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History

The Malta Guide Dogs Foundation is a registered NGO whose aim is to offer services for Visually Impaired Persons.

It was during 1997 that the National Commission Persons with Disability (KNPD) put forward the idea of setting up a guide dog association to benefit the blind and visually impaired in the Maltese Islands. A small board of directors put together a set of rules and aims, and commenced raising funds for the enterprise. The project moved slowly but almost Lm8,000 (€18,500) was raised by subscription and donations in the following five years.

In 2005 it was mooted that the association be reorganised. In July 2006 a charitable foundation was formed with a board of directors representing blind aid associations in Malta and Gozo. The first meeting of the reconstituted board was held on Wednesday, July 19, 2006. Seven directors were elected, four of these from the following bodies:
  • National Commission Persons with Disability (KNPD);
  • Malta Society of the Blind and Visually Impaired (MSB);
  • Torball Society of the Blind; and the
  • Gozo Aid for the Visually Impaired (GAVI).
The Secretary, Treasurer and another stood as individual members.

The success of the foundation owes much to the effort and attention to detail of the founder chairman, Ronald Colombo. Sadly, he passed away on February 6, 2011. His shoes were filled by the person who was among the first to receive a guide dog through the foundation, Joseph Stafrace. On 21 June, 2012, a new Board was appointed and following further changes, the current Board of the foundation is composed of:
  • Chairperson, Leone Sciberras (MSB);
  • Hon. Secretary, Lilibeth Cachia;
  • Hon. Treasurer, Elaine Cassar;
  • Hon. Legal Advisor, Kevin Cutajar (GAVI);
  • Hon. PRO, Malcolm J. Naudi;
  • Member, Alfred Reale (Torball); and
  • Member, Francis Tirchett.
A statute comprising the Constitution, Aims and Procedures has been registered at a Public Notary and the Department of Inland Revenue will consider the foundation to be a non-profit-making non-government organisation (NGO).

The plans to develop the Foundation have been detailed in a five-year business plan, which sets out the proposed programme for the acquisition, training, supply and support of guide dogs for selected Maltese clients who are blind or visually impaired; and to set up a centre for independent living that is to be fully equipped for the housing, breeding, training and upkeep of guide dogs, and visually impaired persons.

Qualified dogs are trained in Malta with their clients. This training is initially carried out by Guide Dog Mobility Instructors (GDMI) from overseas schools but we wish to recruit our own GDMIs who are being sent abroad on a 2-year graduate course. Once this is satisfactorily complete, the instructor will take charge of the Malta Guide Dog School, be responsible for client/dog training, consultation with veterinarians, overseas associations and other responsibilities. They will monitor the progress of a dog-owner partnership at regular intervals and report progress to the Board.

The latest two puppies that were walked in Malta are currently in Sicily for training and agreements have been reached for the purchase/donation of five trained animals and a brood bitch from three European Schools.

The Malta Guide Dogs Foundation has provided guide dogs to 13 users in Malta and Gozo. It gives training in Orientation and Mobility (O&M) to the visually impaired and is totally reliant on fund-raising. Its major sponsors are the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (Knights of St John), the Malta Community Chest Fund, under the Presidency of Malta and Borg Cardona & Co Ltd.

Most of the volunteers who work within the organisation have lost their sight themselves. Thus, they know the needs and difficulties of all those who use the Malta Guide Dogs Foundation's services.

Nonetheless all the volunteers are fully committed to the tasks and challenges that they face every day. For once the blind are creating and maintaining a service for the blind!