No matter what your problem, the Befrienders are there to offer emotional support.
THERE is a funny story behind the first call that Befrienders received back in 1970. Rosalind Oh, wife of Befrienders co-founder 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 eight-week 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.
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 well-being,” 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 problems. 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 email@example.com 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 out www.befrienders.org.my.