Rita Vella was selected for the 2011 Women Inspiring Europe Calendar
Rita is the Deputy Chair of a National Commission and the chairwoman of one of the major organisations of her home country Malta. She works in a fulfilling job and leaves in a beautiful marriage with her husband Kevin. She loves to travel and in her many capacities she very often does so. She is an example for many, one of the most important figures in civil society in Malta today and inspiration to everybody she meets.
And Rita Vella does all this with her mouth only. When she was ten years, she had stopped walking, by the age of 16; she had also lost her movements in her hands and was fully bound to a wheelchair. Aged 8, she was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy (MD), a genetic disorder which weakens the body’s muscles, with most people ending up in a wheelchair and with low life expectancy.
“Being independent was always the most important to me. I knew I could only be happy if I am independent.”, she says today looking back on her life during which she had always done just that: She lived on her own losing her mother early, went to university, found herself a job and a routine for her life – even though she couldn’t live it without the help of others. But her slogan “Rights, not charity” is not only valid for her campaigning work in the Maltese Muscular Dystrophy Group but also for her personal life.
Her own strength and perseverance made her one of the strongest advocates for people with disabilities and a role model for everybody around her. As Deputy Chair of the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities she also acts as the representative of people with disabilities not only those with MD.
Meeting Rita Vella is like walking right into rays of sunshine. She is radiant and bubbly, full of energy and enthusiasm. But never would she want to be limited to her friendly personality. She has strong convictions and is never shy to address them: “Everybody should have the right to live on their own, in their own home. It is possible.”
She is fully aware of the resistance she faces at times: “Sometimes people look at me and say ‘Are you serious?’. Of course I am serious!”
Her husband Kevin suffers from muscular dystrophy and the pair has been married – and living on their own – for years, even though both their condition is deteriorating. He sometimes is dazzled by his wife’s energy. “I don’t know where she gets it from. But is certainly is an inspiration to me too.”
As a couple they continue to lobby for the rights for people with disabilities. On a private level, they too face CHALLENGES: “We cannot plan. We are both aware of our conditions and that it is worsening. It could be next year that one of us...” Ms Vella says without finishing the sentence. But instead of backing down at this moment, she lifts her had, smiles and says: “Live today, not tomorrow!”