Accompanied by 77 voluntary workers from all walks of life – including doctors, consultants, social workers and business people – the President returned last week after a visit to Arequipa to help the MSSP Mission, timesofmalta.com reported.
Dr Abela, who for the first time yesterday addressed criticism that some made about his trip, said the only reason the visit could have been controversial was because heads of states did not normally undertake voluntary work visits abroad. He added that it was a great success.
In his first public address since his return, he said the group did not go to South America as missionaries but as volunteers and encouraged everyone to “make a choice in favour of the poor”.
“Happiness does not come with luxury or money – we gave a lot but we got so much more in return,” he said.
He said his role in Peru was more supportive than hands-on: he visited all the Maltese volunteers at their posts every day to boost their motivation and gave a helping hand in food distribution.
However, he said that any protocol issues raised by the media prior to the trip were sorted in a matter of seconds, when he coincidentally met the President of Peru.
President Ollanta Humala, who was on an official visit to Arequipa on the Maltese team’s last day, asked to meet Dr Abela.
“It was a beautiful experience. We were boarding the plane and he sent for me – we met literally on the apron and he thanked us for all our work,” he said. “Contrary to what certain people had said, it was not awkward at all.”