The man was brilliant,” says Olvin, who, as assistant lecturer at the Department of Maltese at the University of image003Malta, has been overseeing Rosabel Carabot and Joanne Trevisan on their mission to publish the De Soldanis Manuscript. “Yet, throughout his life, he always felt like he was surrounded by farmers and hunters.

“That’s why, whenever he went abroad, he felt like he was being set free,” he continues. “In one instance in the manuscript, we discover that he went on a grand tour for two years to travel around Italy and France – this is something very few Maltese and, indeed, Gozitans, at the time could boast about.

“While there, De Soldanis met many interesting people and spent time in some of Europe’s most buzzing cultural centres, too. This, undoubtedly, helped shape his unique pen and sense of humour.”

De Soldanis’s manuscript, in fact – although, technically, a dictionary of now-old Maltese words – is actually more of a journal and a lexicon of a language that was changing and evolving incredibly quickly.

At the point in time which De Soldanis was writing his magnum opus, Malta was still under the rule of the Knights of St John – it would be another 31 years before the French would invade Malta, and another 33 before the British would be called in. This, as one can imagine, means that this dictionary gives us an insight into the words that were used then and, coupled with de Soldanis’s comments and notes, opens a door to a world rarely seen in history books – that of the lower classes.

“Through this book we know that ‘gverti’ (throws) made out of sheep’s wool were exported to the continent, and that the sacramental bread was called either ‘ostja’ or ‘xawwata’ – the latter being the same name used for a ‘ftira’.

“Even more interesting is that we know that they had two words for the verb ‘to wash’, for example. These were ‘jixxalakwa’ from the Italian ‘risciacquare’ and ‘jahsel’ from Arabic. We also know that a peacock, which today we’d call ‘pagun’, was then called a ‘taus’ but translated to Italian as ‘pagone’.”

De Soldanis Open DammaDe Soldanis goes even further than that, however, and explains how an ‘ghawwiem’ (a swimmer) is someone who swims, and that women from Isla were as good at swimming as the men. L-Imnarja, on the other hand, is not just the Feast of St Peter and St Paul, but a day on which people go out to get drunk and go to church. The reader is also told about Favray’s painting of the Mnarja, and that the feast is celebrated in Nadur, Gozo.

 “It is this unparalleled insight into the world of 250 years ago that was worth all the work that Rosabelle Carabot and Joanne Trevisan have gone through,” Olvin explains. “For hundreds of years, this book has been locked up in the National Library, with very few people actually leafing through its pages.

“Now, through its digitisation, the book will be able to be printed and used by scholars, historians and even those who are interested in learning more about the way our ancestors thought and lived,” he adds.

The project to create a mass-market copy of De Soldanis’s monumental manuscript has been in the works for over six years, and it is expected to go on sale in 2016.

“A special thank you should also go to the National Library, which allowed us to use digital versions of the document to facilitate our work. And, obviously, RIDT and Wilfred Kenely, for their constant support,” Olvin image002concludes.

The book, which will be around 1,000 pages long, has been funded by BPC International Ltd through RIDT, l-Akkademja tal-Malti, il-Kunsill Nazzjonali tal-Ilsien Malti and Heritage Malta. The transcriptions are by Rosabelle Carabot and Joanne Trevisan, with the former also in charge of editing and revision. Daniel Cilia has been entrusted with the design and publication.

De Soldanis’s manuscript will be available for pre-order at this year’s Book Fair in November.