Samaritans of Singapore
The term “samaritan” is most commonly used to describe a charitable or helpful person and was coined after a famous parable mentioned in the bible of a man who shows unexpected help and kindness to a traveller robbed and left half alive on the road.
Thus it seems rightfully fitting for a special group of volunteers in Singapore to be referred to as the Samaritans of Singapore. In an age where the government has to constantly remind citizens with campaigns to be kind to each other, this is a truly remarkable group of volunteers whom willingly give their time to a non-profit organization which aims to provide emotional support to anyone in emotional distress or at risk of suicide in Singapore.
The Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) is also the name of the non-profit organization in which the volunteers are spending their time at. Volunteers are involved in the different services SOS provides such as 24-hour, confidential help hotlines, counseling sessions, email befriending, and in some instances, on-site emergency situations. However only six volunteers are involved in counseling sessions as they have to be certified professionals, with the bulk of volunteers handling the help hotline.
One particular volunteer, an accountant, whose identity cannot be revealed in order for the volunteers to remain anonymous to callers, describes his experiences as: “difficult but rewarding. It’s really nice to be able to help callers in whatever way I can, no matter how big or small. When a caller simply thanks me for listening, I get a very good sense of fulfillment in me.”
A video of two SOS volunteers role playing a regular call
Another volunteer, a primary school teacher who has been volunteering for more than four years, explained: “I decided to volunteer after my mother attempted suicide a few years ago. It was a terrible period for my mother and I as we live together, but luckily we managed to pull through that period. After that, the thought of someone else going through the same or even worse problems than I did became intolerable and upset me a lot. So I volunteered to help out as much as I can.”
As of April last year, the number of volunteers at SOS remained steadily at 222 people, with a majority of them being middle aged females between 40 – 59 years old. However fewer can put in the number of hours these days to keep the hotline adequately manned, said SOS executive director Christine Wong.
A majority of volunteers are also multi-lingual who can speak English and a mother tongue or dialect. These languages include Mandarin, Malay, Tamil, Hindi, Cantonese, Hokkien, Teochew, Hainanese, Tagalog, and even French.
Volunteers normally undergo a careful selection process involving a face-to-face interview where professional or educational qualifications are not a prerequisite. SOS looks for a combination of personal qualities, life experiences and an ability to commit to the volunteer requirements which mostly involves handling the help hotline where there is a daily average of 113 calls received.
The languages spoken by volunteers
Table: SOS Annual Reports
The pre-service training programme for potential volunteers is conducted by SOS professional staff and experienced Samaritans. Ongoing training programmes are also organised periodically to ensure that the Samaritans remain current in the knowledge and skills needed to man the hotline effectively.
Since 2009, the number of deaths caused by suicide in Singapore has been decreasing according to the Registry of Births and Deaths Singapore, with a record low of 204 cases in 2011, while the number of calls received by SOS has been increasing.
Table of deaths by cause and gender for the years 2010 and 2011
Table: Registry of Births and Deaths Singapore
The SOS is constantly looking for more volunteers! Find out more about them with the link below