Give & Take

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 August, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 August, 2005, 12:00am

A twice-monthly column on volunteerism

The Samaritans is a non-religious charity that runs Hong Kong's only multilingual suicide prevention hotline service, offering emotional support to anyone who is going through a crisis.

The hotline operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

'Although we talk to people who are very depressed and can be imminently suicidal, some people just need somebody to talk to because they are lonely,' said Liz Chamberlain, director of the 24-hour hotline.

Volunteers came from all walks of life, but most joined because they had big hearts, Ms Chamberlain said.

'There is no material benefit from joining. The benefit comes from knowing you have helped another human being who is in a crisis,' she said.

'The people who come to us range from high-flyers in the finance world to housewives.'

The multilingual service attracts not only callers from Hong Kong and the mainland, but from other countries as well. Volunteers who can offer skills in different languages are especially welcome.

'While most volunteers are Cantonese speakers, we do have Hindi, Urdu, Turkish, French and Japanese-speakers, and a smattering of other languages too. And we like Putonghua-speakers,' she said.

Applicants undergo a screening test and attend one of three training preparation classes held each year. Qualities sought in volunteers include objectivity and the ability to accept people the way they are.

'We are looking for people who have four hours a week to spare, and one overnight a month,' Ms Chamberlain said.

In addition to the suicide hotline, The Samaritans has a team that conducts outreach work, which includes visiting local schools and helping children develop their teamwork skills.

'We also give talks to organisations that would like to hear about The Samaritans,' Ms Chamberlain said.

The reward for sacrificing your time on a regular basis goes beyond the satisfaction that comes with the job. There is also the reward of knowing you may have helped save a life.

'I think you get a lot more out of it than you put in,' Ms Chamberlain said.

'It is a privilege to be able to listen to people when they are vulnerable, and to know that they have enough trust in you to tell you about their problems,' she said.

If you are interested in volunteering, please contact The samaritans by calling 2896 0000.

Name: The Samaritans 24-hour multilingual suicide prevention hotline

Mission: Confidential, unconditional emotional support

Time required: Four hours a week, one night a month

Requirement: Aged 8 to 80

Do I have to pay? $10 a year

How can I find out more?