Volunteers, a.k.a “enablers” from CHCSA get trained to become effective befrienders.
Contributed By Eugene Teh
Volunteers are the lifeblood of many charitable organizations, and that includes City Harvest Community Services Association.
CHCSA has a dedicated group of nine full-time staff and 735 volunteers who work toward fulfilling the vision of making a difference in society. In 2010 alone, CHCSA served 11,525 individuals of which 6,481 were assisted on a regular basis.
None of this could have been accomplished without the support of volunteers, who CHCSA christens “enablers,” as they are trained to enable clients to fulfil their potential in life.
One of the core skills every enabler attains through training with CHCSA is the art of befriending.
Befriending entails regular visitations with the client and giving him emotional support. All new enablers have to attend a training workshop that equips them with the necessary knowledge and skills to be effective befrienders.
On July 9, 16 fresh enablers gathered for an introductory befriender’s training. Trainers from CHCSA—Herman Lim, Jeanette Soh, and Sheryl Lim—took turns to conduct the session. Attendees were briefed on important protocol that they have to observe in every situation: client confidentiality, accountability, conduct, and precautionary measures. One rule, for example, is that all visitations must be done in pairs, and meeting with clients must be done in public places.
To demonstrate the concept of personal space, Soh asked two volunteers to walk towards each other for three scenarios: male-male, female-female, and male-female. Generally, she explained, social interactions take place within three meters, personal interactions within 1.2 meters, and intimate interactions within 0.5 meters. She noted that male-male interactions tend to be the furthest when compared to other interactions.
The trainers covered the topic of body language, reminding the trainees to be aware of sometimes sub-conscious gestures such as folding arms or putting one’s hands into one’s pockets, which communicate rejection of the other party.
Eye contact, said the trainers, should not be direct. Rather, one should gaze within a triangle zone between the eyes and the chin. The group was also cautioned that gazing into someone’s forehead is an aggressive stance, and should be avoided.
The trainees were coached on questioning techniques and taught how to build rapport through reflective listening and understanding what the client’s situation is, or what he is communicating. Following the theory, they were split up into groups and given a scenario to enact for practice.
The day’s training was filled with crucial information and instruction, and also applicable demonstrations of all that was taught—all the better to help the enablers be successful befrienders.
Enabler Tony Loh Chee Meng, 42, a dental technician shared, “This course equipped us with the skills to be a better listener in how to empathise with our clients, how to approach a stranger, what questions to ask to build rapport, and how to get a person to open up to you.”
Fellow enabler Christina Chi, 30, an engineer, added, “Such training empowers us to be more professional in our conduct as an enabler. It teaches us how to be a good listener by paraphrasing and identifying the issue and content of the conversation. This helps us to be able to reach out to and engage the client.”