This month SOS Help marks its 46th birthday. We go behind the scenes with one of our longest-standing listeners, who has been listening for us since 1976, two years after SOS Help was founded in 1974.
How did you first get involved with SOS Help?
Prior to – and in the early days of my marriage – I was a social worker in the UK, which was challenging but immensely rewarding. However, my husband was interested in a career in the international community and we moved to Strasbourg and later transferred to Paris. During this time I had become a mother and was happy and fulfilled in my personal life, but still heard the siren song echoing from my days of social work and looked around to see where I could find some voluntary work in the English community helping people in need.
What has motivated you to keep volunteering over the years?
When I joined SOS Help it was just two years old and many things were still evolving. At the time many international organisations were being set up in Paris which resulted in a large influx of English-speaking foreigners. Of course, e-mail did not exist and international telephone rates were very high. The result was that many people, especially accompanying spouses, once the “honeymoon period” of living in Paris had ended, found themselves increasingly lonely and isolated. Many things have changed over the years but providing a genuinely sympathetic and anonymous listening ear has always seemed to me to be a very valuable way to help people who are finding life difficult. SOS Help’s survival over the years proves that it successfully fulfils a very necessary role in serving those in the English-speaking community who need to discuss emotions and anxieties without fear of how they will be perceived or judged. Its continuing usefulness in a changing world could be surprising but, in fact, is not.
What is the most rewarding thing you have taken from your experience volunteering at SOS Help?
In general, I think it is the positive feeling one gets from just being there to listen to the needs and concerns of callers. The telephone allows the caller to express deep emotional feelings that perhaps could not be expressed in a face-to-face conversation. I am at times amazed at the courage people manifest in, sometimes haltingly at the beginning, but gradually gaining confidence, discussing and perhaps trying to analyse some very intimate and personal problems. Many times I have come away feeling happy, and indeed grateful, that I was able to be there for them.
How has volunteering at SOS Help impacted you personally?
My experiences throughout my time with SOS Help have almost always been positive and I hope it has made me a more understanding and tolerant person. It has helped me to better recognise and comprehend how difficult some callers’ lives are. My husband has also been very supportive, helping out whenever he could, by being there to baby-sit when I was at the Post, and at all times being willing to help out at fundraisers and book sales, collecting and delivering books or making chutney for the “food corner”.
What are your hopes for SOS Help going forward?
I am confident that SOS Help will continue to serve the English-speaking community for many years in the future. The acceptance of new and alternative ways of “listening” and the knowledge that more and more young people are motivated to do volunteer work, is reassuring and I believe we will continue to do our good work. We have now a very good team running the association and our links to SOS Amitié are all very positive.
Listening at SOS Help in figures
€15 pays for the cost of running our Listening Post for one day
€50 euros pays for a Listeners’ monthly support session with a qualified counsellor
€150 euros pays for the training of a new Listener
To help us provide our listening service, or if you are interested in becoming a Listener for SOS Help, go to the bottom of the page.