Help is just a call away

No mat­ter what your prob­lem, the be­frien­ders are there to of­fer emo­tional sup­port.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIVING - By AN­GELIN YEOH star2@thes­

THERE is a funny story be­hind the first call that Be­frien­ders re­ceived back in 1970. Ros­alind Oh, wife of Be­frien­ders co­founder the late Dr David Muttu, re­mem­bers the first phone call fondly.

“My hus­band was wait­ing in the tele­phone room, ea­gerly an­tic­i­pat­ing the first call. Fi­nally, when the phone rang, he picked it up only to find that the per­son at the end of the line was fel­low co-founder Dr T. Thu­rairat­nam,” says Oh, 78. And the first thing Dr Thu­rairat­nam said was, “Hello David, have we re­ceived any calls to­day?”

That was prob­a­bly the first and only time when a call re­ceived by the Be­frien­ders seemed like a laugh­ing mat­ter.

Now into its 44th year, the Be­frien­ders is a free and con­fi­den­tial coun­selling ser­vice for those who need emo­tional sup­port.

Any­one can con­tact the Be­frien­ders via its 24-hour tele­phone call ser­vice or e-mail. They could also re­quest for a face-to-face ap­point­ment at the Be­frien­ders cen­tre.

Ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics pro­vided by Be­frien­ders, the cen­tre re­ceives more than 50 calls a day.

Most call­ers want to talk about re­la­tion­ship woes, so­cial dif­fi­cul­ties, men­tal health is­sues and fam­ily prob­lems.

No mat­ter what is both­er­ing them, the Be­frien­ders will be there to lis­ten with­out judge­ment.

Since its in­cep­tion in 1970, Be­frien­ders rely on pas­sion­ate and ded­i­cated vol­un­teers to keep its ser­vices go­ing.

To be­come a vol­un­teer, in­ter­ested ap­pli­cants must sign up for an in­ter­view ses­sion. Suc­cess­ful ap­pli­cants will have to at­tend an in­ten­sive eight-week Be­frien­ders Train­ing Course. They will learn to sharpen their lis­ten­ing skills and de­velop the con­fi­dence to deal with people who are fac­ing a cri­sis.

But be­com­ing a Be­frien­der is no walk in the park.

“You can’t be­come a Be­frien­der if you’ve got a lot of is­sues in your life,” says Gerry Uru­dra, 50, who hails from Eng­land.

“It’s pos­si­ble to iden­tify or re­late to some of the calls you get. But we are taught to sep­a­rate their is­sues from our­selves. Af­ter all, it’s about them,” says Uru­dra, who joined the Be­frien­ders five years ago.

Leow Yew Chong, 50, was in­spired to join Be­frien­ders nine years ago af­ter lis­ten­ing to some of the is­sues that people were fac­ing.

“I found those is­sues too dif­fi­cult to han­dle, so I felt I needed to learn how to help oth­ers,” says Leow, a busi­ness­man based in Klang.

Like Uru­dra, Leow had to un­dergo an eightweek train­ing pro­gramme.

Then, when it was time to lend emo­tional sup­port, Leow re­alised it was more dif­fi­cult than he had ex­pected.

“I had a dif­fer­ent idea of how Be­frien­ders should run their ser­vices,” says Leow, who had to un­dergo an additional four weeks of train­ing to be­come a Be­frien­der.

“You have to learn to let go of pre-con­ceived ideas and judge­men­tal at­ti­tudes. I learned to look at things from dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives and with an open mind. Even­tu­ally, I re­alised that I could be of bet­ter help to oth­ers and my­self by lis­ten­ing with­out prej­u­dice,” says Leow.

Sup­port sys­tem

Fel­low Be­frien­der Kenny Lim agrees. “When I was a stu­dent many years ago, I went through a dif­fi­cult pe­riod in life. I had sui­ci­dal thoughts. At that time, I re­alised how im­por­tant it was to have a re­ally good sup­port sys­tem,” says Lim, 39. “Hav­ing some­one to pull you through re­ally made a dif­fer­ence.”

Lim, who has been serv­ing in Be­frien­ders for the past 15 years, stresses the im­por­tance of just be­ing there for some­one in their hour of need.

Con­trary to pop­u­lar be­lief, the Be­frien­ders do not of­fer so­lu­tions or ad­vice to prob­lems. Chair­man Mary Raj ex­plains that the Be­frien­ders’ role is to lis­ten and steer its call­ers to­wards a pos­i­tive di­rec­tion.

“There can be bad con­se­quences from ad­vice or so­lu­tions. You never know when it could be detri­men­tal to the caller’s well­be­ing,” says Mary, a Be­frien­der since 1982.

Lim points out that most ap­pli­cants are rather clue­less about the role Be­frien­ders play.

“Many come in with the aim of sav­ing people, giv­ing ad­vice and solv­ing their prob- lems. But re­ally, to be a Be­frien­der, you have to be an ac­tive and em­pa­thetic lis­tener,” says Lim.

From her ex­pe­ri­ence in con­duct­ing the eight-week cour­ses, Mary finds that many people are not com­fort­able with just sit­ting and lis­ten­ing to oth­ers speak about their prob­lems.

“They have the urge to say some­thing. They think prob­lems and wor­ries will go away if they of­fer so­lu­tions or ad­vice,” says Mary.

“When you get call­ers who say ‘tell me what to do, give me ad­vice’, it puts a lot of pres­sure on the Be­frien­der. They may end up giv­ing hasty so­lu­tions. In­stead, a Be­frien­der should em­power the caller to look at their is­sues in their own way.”

Uru­dra gives an ex­am­ple of what to do when a caller asks for ad­vice.

“You back­track the caller. You ask, ‘what op­tions do you think you have?’ At the end of the call, they of­ten say ‘I feel so much bet­ter, thank you’. When you think about it, all you have done is steer them to­wards their own so­lu­tions. You didn’t tell them what to do.”

Mary con­curs: “We help our call­ers to over­come their wor­ries. We want to help them be­lieve that they can help them­selves.”

To be a Be­frien­der, e-mail ad­min@ be­frien­ for more de­tails. Ap­pli­cants (21 years and above) must be com­mit­ted to a weekly shift of four hours. Suc­cess­ful ap­pli­cants have to at­tend a train­ing course from 10am to 1.30pm ev­ery Satur­day, from March 8 to April 26. For more in­for­ma­tion, check out­frien­ders.

All ears: apart from phone calls and face-to-face con­tact, be­frien­ders also of­fer coun­selling ser­vices via e-mail. Vol­un­teer Leow yew Chong says be­ing a be­frien­der is all about lis­ten­ing with­out prej­u­dice.

‘It makes a lot of dif­fer­ence to have some­one pull you through a rough patch,’ says Kenny Lim.

ros­alind oh, wife of be­frien­ders co-founder, the late dr david Muttu, shares sto­ries of the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s early days.

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