As a counsellor who works on the ground, my work mainly involved visiting children in the observation home or in their homes. Travelling to meet the children was an integral part of my job, which came to a halt with the lockdown. With no means to meet the children we now had to come up with alternate ways to ensure that they still stayed connected to us. As much as I was happy to have more time to catch up on my learning through reading and research, I was also worried about how this would impact the children.
The first few days of working from home were spent coming up with alternative ways to keep the work going. We decided to set up video call mechanism for the children in observation homes and replicate our weekly visits through these calls.
The first call could only accommodate three children, that was the maximum number we could fit in a frame, and it lasted for not more than 10 minutes. Seven minutes of this was spent giggling at this strange interaction, which neither we nor the children had ever imagined. The second time we called, it got better. All the children could be accommodated but the giggling, jokes and over all strangeness did not stop. And strange it was! We were looking at 10 to 11 masked faces, that kept moving so that they could see the screen and trying to guess who was talking.
Seeing as group calls were not the best idea, we decided the third time round, to talk to each child individually. This call lasted for two and half hours, I was able to speak to 11 children. It was a non-stop stream of children. They had so much to share, so much to ask. I was the only connection they had to the outside world for most of them while some of them had been able to talk to their parents. The world as they knew it, had completely changed, with no idea if it would ever go back to the way it used to be.
In that moment, the power of our connection with them struck me. For some of them, just seeing me on screen and making small talk, or just being there was helpful. Children I had never met before poured their hearts out, children who rarely spoke, would not stop talking. And for the first time since I started working with them, they asked me how I was, where I was and if I was okay. It struck me that as much as these children needed to talk, I needed to talk to them too. There was one thing we shared, we were all away from our families and loved ones and this reality bound us together even more.
Since then, talking to the children is a weekly activity I look forward to, we discuss their well being, routine, the new developments in the outside world, anything new that has happened within their walls, what they are painting, what colouring sheets they want and also their deep thoughts, which they usually wouldn’t share unless specifically asked about. We share what we are doing to cope and how are we dealing with the panic that is brought on by the situation. As I ask them these questions, I reflect on them myself, creating a space for healing and coping for not just them, but also me. Each session brings new hope, I do not know how much these sessions have helped the children, but it sure has helped me survive and pull through these times.
Soon after we started regular virtual counselling with the children, we extended our support to their families through telephonic conversations. The families were distressed, struggling financially and anxious about everything happening around. I had never personally met these parents and am still unsure if they know who exactly I am, or even remember my name. For them, the only information they needed to stay in conversation with me, was that I am speak to their children. This has now become an integral part of our weekly routine; the topic of conversation almost always stays the same. The realisation of the connection I was forming, struck me when one of the mothers called me, on a day that I was particularly feeling downcast, her son was back home with her, but she had other worries she wanted to talk about, she says my voice helps her. She does not know how to say my name and calls me ‘babu’. That day, all she spoke about was how much I had helped her, how she longs to some day see me in person and that she prays for me and my good health.
This opportunity to interact with people was one of the reasons I decided to become a psychologist. Listening to people’s stories, seeing how different each person is, getting a peek into their lives and helping them out to the best of my ability interests me. But this lock down and the forced isolation from family and friends who are miles away, helped me realise, that I need the connection as much as they do. More than the psychological care I offer it is the mutual need for connecting and relying on others that will get us through these tough times.