Buddy Bear: Malaysia’s first helpline for children to share their worries, concerns

Pam Guneratnam (second from left) and a group of trainers under social enterprise HumanKind. — Picture courtesy of Dr Arman Rashid
Pam Guneratnam (second from left) and a group of trainers under social enterprise HumanKind. — Picture courtesy of Dr Arman Rashid

PETALING JAYA, Sept 4 — Social enterprise HumanKind has launched a helpline for children to talk about their worries and concerns amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Buddy Bear helpline is a phone service set-up by HumanKind which is an organisation that aims to help vulnerable communities with their mental health issues.

Established in 2016, HumanKind identifies, trains, equips and supports volunteers from the community to deliver evidence-based interventions and most of its projects are conducted in schools as it is easily accessible for low-income children.

According to its founder Pam Guneratnam, children were experiencing high levels of stress especially without the ability to come to mental health centres during the movement control order.

“I thought the best way to deliver help to children would be to create a phone service so that they can call us to express their worries and concerns.”

Pam also said that while Buddy Bear helpline was officially launched two days ago, it has been in operation since April this year but on a smaller scale.

“But now, the platform is accessible for children across the country.”

Asked as to the kinds of problems children faced, Pam said that children called for a variety of reasons such as being lonely at home and even expressing concern for family members who were depressed.

“Their parents’ worry and fights over family finances is also a concern to children as these young ones are sensitive and they easily pick up on the anxieties of the parents.

“However, the wonderful aspect about the helpline is that the child is able to recognise that something is not right and is seeking help for themselves which is a healthy response.

“This is empowering and promotes self-efficacy as compared to them being forced to see the counselor, teacher or a doctor.”

Pam, who is also a registered counsellor, told Malay Mail that talking to children is different as compared to talking to adults due to factors such as varying maturity levels and different problem-solving abilities.

Pam Guneratnam said that one of the perks of the helpline is that it helps children to recognise that something is not right and seek help for themselves. — Picture by Dr Arman Rashid
Pam Guneratnam said that one of the perks of the helpline is that it helps children to recognise that something is not right and seek help for themselves. — Picture by Dr Arman Rashid

“The kind of vocabularies used among children to express their thoughts and feelings are also much simpler as compared to talking to adults.

“Also, children do not have the freedom as compared to adults as they are dependent on their adult caregivers and therefore cannot make their own decisions which makes them vulnerable at their age.”

She also said that the volunteers under HumanKind are trained in Psychological First Aid (PFA) which is an evidence-based intervention that is used in crisis, pandemics and disaster situations.

Pam said the aim of PFA was to provide psychological support to a person in distress by applying active listening skills, assessing the immediate needs of the person, providing solutions and linking them to where they can get help.

PFA also was not a long-term solution, she added.

“While we have trainers skilled in PFA, we also brought in other trainers to teach our volunteers about child protection issues, child rights and also ways to talk to children on the phone.

“For children, talking therapy is not the best approach as expressive art therapies are more suitable where the counselor would provide games, books to ignite the child’s creativity and to address emotions that are of concern.

“And this is something we incorporate when we work with children in person, as play is the natural language of a child.

“But because this helpline doesn’t allow us to see the child face-to-face, we ask more immediate questions such as: “What would you like to see happen? What would feel safe for you now? What are they needing now?”

Pam also said that Buddy Bear is a trusted space that children can go to when they need a safe person to express their worries.

“We hope that knowing children can call Buddy Bear will enable them to feel like they are not alone with their problems.

“And that is what Buddy Bear strives to do, which is to let children know that we are here for them by listening to them.”

Buddy Bear helpline operates from noon to midnight, seven days a week with volunteers who are able to speak Bahasa Malaysia, English, Mandarin and Tamil.

Its volunteers are also trained in PFA and are supervised by registered mental health professionals who are committed to provide a responsible and ethical phone line for children.

To speak to Buddy Bear, children can call 1-800-18-BEAR (1-800-18-2327).

Anyone keen on donating to the initiative can do so at https://www.ngohub.asia/campaigns/buddybear.

Related Articles