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RECOLLECTIONS OF LIFELINE WORKSHOPS SOUTH AFRICA

October 21, 1995

 

 

 

RUTH: Today is Saturday, October 21, 1995. We shall be making notes on our impressions of the meeting we held with Lifeline staff in the afternoon of our first day in South Africa and with the Lifeline volunteer counselors in the evening session.

 

ED: Well, I remember Shirley drove us there. There were about eight or nine women on the staff. There was a director and an assistant director. The assistant director talked about the work they were doing in Alexandra, the former township in a part of Johannesburg. I remember she spoke about how there was a lot to do and the people in helping professions in Alexandra did a kind of selection to help them.

 

RUTH: What kind of selection?

 

ED: They were working on the cases they could help the most.

 

RUTH: So they were talking about social work there. This was not directly in connection with their Lifeline activity but their professional activity as social workers.

 

ED:  Yeah, there weren't a lot of phones so it was more one on one.

 

RUTH: This is a comparatively new development in the Lifeline program. I remember that they were beginning to use that kind of program in their Johannesburg office when I was there in 1987 and apparently they have expanded that so that they still have their emergency telephone lines but they also do individual counseling and social work in Alexandra which is among the indigenous black people. Is that true?

 

ED: Yes.

 

RUTH: And they are extending their work in the main office to include some face-to-face counseling.

 

ED:  Yeah, I was impressed by the size of Lifeline itself. I didn't know how many offices they had in how many cities and just how big they were but it was not a small operation. It was in the thousands and thousands.

 

RUTH: Thousands of . . .

 

ED: Contacting thousands and thousands of people.

 

RUTH: Do you remember the various centers that they mentioned? I don't.

 

ED: All over the country. Well, we know they had Cape Town and Durban but there were smaller towns, not only the four or five biggest ones.

 

RUTH:  But the weakest spot is in the homelands where they don't have telephones.

 

ED:  True. So the usual Lifeline phone counseling setup is readily available on occasion. You can't take the phone for granted.

 

RUTH: And they said they were still working on that and they were hoping that in the reconstruction period that that would be corrected and that there would be more phones available in the homelands.

 

ED:  Yeah, I think she did say something about that.

 

RUTH: In what were previously called the homelands.

 

ED:  Lines were going in.

 

RUTH:  That seemed like one really forward looking part of it.

 

ED:  Yes it was, I thought, one of the most impressive things I heard all afternoon.

 

RUTH: That was the main question I had in mind when I went there because of what they had said in '87. For me this is the third time I had met with Lifeline people. The first time was a big formal dinner in a hall - I don't know where in Johannesburg - in which we met with all the volunteers and the staff and everyone connected with Lifeline and it was a very formal affair. Carl spoke and it was quite impressive. That was in '86. And then in '87 we had a much more informal work session with the staff, the counselors and some people from the organization that have a death and dying theme of counseling with people who have terminal illnesses.

 

ED: So '87 was more like '95 in that it was informal and you did meet with both staff and counselors.

 

RUTH:  Yes. Now in the first instance there was very little interchange - the one with Carl. In '87 there was a great deal of interchange and this time there was also a considerable amount of interchange. It was for the most part discussion, question, answers, opinions that people were expressing, explaining their programs and so forth. The evening session was more asking questions and bringing out problems that the volunteer workers on the telephones had.

 

ED:  Well, that was true in '95. I remember there was talk about ideas and I remember the director had a kind of paradoxical take. I wish I remembered the details of the paradox and I remember Mei-Mei was unsatisfied with the generality and she preferred the evening session where once again, it did deal with specific questions and problems of counselors in day-to-day work or night-to-night work.

 

RUTH: The issues that come up for a counselor who is on the line, literally on the line.

 

ED:  On the line on Lifeline or on the Lifeline line.

 

RUTH:  And I was impressed with the length of time they had been in existence. They said 25 years.

 

ED:  That's right. It was their 25th year.

 

RUTH:  And with the level of training that they give to their volunteers and to the dedication that both staff and volunteers have to lifeline.

 

ED:  I remember when we broke Shirley gave me some idea of it and she was saying she valued a lot from what she learned from working at Lifeline.

 

RUTH: I wish I could remember more of the specifics but I really can't.

 

ED:  Shirley gave an example of a fellow who was trying to recover from remorse about abuse in the case of his wife who was pregnant. It was also alcohol connected and he did seem to be on the mend. He had scared himself out of it and had  taken steps toward the twelve steps - connecting with his family.

 

RUTH: They were picking Alcohol Anonymous' twelve steps.

 

ED: This particular fellow took that initiative after because his abuse occurred during alcoholic episodes in which he acted very different from his usual self.

 

RUTH: As I remember, one or two counselors spoke up about at this distance how can you build empathy for the person on the other end of the line when you don't know the person? There was some discussion about it by simply your tone and by simply listening very carefully and responding so that they know you're listening. It is probably about all you can do. Maybe that's all a person needs and it might be the first time that person has ever been listened to that carefully. Then there was that question about what about men who call up and get a woman counselor. Then they say they do it at the same time they masturbate. That was one of the questions to which there were various answers.

 

ED: That's true too. There was a range of reply. There was the fellow who thought of himself and whose work involved problem solving and he was asking you how he could get out of the problem solving mode and just listen, just be.

 

RUTH: What was his name?

 

ED:  Grant, I think.

 

RUTH: After the evening session, he said that he was going to Wits the next day and he would probably carry it further there. He was the only man telephone volunteer that spoke up. Wasn't he?

 

ED:  Well, there was a fellow that Shirley knew who spoke a number of times. There was a dark-haired middle aged person.

 

RUTH: Do you remember the gist of what he . . .

 

ED: There were a number of things going on. Yes, I think he did have a case of recovering abuse to discuss but after the break he didn't bring it up because the fellow that Shirley described was discussed and I guess that was served for an example. But he was, I think, undergoing a job change and he was clearly psychologically sophisticated and had lots of self-insights. He had also been phone counseling, I think, for some time.

 

RUTH: On the whole you would say that the volunteer counselors included more women than men.

 

ED:  Yes, maybe as much as three to one, maybe even more.

 

RUTH: That was my impression but I couldn't be sure.

 

ED:  Women of all ages - well, young and middle mostly.

 

RUTH: Any other theme that you remember especially?

 

ED:  Speaking of young women, I remember some of the young women from the staff, one was the head of the clinical side of it and she was a young women. Then there was the young woman who was a receptionist.

 

RUTH: Are you talking about the afternoon or the evening?

 

ED:  I'm going back to the afternoon. They were both there in the evening as well and the woman in charge of the clinical, I think she introduced you in the evening. The woman who was the receptionist I remember she had some feelings about the future of the country in the afternoon, some worries.

 

RUTH: That came up at practically every session - some worries, some concerns, some anxiety.

 

ED:  Right some shared problem solving and some anxieties.

 

RUTH: I'd like to hear Mei-Mei's exact point, the point at which she spoke up and really got involved at that evening session. I guess she got involved at one point in the afternoon session and I don't remember the details of either one.

 

ED: It would be good to hear from her and that might remind us of other things.

 

RUTH: We could leave some space on this tape even at the very end of side two for her to give her comments. Now the thing that we need to check out here in the evening session especially is whether or not they have a tape recording.

 

ED:  And I should look for any of the materials we have about Lifeline.

 

RUTH: Did they give you printed materials?

 

ED: I did take two or three brochures. If I can find them, that would give us what we need to write a letter.

 

RUTH: Well, I hope you can find them because I don't know when I'll hear from Shirley. The other thing I was interested in that one member of the staff tied this whole process in with some religious group. Remember that?

 

ED: No.

 

RUTH: She said it had been started by some Methodist group. I wondered how far back their acquaintance with Carl's work went and whether that had something to do with it and she said the origin of it was in some religious group which was news to me. She did follow it up and talk a bit about it but I don't remember the details. At any rate, it had been in operation for 25 years and apparently improving in professional quality all the way along the line.

 

ED:  Yes, the size seems to indicate it met a real need, is meeting a real need.

 

RUTH:  I'm sure. Now they're challenged with meeting the real needs of the homelands and what have been the homelands. Well, I think that probably is about all we can do at the present time.