Aware People, the NGO with a responsible name (http://www.awarepeople.org/), has been running a telephone counseling service for around a year. By calling +380991789911, everyone has access to free of charge and anonymous aid, provided by professional psychologists. With UNDP support, Aware People has been able to implement twenty-four-hour service on the hotline. Volodymyr Mykolenko and Olena Kornieieva, two of three founders of the NGO, explained who Aware People is, shared questions frequently asked via the hotline, and outlined their plans for the future.
Tell us about your history. When and how was the organization established? What are its main objectives?
Olena: The idea, which later united us into one enterprise, arose from the events of Maidan. Some of us were already acquainted or had worked together, but most of us met there for the first time. We worked as volunteers, not even thinking of establishing a legal entity. We worked 24-hours duty shifts in pairs at the renovated clinic on Tryokhsviatytelska Str, where there was a psychiatric consulting room. Later Volodymyr Mykolenko, Daria Sapon (leader of Sophia Center psychological center), and I became the foundersof the NGO.
During that winter, Volodymyr came up with the idea to create the counseling crisis line, and we all supported it. We started in March with the hotline running every day from 12:00 to 15:00. Sophia Center became our first sponsor and the hotline became fully-fledged in April.
One great idea united us, but we understood that we should take it one step at a time instead of pushing a brick wall, so we decided to focus on several ways of working: first, phone counseling; second, medical-psychological aid; and third, psychological workshops for the National Guard of Ukraine. We have kept this format for around a year.
The next question might be a traditional one. Why did you choose this name? Who are ‘aware people’?
Olena: Everything is possible. As long as person is alive, they aspire to change their life, to help other people – it is possible to cope with any challenges and to do your best. You just have to understand this. Most people don’t realize how strong the influence on their life is. We help to get this fact across and help people understand that everyone is able to manage his or her life.
Tell us about your trust line. How does it differ from other hotlines?
Volodymyr: First of all, the main feature of our trust line is that it runs 24/7, while most hotlines are available for a limited time. The important fact is that we work with all people, whatever their personal beliefs and views. We work with people and create ways of solving problems, but we don’t work with beliefs. We leave no room for political discussions; we dedicate all of our time to maintaining human values, psychological counseling, searching opportunities to achieve goals, and mental recovery. Our hotline is open for all people who need psychological aid.
First we worked with different people, including those who didn’t support the ideas of Maidan. People with different views do call us, so our primary task is to comfort all people, to give them support and to provide qualified help. Some call regularly, some we call (with their permission) and ask if everything is good or if they need our assistance.
What are the most frequently asked questions? Could you give some typical, or some unusual examples?
Volodymyr: Usually questions have psychological subject matter or are requests for information. If advice relates to humanitarian aid, accomodation, or employment, we refer such requests to organizations or volunteers with those services in their scope. We also have an up-to-date database and sometimes we are able to provide information without external help.
People with tough mental illnesses also call us all the time. We even have people who call at the same time every day and consultants know these “standing customers”. If a face-to-face counsultation is needed, our operators may may recommend this. If a professional examination is needed, our collegues are not able to help via phone, unfortunately. Sometimes these people aren’t ready to take that next step but we are still able to provide them with emotional relief and our support in hard situations. Mostly such calls come from IDPs or wives, parents, or children of ATO soldiers.
How are your face-to-face consultations managed?
These consultations were initially planned in the east regions and in Kyiv Oblast, at the collective centers. The situation has changed, however, and now we provide counseling in Kyiv Oblast only. Sometimes we work with whole families and sometimes we work with random groups of people both from Donetsk and Crimea, etc. Mostly the participants are IDPs from the same settlement. We normally work in teams, but we also provide individual counseling to those who need it most.
Please give some brief advice for relatives or friends of people who need counseling.
First, you should decide if this person really needs help. Sometimes it seems that the help is essential, but it may not be needed in some cases. A strong person is able cope with their grief by themselves, and their tears are just the result of a tough situation. It’s a normal human reaction. Don’t jump to conclusions, don’t force the person; you can’t help by pressing. Should you worry or have any doubts about doing something, ask for advice from our consultants via the hotline.
If the person needs help, feels reserved, or shows too much emotion, try speaking to them. Ask if you may help, tell them your thoughts, fears, and hopes. This way you may shift focus onto yourself, stimulating them to speak. Suggest visiting a consultation together in order to keep you company. The best way to help is to show by your own example. The core rule that you should keep in mind is: don’t make person a victim, even in words.
Tell us about your initiative with IDPs storytelling. What could an ordinary person do to alleviate the tough life of IDPs?
Olena: Mostly the information highlighted by mass media is tragically negative. We all feel the tension of this situation, which creates an atmosphere of nervousness in society. Our concept of storytelling is outlined by mass media. There is a negative image of IDPs in the minds of most people, whether they’ve had personal contact with them or not. But we should remember that not all stories deserve panic in society. People differ, whatever their origin.
We won’t refuse bad cases, however our objective is to strengthen the strong and to highlight the good, who nowadays are ignored in our society. Our project ‘Start Your Life Again’ has been set up to share good stories in our society and to give inspiring examples to those who are less resilient. We want focus on people who are brave enough to re-start a normal life. The project is being implemented through advertising, highlighting the life of IDPs. It shows portraits of people, their life stories, and their activities, describing how they dared to start their lives again. Our partners have given us the opportunity to deliver the project for free in a number of cities in Ukraine. The stories are about real people, whom we really know and whom we have helped, and are posted on billboards and light-boxes in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Lviv, Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhia, and other cities.
Tell us about your future plans. The situation will change at some point; in which ways are you going to develop your activities?
Olena: Two of three of our projects are strategically important. For instance, the trust line may be effective for solving ordinary problems, a change from the existing requests. The need for counseling remains in peacetime, only the subject of the requests changes.
Cooperation with the National Guard is a two-step system of rehabilitation. The workshops that we had conducted till July will remain in our practice. There is a permanent rotation of combatants, who need a psychological adjustment on arrival. Skills training for working with stresses and fears is an integral part of strengthening the army. We consider this project very important. A personal letter from Mr. Poltorak, ex-Minister of Defense of Ukraine, has confirmed our future cooperation, and we are now searching for financing to support this work.
Moreover, my colleagues have plenty of new project ideas, which we are going to communicate through our website www.awarepeople.org in order to provide information about changes.
Was the support of UNDP was essential for you? Why?
Olena: For each small organization it is important to have a big and experienced partner. It’s not just a support, but also an example of how to work better. Big, adjusted structure is able to provide both financial and information support, and show methods of successful management. We observed the cooperation of UNDP with other volunteers and organizations and we became a part of this great process. We are inspired by it and it is helping us to realize our development plans.