There are some popular misnomers about The Samaritans which Anne Woodworth, the group’s Waterford and South East Director was keen to dispel during a recent conversation with this column.
“We need to keep on communicating the Samaritans message,” said Anne, who proved so fulsome in her content that her cause more than merited the focus of further coverage in this edition.
“It’s surprising that some still think of us as a religious organisation – I’ve been asked if I’m a nun, for example.
“The supposed religious link, which doesn’t exist, could be off-putting to someone considering calling us and while the name is recognised there is that biblical connotation but there’s nothing we can do about that.”
And the confusion doesn’t end there, as Anne outlined.
“Because of our confidentiality and anonymity, there’s always been this notion with some that we’re a secret society, that somehow we’re like the masons and have secret handshakes and the like.”
To counter such assumptions, The Samaritans have “more and more” representatives attending public meetings and functions.
“The aim of this is to go out, into the open, so to speak, to talk about what The Samaritans do and to show that the people helping out are ordinary people like you and me who have given their time and energies to listening.”
“In order to be a Samaritan, you don’t have to live up to anything except the confidentiality. We have people who would say they don’t have an education therefore that wouldn’t make them a good Samaritan. That doesn’t come into it. It’s what sort of person you are that counts.”
The Samaritans are here for anyone in Waterford and its environs that needs them on a 24 hours a day, seven days a week basis. Equally significant, to those experiencing problems and left feeling they’ve got no-one else to turn to; The Samaritans shall not judge you.
“People who know the organisation know that they can trust it,” Anne continued. “Let’s say, for the sake of argument, somebody tells me that their marriage has broken down. If it was someone I knew and I was a gossip, that might be around the town in little or no time at all.”
Confidentiality, in Anne’s view, is the key component of the service that The Samaritans provide.
“Callers tell us things that they wouldn’t tell other people. They can tell us that they may feel suicidal. They can tell us things like ‘I’ve been looking after my mother for the past 15 years and I’m beginning to hate her’. The chances are you wouldn’t tell somebody you know something like that.
“But having said it to us, to someone you don’t know, it somewhat relieves the tension that has been building up.
“To be able to feel free to talk about what’s actually going on and to do it without fear of being interrupted, or the fear of being told ‘pull yourself together, you’re living in a lovely house, what are you giving out about?’ It’s very important. “
Anne refers to a recent call, again reminding this publication how important it is to highlight and support The Samaritans.
“A person said to me one day that she felt that if she hadn’t talked to somebody that she felt she was going to burst. I think we’ve all had that experience.”
Increased modes of communication have altered the nature of The Samaritans’ work.
Just a handful of people now physically visit its Beau Street office, with most phoning and more and more emailing. A text messaging service, for example, is also set to be introduced.
“We have found that the emails have made a huge difference over the past two years,” Anne commented.
“The rate of emails we receive has probably doubled in that period of time.”
Regarding the profile of her fellow volunteers, Anne stated: “Some are quite elderly – our oldest member retired recently aged 90, would you believe.
“We don’t take anyone under 18 but we do have a number of people in their late teens and early 20s and that age range is important.”
“One of my friends, who is in her 60s, has a very young sounding voice and people sometimes say to her that she’s too young to understand, which she finds quite amusing!”
Constantly retraining (“so we stay fresh”), with its volunteers readily conscious of supporting each other, The Samaritans provide a service which, were it to help only one person a day, one still couldn’t put a value on.
That it helps so many more than that makes the cause that Anne Woodworth and her colleagues are committed to worth championing all the more.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org