When Care is just one call away
A kind, compassionate voice from a Care Corner Counselling Centre counsellor at the end of a phone line was the helping hand to lift Elaine Lee out of “the lowest point” in her life.
At the young age of 18, Elaine Lee left her home country of Malaysia to work in Singapore. A foreigner on unfamiliar soil, she encountered both relationship and work-related issues, and also missed her family. It was a period she often refers to as “the lowest point” in her life.
By chance, she saw Care Corner Counselling Centre‘s hotline and found comfort and solace in her phone conversations with Mr Thong Foo Kong. Their long-distance interactions spanned two years and in that time, although they never met, Elaine was extremely grateful for their talks. No matter how down she was, she always felt heartened and hopeful after her sharing sessions with Mr Thong. “He also encouraged me to upgrade myself,” Elaine says, and that spurred her to take up night classes after work.
Twenty years later, now married with kids, Elaine set out to search for Mr Thong as she felt she needed to thank him in person. Her gesture touched the hotline counsellor deeply. He never imagined that anyone would try to contact him after so long, nor did he expect to receive such gratitude. He sums it up in an extract from a Chinese saying: “A kind word can warm (a person for) three winter months.”
Mr Thong has been a hotline counsellor with Care Corner Counselling Centre since 1993 and was among the eighth batch of counsellors trained by the centre. Today, he volunteers at various organisations, but spends one day each week at Care Corner, helping to pull strangers out of despair and darkness with a kind ear and warm words.
“Being a volunteer is a learning journey, even after all these years. I have had quite a lot of experience in the various ‘flavours of life’. I use these experiences in my conversations with people who dial the counselling hotline,” he explains. To further enhance his knowledge and skills, Mr Thong even took up a master’s degree in psychology (social counselling).
He vividly remembers one particular counselling case.
“She was a single mother who was raising a pair of twins, and her kids were having problems in school. Anonymously, I found people to help tutor her children, and they managed to do better in school. I didn’t want to tell her it was me, I was just happy to help.”
Why does he choose to go the extra mile for people he does not personally know, let alone meet in person?
“When we can eat well or sleep well, we have to think and care for the marginalised in society. If we can, and if we are willing, we can lend a helping hand. More care and kindness is needed in the world today,” Mr Thong says with a light laugh.
Good advice often takes years to bear fruit. A counsellor’s words stay on long after they have been imparted, explains Mr Thong, and this advice can take root in a person’s life at any time. He hopes his chance encounter with Elaine will inspire others to volunteer with the Care Corner hotline. When asked about what he would say to encourage volunteerism, Mr Thong shares: “Some people say they are too busy. Well, time is always needed, but plans can be made! I also believe that education in schools is also important. Schools have to encourage community involvement.”
The 2010 Singapore Mental Health Study (SMHS) revealed that the majority of the people with mental illness were not seeking help. But there is hope in the compassion of volunteers like Mr Thong, whose good deeds will live on in future generations as beneficiaries like Elaine pass on to her children the valuable lesson of helping those in need. Yet, for every person whose lives has been changed by another person’s touch or warm words, there are countless others out there still suffering in silence, afraid to reach out. You can be the person who makes a difference.