News : Helpline in Distress
Valletta, Malta, Jan 21, 2016 -- "Maria* picked up the phone to dial 179 when the last of her three children graduated and got married. She told the volunteer manning the helpline she had been a victim of domestic abuse for 30 years and was now ready to speak up, as her children had all settled down. After she was referred to professionals, her husband too sought Appogg’s help to manage abusive behaviour.
The 24-hour free service is also available to those who witness abuse. Such was the case for a flatmate who spoke up about an intellectually disabled woman who was being locked up for hours at a time in a bedroom with a bucket for her needs, Svetlana Buttigieg, who heads the support service, told this newspaper.
The line relies heavily on professionally trained volunteers, who support a team of social workers and psychologists. There are about 40 volunteers answering calls, but the agency needs at least another 70 to keep up the support line and the Programm Ulied Darna, which relies on a separate cohort of 40 volunteers.
The programme, limited to Appogg’s existing users, needs volunteers to train parents in budgeting and household skills, to mind children while parents are attending court or in hospital and to accompany minors at different appointments when their parents are unable to attend.
The fluctuating turnover of volunteers and the 16,000 calls received on the support line every year often see the agency appeal for more people to man the lines. The selected volunteers are trained for 14 weeks before they start taking calls.
The helpline provides support to callers of any age facing a range of situations, including child abuse, domestic violence, homelessness, marital or family problems, loneliness, emotional difficulties, behavioural problems and depression and other mental health issues.
The most frequent callers are those suffering from loneliness, and the volunteers answering the phone encourage them to get out of the house for some face-to-face interaction in a bid not to develop a dependence on the support line.
One person who used to call about eight times a day now did so only a couple of times a week, Ms Buttigieg said, noting that the success of the helpline was not just measured by how many calls it received.
Those interested in joining and training as a 179 volunteer can call 2295 9000 or visit the website.
Volunteers answering 179 calls never take sides, and they do not usually solve the matter the first time. Still, dialling 179 is the first step towards recovery, according to a volunteer with 12 years of experience behind him.
The man, whose name must remain confidential, said there would be times when the caller hung up or the line just died.
In such cases he felt he could have done more to guide the person seeking help. On other occasions, the call was so emotionally loaded he would need a break and prepare himself mentally for the next one: "We are not machines and we have feelings, but we provide a friendly service without becoming friends so that we can be of service to the other callers."
There are times when the caller "feels a bit better" after about 20 minutes on the phone, and such instances motivated him even more to continue offering help, the volunteer said.
One such call came from an angry 14-year-old, who started pouring out her frustrations about her mother, even calling her names. "I listened to her but never agreed with her. We never take sides, so when she was done I just asked her: ‘Looking back over the past 14 years, what is one positive aspect of your mum?’
"There was a long silence and then she said: ‘She takes care of me, she cooks for me and washes my school uniform…’ The call ended on a very calm note, quite the opposite of how it started. These are the calls that motivate us," he admitted.
He pointed out that the volunteers could not solve the problems they are faced with but instead guided the callers or referred them to professionals. "It is just like the hospital’s emergency. You go there in pain and you are referred elsewhere. The pain does not usually end at the A&E," he said.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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Published: Monday, January 25, 2016