News | Sunday, 07 December 2008

Reminiscence of a kids’ brigade

Nostalgic Debono Grech resigns to Brigata’s demise

“If you don’t change you die alone in a corner,” veteran Labour MP Joe Debono Grech says, as he stands up to face the decision by the PL to disband the organisation he co-founded, together with the late Joe Zerafa, back in 1958.
The Brigata Laburista was one of the first casualties of the earthquake promised by new Labour leader Joseph Muscat, and its abolition was endorsed by the executive committee of the Brigata itself.
While understanding the party’s decision to abolish the Brigata Laburista, Debono Grech has fond memories of the times when the organisation was “a refuge” for Labour children ostracised from community life during the party’s conflict with the church.
Founded during stormy times which saw Labour’s return to the Opposition after the sudden resignation of Dom Mintoff from his position as Prime Minister amid violent riots against British colonial rule, the Brigata was an attempt by Labour to create parallel social organisations to the existing ones dominated by the Catholic church’s hierarchy.
“You cannot understand what the Brigata meant for us without actually having lived in those times,” Debono Grech says, as he talks about what was simply a reflection of the turbulent 1950s and 1960s, when children hailing from Labour families were ostracised by the rest of the community. “It was a time when our children were only thought about the Queen, the British, and nothing about Malta.”
According to Debono Grech, the scouts – on which the Brigata was modelled – revered colonial rule, while Labour’s brigade sought to foster national pride. “Wearing a uniform gave childen a sense of pride, that’s why we emulated the scouts,” Debono Grech says.
“At that time, Labour children were ostracised from other organisations like the scouts or the MUSEUM. They were scorned even when they went to church.”
Still, Debono Grech denies that the Brigata was an instrument of indoctrination. “Basically we organised sports activities. We even organised football tournaments. Our only aim was to instil national pride at a time when Malta was a colony.”
Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca – who in her bid to the Labour leadership a few months ago had promised to strengthen the Brigata Laburista – is now four-square behind the party’s decision to disband it.
“When I said I wanted to strengthen the Brigata I meant that its function should be limited to educate young children in lifeskills and to educate children on the environment.”
Coleiro thinks these objectives can still be reached through the newly created Ideat foundation. “The important thing is that we keep contact with families and children.”
Ironically, the Brigata was disbanded at the very moment the organisation went online as it embraced the internet revolution, albeit with parts of its website still under construction.


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