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An Anchor For The Community: Our Lifeline Volunteers

To mark this year’s International Volunteer Day, we reached out to our lifeline support workers and asked them to share a little bit of their experience. The people we spoke to come from different countries, have different educational backgrounds and occupations and are at different stages in their lives, yet at times it felt like they spoke with one voice, much as we aim to do on the lifeline. Here, edited for brevity and clarity,  are the thoughts of some of the people that keep our lifeline open every day of the year. 

I had turned 60 just before I started the training and at that point it felt like a life-changing birthday. (D)

I knew of Tell and wanted to volunteer for a long time, so I joined as soon as I turned 18. (L)

When I applied to join the training I was 4 years in therapy and recovery. I can think of what happened to me and what helped me get out of it, so I dial back to that and use that to connect with the caller’s feelings. (A)

I understand how difficult it is to reach out for help; I wanted to be the one on the other end of the line that understands how vulnerable that feels. (E)

I learned how many people there are out there who are struggling but are resilient and keep going on. This work helps you have empathy and a more compassionate view not just here but everywhere. You learn to appreciate how many people are just trying to survive.  (Z)

Working on the lifeline gives me a greater awareness of what some people may be going through. (J)

There is a modesty I have to bring to certain situations. I have learned that it’s not always my job to fix a problem. (C)

I hear a lot of strength on the line, I hear how much each person has persevered. (A)

Through the training, I learned to listen to people without having set judgements about them. (L)

Sometimes you expect yourself to be a certain way but when we meet people with different values we can be surprised by the ways we act. (T)

It’s been a wake up call in ways I was not expecting. The way you see yourself in the world and the way people see you, you start becoming conscious of the discrepancy. It’s given me impetus to work on myself, it’s put a fire under me to make myself a better person. (M)

It has made me more aware of my vulnerability, more aware of how I interact with my partner, my child, my extended family, and people around me. I learned to be a better family member, to see and hear things I was not able to before. (D)

Working on the lifeline isn’t as daunting as I expected it to be and it’s much more rewarding than the concept of listening implies. It takes so little from me to give something so meaningful to someone. The cost/benefit analysis is so immensely in favour of the benefit. There is no downside, for me. (C) 

Perhaps you think you are going to be volunteering to help others but in helping others you massively help yourself in ways that will be revealed to you as you go along. (M)

There is no lack of getting back, if anything I feel like I should be giving more, with how much we get out of it. I never have thought “boy, I need to get paid or get more out of this!”  (D)

On the one side, you are giving back to the community and supporting others but you learn a lot and you get more than you give, it’s a process of discovering yourself, knowing and understanding yourself more. It’s a win-win situation. (T)

The training and the experience of being a support worker is like doing a masters’ programme of being an adult. You learn to not react emotionally,  to not police the person but just kind of sit in that space and deal with conflicting feelings and maintain your integrity through it. You learn to not be afraid to ask deep, honest questions. (A)

On the line I learned to appreciate myself a bit more and to not freak out easily. (T)

I wanted to genuinely give and just give with nothing coming back to me. It’s as close as I am going to get to giving something truly freely. What I get from it is the fact that I am getting nothing from it. (M)

Some of the people I have met over the course of my work with TELL changed my life. I have met people that believed in me and inspired me; people that had no motive, yet treated me with complete kindness; and people that have helped me in practical ways with their wisdom and life experience. (E)

It’s really amazing that the training to be a lifeline support worker can be this life-changing experience for so many people. There is no “you just keep on going like nothing has changed”. It completely changed my life, it opened the door to something I would have never considered for myself, and now I am pursuing counselling as a career. (Z)

What I get out of it is the opportunity to connect with all kinds of people in a meaningful way and be an anchor for them to hold onto so they can continue their struggle in this life. (J)