A trip to Zambia was Lara Watson’s first foray into volunteering. She had just turned 18 and chose to defer university for a year to teach children in Zambia.
“I’d always wanted to do my bit to make the world a better place. I’m a Christian so serving others, helping people thrive and spreading love is a big part of my faith.”
She returned from Zambia and began studying psychology at Canterbury University. Having long aspired to be a buddy for Kidsline, she was excited to discover Youthline at the Student Volunteer Expo and for the last two years has been volunteering as a solo phone counsellor and mentor to new trainees.
“Lara throws herself into anything extra that’s going - staffing our outreach stalls, coming to every counselling skills extension training, developing training resources, and representing us at a Youth Workers hui”, says Youthline Central South Island Manager Trystan Swain.
Now 21, Lara’s dream is to one day become a Clinical Psychologist and she says Youthline is helping to pave that path.
“It’s a very competitive field to get into but Youthline has given me so much experience. It’s made me realise that I want it even more.”
That experience was tested on 15 March 2019 when two mosques in Christchurch came under terrorist attack during Friday prayer.
“I was booked in for a shift that night, and my trainee and I were the only volunteers rostered on across New Zealand. We cancelled our shift as we didn't feel safe going into the office across town, and were understandably emotional. I asked our centre manager to contact the other managers across NZ to try to rally up some volunteers from other cities, and in a matter of an hour or so the roster was full right up until we closed our regular service at midnight! It amazed me the level of support I felt from other Youthliners.”
Lara wants young people to know that that level of support is there for them too.
“We actually do want to talk to you and listen to you. It can seem a bit anonymous and weird calling into a helpline but we’re not robots, we’re people. I feel so honoured when someone tells me they haven’t told anyone else or share their stories and experiences that carry so much hurt. It’s so brave.”
One of the most rewarding moments of Lara’s Youthline career was making her first suicide intervention, not long after going solo.
“He said he wanted to be safe, but didn’t know how. He shared a lot of his emotions with me and revealed his plans to end his life. He called in with his husband so I just kept affirming that, that he really cared about his husband and his husband cared about him. We were able to make a new plan for them to drive to the nearest A&E. They were both so grateful to me for keeping him safe.”
Lara says Youthline has taught her how to listen.
“When you think about counselling you might think it’s someone telling you what to do and giving you advice. But being a good counsellor is actually just being alongside someone and listening to them. Not a wise guide, but a listener, a friend. This is something I’ve taken into my own relationships.”
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