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Phone hotline aids bridge survivors

FREE telephone counselling services have been launched to give emotional support to people affected by the Diamond Island bridge disaster.

Run by the NGO Social Services of Cambodia, the phone lines are open seven days a week, four hours a day.

A trial project was launched successfully in December and the second phase will begin next month, said Ellen Minotti, director of Social Services of Cambodia.

The initiative has the support of AusAID, the Australian Agency for International Development, she said.

Adverts for the service have been running on radio 102FM and 103FM, Minotti added. “Counselling and emotional support was seen positively by callers to radio stations, telling about their recovery from trauma and many suggested the program should be extended,” she said.

In its first month, the service had about 20 calls, mostly from men who survived the accident that killed 351 people and injured 395 in a stampede on November 22.

Other callers included victims’ families and onlookers who were horrified by the unforgettable accident, said Eng Vanny, a trainer with Social Services of Cambodia.

“Many callers are in a serious situation because of their pain and depression. Several patients can’t get rid of the images from their brains. Some survivors still feel regret that they couldn’t help others begging them for help. Parents sometimes blamed their children for going there or victims’ families feel sorry that they allowed their children to go there alone,” she added.

Eng Vanny said that telephone counselling could help survivors in ways that couldn’t be measured, allowing them to share experiences and reducing the chance of suicide.

“We give callers the chance for them to talk about their feelings in that situation without a time limit. If they ask for direct counselling, we can also help them because we have 15 staff members available,” said Ouk Bunthoeurn, a team leader and trainer for Social Services of Cambodia.

The group had professional trained staff working in its counselling and emotional support program, said Ouk Bunthoeurn.

“Callers can cry freely when they want. We are patient in listening to them. We counsel and support their emotions without judgement, but we try to give them ideas to cope and let them choose the outcome themselves,” he said.

Social Services of Cambodia’s Minotti said that online counselling services may be developed later, and the phone line’s hours may be extended if caller numbers rise.

The hotline number in Khmer is 078 767 559 between 9am and 11am and from 2pm to 4pm. Calls are free within the Mobitel network.

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