I am a software developer, and that’s maybe not the career that people might associate with volunteering. I’ve been volunteering with Childline for four years.
I’m with the Limerick unit and that means spending four hours a week – sometimes more if I am training somebody new – talking to young people. I say talking, but really what I mean is listening to young people, because that’s what I do, more than anything else.
I started when I was in my final year of college. I had always been told that I was a good listener and I had been looking for a place to volunteer and it so happened that Childline in Limerick was looking for people. I loved it from the first moment and I can’t imagine not volunteering.
Covid-19 has put a magnifying glass on a lot of situations that might not be great before the pandemic, but the lockdowns have accentuated it.
Some of our young people are in houses where they are suffering from mental, physical or sexual abuse and all of that gets magnified. They might be in the house with their perpetrator twenty-four hours a day and you can imagine what that’s like for these young people.
I think having a place where they can call and speak about how they are feeling to people who can help them straighten out their thoughts a little is helpful. Sometimes all of these emotions that they are feeling can be overwhelming and you can hear the tensions lifting from their chest as they unburden their worries.
Regardless of who a child gets on the phone, they all receive the same treatment and that is no judgement and just an ear to listen. You might have talked to the young person before but sometimes it’s kind of empowering for them to tell their story and we are delighted to listen to it again if that’s the case.
You’d be surprised how much you can add value to a young person’s life just by listening and just being there and sometimes maybe validating that it’s understandable that they are feeling a certain way. Sometimes that’s enough.
Hearing some of the calls that we receive can take its toll but the gratitude that you feel when a young person calls and says ‘you’ve helped me so much, thank you,’ is the upside of it all.
The vast majority of our calls – and it’s one of the shining lights of Childline – is that we can keep the service totally confidential between the young person and Childline as long as they don’t give us any identifying information.
“If a young person is at risk and they want Childline to pass the information on, then we can explore what that might mean for them with them and pass on any information to the relevant authorities, if that is what they want.”
Of course, some days are more difficult than others. There can be days where we need to decompress after a shift and there are lots of resources put into place for the volunteers of Childline to make sure we look after our own mental health as we do this work.
Personally, for me, this pandemic has had its ups and downs. I’m working from home so I have had to put a little more focus on my mental health and making sure that I’m connecting with people.
We are creatures of connection, we need to feel listened to and loved and then to love someone else. I think a lot of the grief at the moment is trying to connect with people we might not be able to see face to face in a virtual way.
I miss gatherings of people. I think that there is an energy of being with a big group of people that is very difficult to replicate through a screen.
During this time, it’s important to look out for each other and keep an eye on those who might be more vulnerable than ourselves.
I think it’s good to remember how important it is to listen. When you ask someone how they are, we often say ‘grand, grand’ and move on. But there is something really powerful in stopping and asking someone ‘how are you? How are you really?’
Sometimes that’s all you need to get down a little deeper and give someone the space to open up. The simple act of showing someone that you are paying attention to what they have to say and that you are available to listen to them with no judgement is one of the best things you can do for another person.
It’s not an understatement to say that working with Childline has changed my life hugely.
The skills I have learned at Childline I use in my career, I use in my personal life, I use in my family life and in my relationships. It just builds you up as a person.
When I eventually become a Dad, I feel like I’ll have this basic foundation where I know I can listen and I look forward to having that relationship with my children one day.