James Borg Cumbo – YOUTH OF THE YEAR 2016
The Youth of the Year Award 2016 organised by the Kerŷgma Movement was awarded to Mr James Borg Cumbo from San Gwann. The award, which is sponsored by APS Bank, was announced by Mrs Bernice Micallef, President of the Kerŷgma Movement. A Certificate of Special Merit was also awarded to Sara Portelli from Birkirkara for her voluntary work promoting the culture of life, defending the speechless and for her work within the Franciscan Community.
Her Excellency Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, President of Malta, presented the trophy at the end of a mass which was celebrated at St Dominic’s Church, Rabat on Friday 3 February 2017. Also present at the ceremony were the President’s husband Mr Edgar Preca, Prof. Emanuel P. Delia, Chairman of APS Bank Limited who sponsored the event, Mrs. Bernice Micallef, President of Kerŷgma Movement and Dr George Hyzler, Chairman of the Selection Board, among other guests.
James Borg Cumbo, is a 25-year-old youth from San Gwann who works with an insurance company. In 2012, James went with friends for a youth exchange in Finland. Here the participants were encouraged to reflect on the realities of life beyond our shores and this enkindled in them an interest to do missionary work. The idea of setting up Karibu! Malta evolved from this (Karibu means Welcome in Swahili).
James was involved in this project to encourage youngsters to go to Kenya under the Youth in Action scheme but their application for funding was unsuccessful. The youngsters who were interested to make this experience therefore decided that there was no alternative but to go anyway and pay the money from their own pockets. At the time, James was secretary of the group and was responsible for the collection of local records as well as planning the activities for the children in Kenya. Contact was made with Archbishop Emanuel Barbara in Kenya, and in August 2013 the group went to this country and from here commenced the Karibu! Malta experience. The work done included general maintenance, activities with children and socializing with local people of Malindi and other villages nearby. At the same time, they assessed projects which could be done in the future. Here James talked with children to see how they really felt and what they wished for. He saw the difference between the wishes of Maltese children those of Kenya who wished for the basics of life.
The group was so overwhelmed by the impact of this experience especially when returning to the comforts of their own homes, that they decided that this was not going to be a one-time event. They therefore set up a specific committee, with James being appointed President. He was responsible for drawing up a plan of fund-raising activities throughout the year and how the money collected could best be spent. Team-building experiences were set-up for participants, the tour for 2014 was planned in conjunction with continuous communication with Archbishop Barbara. This time they went to Ruiru and James and the other volunteers stayed at the Daughters of the Sacred Heart campus. Here the children called daily together with other street people. The Maltese group helped with cooking and food distribution and its financing. For the children, this house was their only hope. Karibu! Malta also funded a new kitchen so children could also learn how to cook. Moreover, they laid tiles in the nearby church and also restructured St. Theresa Nuzzo School.
In 2015 and 2016 work was concentrated in Kipangajeni, a village located on the outskirts of Malindi. The first building made of stone in the village was financed and built to be used as a chapel, as well as for various activities such as education for women, an infant school and a commuting area for residents of the village. They also built for them their first public toilet.
In 2016 they built two rooms to be used as classrooms and two smaller rooms as offices for teachers. They also arranged for the building of two other public toilets and installed a gutter around the roof of the hall to collect rainwater for free consumption.
James has so far gone to Kenya for four consecutive years and is planning another trip for July 2017. This time a new 3-year project is being initiated in Mbaoni, another village very distant from the town of Malindi and therefore resources are very limited. Karibu! Malta already introduced themselved by building them a bore-hole. The school needs to be rebuilt since the present one is made of branches and is very deteriorated. There are no benches for children who have sit on the ground and write on their lap. Due to the amount of residents, the project is quite big, involving 11 classrooms, 3 administrative offices and 5 toilet pits. Residents also wish for a church to be used also as a community meeting place and where women can get some education. The cost of this entire project is estimated at €90,000.
James’ role as president, with the help of other members, is to initially find the right candidates to participate and who are able to work as a team. Afterwards he arranges regular meetings to prepare them well for what they should expect in Kenya, where they will be living and what is expected of them. At the same time, James begins to negotiate the best travel prices and to be able to take up as much luggage as possible to fill them with clothes for children. During this period, fund-raising activities are commenced to collect money for the projects, usually one activity per month. James also contacts suppliers to obtain sponsorships, applies for any necessary permits and distributes work to the members to meet their expectations and so that everyone feels part of the project, simultaneously ensuring that all work is done. He also maintains constant contact with Malindi to ensure that everything is still on and that the Archbishop of Malindi and his assistants are taking care of all necessary permits. Locally he liaises with the Health Department so that the participants take the necessary vaccinations and keeps records of any special health conditions of the participants to ensure their health during the experience.
The project in Mboani is undoubtedly the biggest project ever undertaken by Karibu! Malta and James is confident that with the continued support and generosity of the Maltese along with the work of the group, they will succeed and look forward.
The nominees for this year’s Award were: James Borg Cumbo from San Gwann, Alan Joseph Buhagiar from Zabbar, Fabio Cini from from Żebbuġ Gozo, Sarah Magro from Vittoriosa, the Mellieha Youth Group and Sara Portelli from Birkirkara.
This trophy is awarded every year in honour of the late Dr Rudolph Saliba who was Kerygma Movement’s first president. Ms Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca congratulated the winner and the other finalists and the Kerygma Movement for organizing this annual event which showcases the voluntary work of so many youths. She said that the work carried out by these youngsters and many others gave her encouragement and confidence in the Maltese society and these young people needed to continue to encourage other youngsters to further the good work they are doing locally and in other countries especially in Africa. The President described these young people as the peace-builders of our community and were giving a lesson to those people who were using fear to scaremonger people through false messages of fear from people who really need respect and dignity. We must not introduce social tensions simply because they are here. Although these Maltese people do not mind at all digging their hands into their pockets to help the missions, when they actually encounter any of these people in our country, they see them as some kind of alien. There is therefore the need to have someone to reveal the truth of these situations where these creations of God who are fleeing wars, poverty and hunger need to be given respect, dignity and the friendship that of these youngsters with hearts brimming with love and solidarity were giving them. She therefore thanked them once again and said she is proud of the work they were doing as peace-builders and urged them to disclose this truth in the local environment.