Home' LOTL : June 2004 Contents Ankali currently has seven lesbian volunteers, and would like
more. If you are interested in training to become an Ankali
volunteer, please contact Guy Fitzpatrick at Ankali on
(02) 9332 9742. The next Ankali training will be taking place
over four days on the 3rd, 4th, 10th and 11th July 2004.
Ankali was set up to provide emotional and social support
to people living with HIV/AIDS. 118 volunteers backed by
four health professionals and an administrator are responsible
for maintaining the well being of clients, ensuring they have
someone to talk to in times of doubt and fear and someone
to do ordinary, everyday things with, so they have a sense of
a normal life. One HIV positive woman, Anne, describes the
importance of this support. "There are lots of people around
me -- doctors, counsellors, other professionals, but my Ankali
friend's somebody different. She's more like a friend. We
have a chat, coffee, just normal things."
Ankali attracts people from everywhere. In a society that
at times seems to be preoccupied with the superficial and
that for the most part emphasises an individualist
philosophy, Ankali radiates hope and a sense of community.
For volunteers it is this simple commitment to humanity
that is at the core of their involvement.
Maddie Bridgett, a social worker for 12 years and
currently an Ankali co-ordinator, says that most people want
to give back in some way. She explains: "It's part of a
personal journey that volunteers come here. For some reason
they stumble across Ankali and if it's to give back to the Gay
and Lesbian community or because it reflects their attitudes
and beliefs, or their sexuality, it's the beginning of exposing
them to a community they may eventually become a part of."
Volunteers are a diverse group of people and come from
lifestyles and occupations across the board, including people
who don't have a job to professionals such as accountants,
teachers and lawyers. When they meet together as they do
each week, all of these things, the trappings of life, become
irrelevant. It gets down to basics -- people helping people.
One of the long-term volunteers at Ankali is an ex-
psychiatric nurse, named Deb. After 13 years with Ankali, Deb
is now a support group leader and has had a wealth of
experience with which she in turn is able to guide younger or
less experienced volunteers. In all the time she has been
volunteering Deb has only had two clients, one of these for 11
years. She describes her Ankali experience as one that keeps her
grounded. "Their [the client's] life is in clarity, mine is too."
Deb admits that having been a psychiatric nurse has
provided her with skills that have been extremely valuable in
the context of dealing with clients' complex emotional needs.
However, as Bridgett explains, such skills are not a
prerequisite for volunteering. Ankali looks for people who can
listen, be empathetic, who have an open mind and can make
a commitment for six months (up to five hours per week).
This is the criterion to ensure clients and volunteers are well
suited and adequate support for both parties is maintained.
This system of finding volunteers seems to be effective, for
Ankali has a good record for maintaining their volunteers. The
volunteers LOTL spoke to are enthusiastic and surprised about
what they have gained from their experience. Others find that
Ankali brings them something quite profound. Deb says she
has met a wonderful network of people she wouldn't have
other wise met. "You share things with your support group as
well as the client. You become connected with their clients."
Jess, who is 26 and works in a bar, has been an Ankali
volunteer for just two years. "I am actually doing something for
someone else and I can see the benefits of me being there ... You
learn a lot about yourself and about how you judge people."
According to Jess, being a volunteer has also provided her
with important clinical information about HIV/AIDS and
supplied her with more knowledge of relationships in general.
Particularly, she says it has alerted her to the amount of prejudice
that still exists in society toward people with HIV/AIDS.
In light of having to deal with these issues, Ankali has placed
an emphasis on providing a secure and well-organised structure
for its volunteer programs. As Bridgett explains, one essential
element to this structure is training. Volunteers are trained by
social workers in communication, listening skills, and given a
medical over view of HIV in two weekend blocks. There is also
an ongoing compulsory support group meeting, conducted once
a week. This is set up so that volunteers have a for um to discuss
any difficulties they may have with clients. For extra support, the
social workers can inter vene should more difficult problems arise.
This well-planned but flexible structure allows
individuality to flourish. The volunteers are able to be
themselves and are encouraged to impart their personal
qualities to the client. As Deb says, "The volunteers bring
their own style, their own humanity. Each relationship is
quite unique and Ankali recognises this."
By drawing on people's strengths, Ankali also brings to
the volunteers a sense of confidence and a new perspective on
their own lot in life. Jess encapsulates this experience; " I'm
just a very lucky person in life, in many degrees. I've got a lot
of family and friends to support me but other people just
don't have that. I'm glad that I came across Ankali."
"THE ROAD TO A FRIEND'S HOUSE IS NEVER LONG" -- OLD PROVERB
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