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Volunteering abroad with Samaritans

I volunteered with the Samaritans for 5 years during my time as an expat in London at the Central London branch.  They are a wonderful organization that exists to reduce suicide by offering emotional support to people in distress (over the phones, in person and even through e-mail and texting).  Imagine… they’ve been around for over 60 years, and currently they coordinate over 21,000 volunteers – that’s about 5.5 million hours of service… per year!

The Samaritans began as a suicide crisis line, a group of people committed to providing confidential service to anyone who is in distress. Their mission is to support people when they are at their lowest point and they feel they have no one to talk to… and believe me, it is powerful to have someone who will listen to you without trying to give you advice or judgement.

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Even cars reach their lowest point.  Nobody talks to lonely cars.

In fact, the mission started when a priest was distressed to discover a young girl had committed suicide because she thought something was terribly wrong with her.  She had simply started her period, but had no one to talk about what was happening – no one who could tell her that  it was completely normal.  He made it his mission to make sure there was someone there to listen without judgment for anyone who needed it.

What I learned from my experience: there are about a million different people out there, and there are millions of ways people struggle in their lives, each with their own kind of loneliness. Some people struggle with difficult life situations, some with mental illness, some with temporary losses (jobs, houses, loved ones, relationships), and some who have been in rough patches for years.

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One incredibly common thread was the amount of loneliness that people feel – they don’t have the opportunity nor the means in their lives to express what they’re going through in their daily struggle.  Even in families who are living closely with one another, loneliness would be there.  Scratch off the surface, and you’ll find that loneliness exists underneath.

Loneliness is an emotion that can be overpowered by human connection, interaction and sharing.

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I am a technology expert – and though I’m new to blogging and social media, there isn’t much with computers I can’t do.

Yet I am aware how technology separates people – even in this online world of sharing and connecting; it’s not the same as having someone in person to share your time with. It’s this sharing and connecting that can do more to feed our wellbeing than any other activity.

We all know how easy it is to get pulled into spending time on the internet: browsing, playing games, engaging with others.  (It may be a step up from watching TV – but not much.)  It’s shocking how much younger people are being drawn into technology nowadays and yet they seemingly forget the real meaning of connection. In the US today, kids will have started having smart phones in the 3rd grade.  By the 5th grade, everyone has a smart phone.  I’ve seen parents entertain 1 year olds with iPads or phones… but take these items away, and they will react as if the end of the world has come.

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Let technology be a means of re-connecting human emotions, instead of becoming the cause in ending human interaction.

We have an innate drive to become more efficient, to work harder in order to achieve more… and in doing so, we should not compromise by spending less time building meaningful connections with those people around us.  Focus first on connecting and sharing with others, for this will do more for our overall wellbeing, and quite possibly save someone’s life.

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My experience volunteering with the Samaritans taught me the importance of genuinely connecting with others.  It also helped me to develop compassion, which in turn has furthered my appreciation and gratitude for the quality of my own life.  My big take-away: life can get in the way pretty fast: it is our relationships that are most important, so take care of them first.  

And if you find yourself overwhelmed with loneliness – reach out and find someone who will listen (crisis lines are excellent places to start) – because you are not alone, and if you can overcome your situation, then you’ll have an even deeper understanding how to help others do the same.  And that is powerful.

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Also published on Medium.

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Comments

Add Your Comment
    • Ankay
    • February 27, 2017
    Reply

    That’s a beautiful post! Thanks for sharing.

    • Dr B
    • February 27, 2017
    Reply

    Thanks for following my blog, pleased you liked the Buddhist art. I have total admiration for your work with Samaritans, a selfless task I would think but one that must have incredible intrinsic value to you.

  1. Reply

    What a powerful piece. I never realized what the Samaritans were before this. Thank you so much for writing this!

  2. Reply

    What a great post! I think children should be already taught at school about volunteering, not only ‘how to earn money to become rich’. Volunteering gives so much more satisfaction. I am also volunteer in a refugee organisation 🙂

    1. Reply

      I couldn’t agree more — there is the message reinforced in education that “being successful” means “earning more money”, despite evidence that it doesn’t add much to life fulfillment after your basic needs are met. Volunteering and making meaningful contributions are so much more satisfying, plus it makes the world a more fun place to live in 🙂

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