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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Mallika, Asian Co-ordinator for Befrienderws worldwide, writes about her experiencxe at the Samaritan conference, York,UK,Sept.2009

Report to Centres of Befrienders Worldwide Training Event and Samaritan Conference September 2009

The 49th Annual York Conference was held at York University between 25th and 27th September 2009. Prior to the opening of the Samaritan conference the delegates of Befrienders Worldwide met for and International Training Event on the 25th morning. There were thirty four delegates from twenty three centres.

The theme of our training event was Supporting Each Other – (What is volunteer support? How do we offer it, what works and why?) Our trainers were Joanna Ridout and David Brodtman from the Samaritans. Some of you would have met them at the Thailand conference.

We discussed the similarity between support and guidance and the feelings involved by both the receiver and the giver.
· The issues discussed were the barriers and fears involved in giving guidance
· What do you want the volunteer to take away with them after receiving guidance from a support volunteer
· What would you want to take away after receiving guidance

The conclusion was that guidance is a way of supporting a volunteer through a difficult and personally challenging situation. It is a two way process initiated by the Support Volunteer in order to tackle the identified problem or situation. The Befriender needs to feel safe, listened to, accepted and respected whether they are being supported or guided –the difference is in what they take with them from the experience. Effective guidance is about helping volunteers look at their shortcomings in a safe and supportive environment. It is about empathizing. Thinking about how you would feel when talking to someone offering you support or guidance.

A volunteer who has received guidance should leave feeling empowered to:
· Deal more effectively when a similar situation occurs
· Pro-actively seek guidance when offloading
· Feel supported – not criticized by guidance
· Be more aware of their approach to callers and fellow volunteers

It was an inspiring experience – a rare opportunity of doing a training workshop with volunteers from around the world. It was also reassuring to know that the same issues give us grief no matter where we are placed on the globe and that sharing our experiences and practices brings us closer together for a common goal. I wish more of our volunteers could take part in such events.

The Samaritans conference opened after dinner on the evening of the 25th. The theme of this years’ conference was Reaching Out to Priority Groups. The opening plenary was by Dr. Mike Smith on Understanding Self Harm. He explained to us that Self Harm is actually a coping strategy. For young people who are under tremendous stress, harming themselves is very often a way of releasing their intense feelings rather than a conscious act of killing themselves. Although many self- harmers are also suicidal, it is not at that moment with the actual intent of suicide.

The other interesting plenary was on The Impact of Suicide on Those Left Behind. By Mike Bush. He spoke of his personal experiences.

Besides the plenaries there were plenty of seminars and workshops on various priority groups like bereaved children, prisoners, self harmers, trans-sexuals, etc. We were very busy through the day, but there was also time over dinner to meet, chat, exchange notes and generally enjoy the company of other volunteers.

On the 26th evening after dinner we had a Twinning Meet over wine and snacks where the international delegates got an opportunity to meet volunteers from their twinned centres. We exchanged notes and also had an opportunity to meet with Joan Guenault our Twinning Coordinator, Sophie Andrews, the present Chair of Samaritans, Catherine Johnstone, the CEO of Samaritans and also all the BWSG members.

Befrienders Worldwide also had a counter at the Exhibition Hall where volunteers could come for information. Joan and her husband Tony also had a Twinning counter. You could pick up knick knacks from around the world that the international delegates had brought to the conference and Joan sold to raise money for the Twinning project. The pearls from Hyderabad and the bracelet from Sri Lanka were as usual a big hit. Merab the delegate from Samaritans Kenya, our newest centre, pulled the lucky tickets out of the box for the raffle.

As always the Samaritans conference is an exceptional event which is run ever so efficiently. It is amazing how a group of volunteers can host a conference for 1200 delegates far better than any event manager. But that goes for any Befrienders conference. I have had the privilege to be at quite a few and can only say that the organizing of a conference showcases the commitment and passion that volunteers have for the cause they work for.

With my very best wishes,


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