Anne Woodworth pours another cup of tea while discussing the role which the Samaritans play in Waterford and the south east.
Not only is she a good listener and a welcoming host, she’s a fantastic interviewee, so much so that both this and next week’s columns are devoted to the Samaritans and their superb work.
What was intended to have been a half-hour chat with the support service’s recently appointed Director has doubled in terms of time – and then some.
ut it’s more than worth it, as is highlighting the cause to which she has been committed to these past 15 years.
“The Samaritans was something that my brother was interested in many years ago – that was when he was first married before children came along and he talked about what was involved,” she began.
“And I suppose the germ has been there ever since then. Shortly after that, somebody suggested to me would I be interested in becoming a Samaritan and I thought that it was something I could do.
“I’d always thought I was a very good listener but actually when I learned and was trained, I realised we don’t actually listen a lot of the time. We don’t really hear what people are saying.”
Speaking of this particular realisation, Anne added: “It was very surprising because, as I said, I thought I was an excellent listener – people would tell me things and that led me to think I must have been a good listener.
“But the other thing I suppose I was surprised about was how we notice things, sometimes, but we don’t remark on them.
“I remember a doctor friend of mine saying that the number of people who come in and say they have a pain in their leg or whatever and as they’re on their way out they offer an ‘oh and by the way’ type of comment.
“And the ‘by the way’ is really what’s going on. And very often, we don’t find out what the ‘by the way is’ – we might say that so and so isn’t in the best of form but we don’t ask – but that’s what we in the Samaritans do. We ask. People find it a huge relief to say, yes, I am feeling rotten after putting on a brave face.”
The local and national news has been dominated by job cuts, An Bord Snip Nua and political name calling over who’s to blame for the economic mess we’re in.
And on those few occasions when something else has topped the news agenda, the deaths of three young Irish nurses on Air France Flight 447 and the kidnapping of GOAL aid worker Sharon Commins have further darkened the mood.
“A lot of people who are in trouble now have never been in trouble before,” said Anne, referring to Waterford’s lengthening dole queues.
“There’s a sort of feeling of failure among many people who find themselves in this situation, out of a job. And there’s a feeling of embarrassment with that too – who do you talk to? Who do tell you’ve been made redundant? How do you face up to that?
“I can remember hearing stories from the last recession about people getting up every day and pretending they were going to work, putting on a face. Again I remember a story about someone that I knew; it was a man who took his life.
“He had been pretending for something like four months that he had been going to work. Isn’t that desperate? He’d never said to his family that ‘look, I’ve got no job’. He must have been going off, I suppose, to sit in the park during his day or whatever. There are these expectations that we can’t be seen to fail.”
For many, this is where the Samaritans enter the equation. It’s a role which Anne and her colleagues, as confidants to their troubled callers, remain deeply committed to.
“This is the whole thing – the anonymity of calling the Samaritans is so important. You don’t know who you’re talking to if you call us – it’s just a voice. But again we’re not disinterested; we listen very carefully.”
She continued: “If you feel you don’t have someone you can trust; if you feel you can’t talk to your family, we’re there, we’re always there to answer and listen. And whatever you want to talk about, we’re prepared to listen to, not to judge. There’s no bar to what we can listen to.”
For further details, The Samaritans can be contacted at Beau Street (open 9am to 9pm), called confidentially on 1850-60-90-90 or through email: email@example.com