“Things may seem very painful now but don’t give up on life. Once you get through this, you will see the strength in you. So, always have hope,” says Ardy Ayadali. The cynic in us may snort at the aforementioned line, thinking it to be a monologue straight out of some cheesy soap opera; mere clichéd drivel. But it isn’t. Ardy, for one knows exactly what he is talking about. After all, he is the Publicity Director of Befrienders Kuala Lumpur – a non-government organisation which offers help and emotional support to suicidal and distressed individuals.
Who are the Befrienders?
“Befrienders was first set up in 1970 by a group of Malaysians who were very concerned about the emotional well-being of the community after the May 13th communal riots,” divulges Ardy. “It was also thanks to the faithful assistance of professional psychologists and psychiatrists from KL’s University Hospital. Without them, it might not have been possible.” Initially modelled after Samaritans (a movement originating from London in 1953), Befrienders has since taken off on its own. He explains, “Samaritans remains a UK brand whereas Befrienders is now worldwide.” And worldwide it is, with 300 centres in approximately 30 countries – including Malaysia.
When asked about the Befrienders team, Ardy says, “Believe it or not, Befrienders is purely run by volunteers, whether it’s managing our 24-hour phone line, email services or face-to-face counselling. As of now, our volunteers total up to about 100. People may think it’s a lot but truthfully, we are in need of at least 50 more volunteers because more manpower is required to cover all shifts.” This may come as a surprise but the KL branch is only one which operates round the clock. “Other branches like the ones in Kota Kinabalu, Seremban and Penang operate within a specific time – usually after 6pm – because all the volunteers there have jobs of their own. Befrienders KL are mostly made up of retirees.”
“We have a volunteer who is 90 years old! There’s another who’s 80. Some of our members have been with Befrienders for a very long time. We’re talking 30 years and more!” Ardy informs us. However, that doesn’t mean young blood isn’t in the picture. “Lately, we have been seeing younger volunteers – young working adults, college students etc. I believe that volunteerism awareness in Malaysia is growing more rapidly now. It could be the result of the government’s initiatives in reaching out to the youth and highlighting to them the importance of volunteerism and charity.”
So, it begets the question. What does it take to be a Befriender? “Our volunteers come from all walks of life. If you have the determination to join us, you’ve already taken the first step,” Ardy explains. “Members of the public are welcome to attend a briefing session whereby they will be introduced to what goes on in Befrienders. Then, if they’re interested, they’re encouraged to sign up. However, they will need to pass an interview first, before they’re accepted into our training program.”
Consisting of 9 sessions (one session per week, from 10am-1pm), this training course imparts participants with crucial techniques – active listening being one of them. “Active listening is key. That’s how we provide emotional support to callers. Six elements are involved: respond, clarify, reflect, offer encouraging words, ask open-ended questions and finally, summarise. Our main purpose is to offer callers an avenue to vent. Contrary to popular belief, we don’t give advice. What we do is help people identify their problems and discover answers on their own. If we tell them what to do, they will call us whenever they encounter problems. Our goal is to help them cope with life’s struggles independently.”
Ardy is quick to stress that Befrienders welcomes callers with any and every problem. “We have had people calling in because of anxiety and loneliness. Some have contacted us over addiction, broken relationships or psychological issues. There are no limits. So, don’t hesitate to ring us at 03-7956 8144/5.” He goes on to assure that all calls are strictly confidential. “We don’t record calls. For those who prefer writing in, they can do so via email (email@example.com).”
How can I help?
Aside from volunteering, Ardy encourages the public to donate. “We have operational expenses, mainly telephone charges, salaries of administrative staff, electricity, advertising cost and so on. We rely on charitable organisations and individuals to help us meet expenses.” Donations can be made to The Befrienders Kuala Lumpur and mailed to 95, Jalan Templer, 46000 Petaling Jaya. The public can also look forward to the “Heart & Soul Charity Concert 2015” which will be held this July 25th at the KL Performing Arts Centre. For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/BefriendersKL and https://twitter.com/BefriendersKL