There was only one place to be on the night of Saturday 27 April: the Gala Dinner of student initiative, Step Up For Parkinson’s (SUFP) at the Corinthia Hotel. 160 members of SUFP and guests thought so, including Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and the Patron of SUFP, Marie Louise Coleiro Preca. In their speeches, both paid tribute to SUFP and its founder, University of Malta student Natalie Muschamp and to the work of TAKEOFF, Malta’s premier business incubator facility, which has nurtured the social enterprise since its inception.
It is just over 200 years since James Parkinson described the disease that bears his name as ‘falling over disease’. Primarily a condition of the elderly, Parkinson's Disease (PD) symptoms include muscle rigidity, tremors, and changes in speech and gait. After diagnosis, medical treatments can help relieve symptoms, but there is no cure. In Malta, however, there is help: dance therapy. And it works. SUFP was founded by Natalie Muschamp in 2016 and started with just eight patients with PD and their carers, offering dance classes at TAKEOFF. From those early days the number of SUFP ‘members’ has grown to 160 with weekly classes at multiple locations across Malta.
Natalie was inspired to found SUFP following the death of a relative from PD and she has a vision to make the service available to more of the 1,415 people with Parkinson’s in Malta, and each of their caregivers, with dance classes to help them cope with their everyday difficulties with PD – and to always do so free of charge and accessible to all. After the Gala Dinner, that vision is now becoming a reality. “It was the unflagging support from the outgoing President coupled with ongoing support from the Gasan Foundation and Inspirasia (through the Social Impact Awards) that has brought us this far. But I was thrilled and humbled to hear from the Prime Minister that he intends to support us going forwards in our aim to be sustainable”, said Natalie.
Manager of Malta’s premier business facility TAKEOFF, Ing Joseph Bartolo commented, “Providing over 1,000 hours of mentoring per year to new business founders, both commercial and social enterprises, takes an huge amount of effort but the success of SUFP makes it all worthwhile. And the support of the outgoing President and the Prime Minister is the icing on the cake”.