Article by Phoe Wa of the MYANMAR TIMES
Last June the suicide of a librarian who was bullied for being gay raised the thorny issue of sexual harassment in Myanmar workplace. Despite several dismissals and a high-profile resignation, the University rather intensively called the young man "mentally weak".
Through workplace harassment needs to be addressed, an organization called Call Me Today believes that some suicide cases, like Kyaw Zin Win's, could have been prevented if a sympathetic person had been there to listen.
"I feel responsible for [the passing of the librarian]. He didn't know there were people ready to listen to him, who were just a phone call away," said Kyaw Zin, who works for Save In Your Brain Game Academy and founded Call Me Today.
Call Me Today is the first free suicide hotline in Myanmar. People in need are invited to reach out for help during opening hours, on weekdays from 10pm to midnight. The hotline hopes to reduce suicide rates and assist individuals prone to depression.
The initiative was started in June 2018, following the suicide of a student from the MIT University which Ko Kyaw Zin attended at the same time. In his suicide note, the student blamed his loneliness. Ko Kyaw Zin believed the tragic fate of his schoolmate could have been avoid should he had been able to open up to somebody. Thus he started the free hotline for others in need.
"I thought it would be wonderful if a suicidal person could change his mind after talking for one hour with me," said Ko Kyaw Zin.
In the beginning, he created the Call Me Today Facebook page and waited for his first callers. However, his first few calls came from suspicious students believing the page was a fraud.
As the project took off, Call Me Today gained more trust from troubled callers; an average of 6 persons would call the hotline weekly. Most of them were victims of workplace bullying and sexual harassment, but also homesickness and heartbroken students.
Due to the success of the hotline, Ko Kyaw Zin eventually recruited 10 volunteers to take the calls on a rotational basis, extending operating hours.
"I understand and can empathize with what [the callers] feel and I provide comments and advice to them, although I'm still young myself," he said.
The service is free, and the operators keep all information confidential. Ko Kyaw Zin is currently looking to collaborate with other people in Myanmar to develop his hotline. For now, the hotline is only operational two hours at night during weekdays and volunteers do not have any formal training.
"This service would be able to cover the whole country, but I can't do all that on my own. It would be great to deliver the service for more people, even with the help of an organization of company," Ko Kyaw Zin added.
Privacy and rules of engagement
Call Me Today never collects personal information of any sort. However, the third-party operator reserves the right to record conversations and keep track of numbers, according to Ko Kyaw Zin. Call Me Today never discloses callers' information unless required by law.
Callers also do not have access to any details about the volunteers. A volunteer will not hang up the phone prematurely unless asked to do something inappropriate or illegal. Volunteers are not allowed to shout back or use offensive language. Besides these requirements, anyone is welcome to join the team regardless of experience.
"It is very helpful for people like me who have no one to talk to. Call Me Today is my exit," wrote Aung Soe Paing, who called the hotline before, on the project's Facebook Page.
Currently, The Ywar Thar Gyi mental hospital in Yangon offers one-on-one therapy sessions. However, Call Me Today offers free conversations, accessible from anywhere by phone.
"We would like to save lives and we can try to alleviate the pain of people in distress if only they call us," said Ko Kyaw Zin.