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Opinion: The GAA and Samaritans both have an ethos of giving rather than taking

A Samaritans volunteer and GAA member writes about the people-centred spirit at the heart of both organisations.

James

I HAVE BEEN involved with the GAA for as long as I can remember. I played as a child and teenager, right up to the time I went to university. My interest waned then slightly for a few years with the excitement of being a country boy up in the Big Smoke. But being a member of the GAA is something that is in your blood and after several years working abroad, I returned to Ireland and joined my local club in Dublin.

And once I was back, I was back with a vengeance. Over the years I have been involved in every aspect of my club from coaching to sitting on various committees. So much so, that, four years ago, I felt burned out and decided to take a break. But I have always been part of some organisation, always felt that I wanted to do something for someone other than myself. And I ended up becoming a volunteer with the Dublin branch of Samaritans.

I noticed an ad for Samaritans 

I had been looking around for something that sparked my interest and one day noticed an ad for Samaritans on the side of a bus. I thought I would give it a go. I went to the information evening and initially thought no way, it’s not for me, I couldn’t do all that listening, I like to talk too much! But I went ahead, did the interview, got accepted and went through a period of in-depth training before becoming a fully fledged volunteer. Even then, it was a few months before the penny dropped and I realised the real benefits of active listening.

In many ways, the GAA and Samaritans have much in common. Both organisations are immersed in the community and are indeed two of the few remaining institutions to still have standing in the country. Both have nationwide coverage and are people-centred. They have an ethos of giving rather than taking. The volunteer-led nature of both the GAA and Samaritans is something that particularly attracts me. Around the country, thousands of people give up their free time in the evenings and weekends to support the GAA. The same can be said of Samaritans volunteers, albeit on a smaller scale.

Samaritans volunteers from across the country will be in attendance at the Leinster final in Croke Park and the Ulster final in Clones on 20 July to raise awareness of their service as part of a recently launched initiative between the GAA and Samaritans. Later that week, Samaritans volunteers from my own branch in Dublin will be on the streets around the Docklands area to promote their message that nobody needs to be alone, there is always someone who will listen.

Helping young boys and men

The Samarians “Talk to Us” campaign does what it says on the tin. I believe that this new partnership can only be mutually beneficial. The GAA has thousands of members, many of them young boys and men who, research has shown, are particularly vulnerable to feelings of despair and suicide. The fact of the matter is that such young people often do not talk to anyone about how they are feeling. If we can let them know that Samaritans volunteers are there, day and night, to listen with empathy, without judging, the partnership will have been a success.

Ironically, after taking a break from being so heavily involved with the GAA, I am now just as busy with Samaritans. I give talks in schools, interview prospective volunteers and facilitate training of new volunteers. Like the GAA, Samaritans is an organisation that I am proud to be associated with. It is a very professional, well-structured organisation with great direction. It sets goals that it tends to achieve, regardless of obstacles, thanks in no small part to the motivation of its volunteers.

And my ties with the GAA have also recently been renewed: a few weeks ago I was contacted by my colleagues in my club to help organise a tournament in the club and I have also been asked by my colleagues in Samaritans to liaise between the two organisations for the recently launched partnership. I have a feeling that both the GAA and Samaritans are going to be a big part of my life for some time to come!

James is a volunteer with Dublin branch of Samaritans.

Samaritans’ volunteers throughout the country are taking to the streets during the month of July to let people know more about the services they provide. For details about what is happening in your area please click here

Samaritans volunteers are available 24/7 to offer emotional support by freephone: 116 123; email: jo@samaritans.org, text: 087 2 60 90 90 or face-to-face in branches around the country.

Read: How my trip to a children’s mental asylum in Belarus made me proud to be Irish

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James

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