CALLING GIBSAMS – Samaritans in Gibraltar


These things never happen in Gibraltar,” is the oft uttered remark stated by many of us on the Rock when something terrible occurs in the world ‘outside’… But ‘these things’ do happen here and that’s why more and more organisations, associations, pressure groups and caring individuals come together to do whatever they can to ease the pain of many persons or even help prevent the worst…

“In the last twelve months, there has been a marked increase in suicides in Gibraltar, yes, here on the Rock. Who would have thought that could happen in our tiny, close knit, comfortable community.” Marie Lou Guerrero reveals. “I began to wonder whether any or all of those suicides could have been prevented.”

Marie Lou is a get-up-and-go individual who leaves no stone unturned when deciding something needs to be done and setting up a Samaritans (Befrienders Gibraltar) group needed to be formed. Always eager to assist in matters of this kind, Dr Rene Beguelin joined Marie Lou in getting things going, “I contacted Befrienders World Wide, the umbrella organisation to which the UK Samaritans belong and Rene and I met them in London. They were extremely helpful in assisting us set the ball rolling here on the Rock and establish a Befrienders Gibraltar which will operate by the name of Gibraltar Samaritans.” Marie Lou tells me, “We have to learn from their experience and they are on hand to help in whichever way they can.

Marie Lou, Chair of Samaritans with Maggie Galliano, Director of Central London Samaritans who came to deliver the presentation, Minister Samantha Sacramento and members of Team Sam

We then invited relevant people to join Rene and myself in forming the board of Trustees; Peter Montegriffo, a lawyer, Ian Colliinson, an accountant, Ian Howes, an ex-policeman, John Montegriffo, a social worker drug rehabilitation officer and Vivienne Levene an ex-Samaritan counsellor, I was elected Chairman, and our Governor, Lt General Edward Davis has agreed to be our Patron.”

The work began in earnest about two and a half months ago. Two trainers came out to Gib to train our trainers, one of them is Gibraltarian Maggie Galliano who is a ‘Sam’ in London. They will be returning for more training.” An open ‘Information day’ was held last month to recruit volunteers for the service “

Marie Lou informs me the Gib Sam Team is always looking for volunteers willing to be trained for this very sensitive line of work. “Absolutely essential and anyone can be a Sam. We need individuals with an ability to listen; listening to callers patiently on the phone, never advising, or telling them where they went wrong or judging them. It’s dealing with people’s emotions and that requires special training which is being undertaken by these Befrienders trainers coming out to Gib who will deliver a programme tailored for Gibraltar. The chosen volunteers need to get through ten modules in order to qualify and be able to communicate correctly with someone on the other end of a telephone line or mobile who is distressed or even agitated for any number of reasons.” “There are also other ways of getting involved with Team Sam by helping with fundraising and assisting by other means,” Marie Lou stresses.

‘Gibraltar Sams’ are not just there for someone potentially feeling suicidal. They will listen to anyone about whatever’s getting to them. Young people are bullied in schools and nowadays, it may not end there. In today’s world, they’re cyber bullied. Adults too may be stressed at work. Self-harm is another issue, gambling, marital problems, bereavement or life getting on top of you, for whatever cause, are all reasons to get in touch with a sensitive someone who will listen and not judge or criticise.  “And you see, we may say, ‘why don’t they talk to a family member or a close friend?’ That doesn’t always work because this individual probably won’t want them to worry them about what’s going on in his or her mind and anyway, family and friends are too close. These individuals need to talk to someone who’s trained to listen and completely detached. Also, there are those who have no-one to turn to.”

There will always be two volunteers manning the ‘Sams’ Freephone Helpline 116123 and a trainer/supervisor will also be on hand. Calls are always free and the caller’s number will be untraceable and the whole process will be completely anonymous and dealt with in complete confidence with the individual listened to for as long as it takes with no time limits. “Locally, the phones will be manned during the day, until midnight. The busiest times in other countries tend to be between 8pm and midnight, but I felt it would have to be on a 24-hour basis in order to offer a complete service so, for the present, the call will be diverted through the small hours to our Australian colleagues who are operating during their daytime! They have kindly offered this service to us and at no charge so we’re extremely grateful to them. As things stand, the plan is to be up and running by around September time this year.”

HE the Governor, Patron of the Gibraltar Samaritans with some of the trustees and the 2 UK trainers taken on his visit during the training weekend

The Chairman tells me they’re in the process of contacting other relevant groups and organisations on the Rock which are relevant to the work undertaken by ‘Sams’ so as to work closely with them.

Marie Lou Guerrero has been a determined woman throughout her life. First as a school teacher, in sports committees, one of Special Olympics instigator, leading the Federation of Small Businesses (GFSB) locally, in Europe and the world organisation which included many influential positions; initiating many major organised events on the Rock: Summer Nights, the Tercentenary anniversary and ‘Holding Hands’ events, bringing Young Enterprise initiative to the Rock, and always on the peripheries of local politics (but never ‘taking the plunge’) although not so much these days, She is currently the Chair of the Citizens Advice Bureau and a member of the local St John’s Council! A persevering and unwavering individual who when deciding to get something off the ground more often than not succeeds, and now heads Samaritans on the Rock!

In the UK, it was more than 60 years ago when Samaritans was founded. It was started in 1953 in London by a vicar called Chad Varah, who wanted to help people in distress who had no one to turn to. The Samaritans have spent six decades listening to individuals’ worries, becoming the world’s first telephone support service. Today, there are hundreds of crisis helplines around the world with thousands of volunteers attending to people’s concerns. ‘Gibraltar Samaritans,’ ‘Gibsams’ too, will soon be ready to listen day or night. They will listen no matter how deep or difficult your issue may be and will not judge or criticise. Confidentiality is their business.

Five suicides in not so many months rang alarm bells in Marie Lou Guerrero’s mind and that was enough… The Gibraltar Samaritans team led by her is bound to be a success by bringing comfort to those unfortunate beings in distress and needing help. For more info email: [email protected]

words | Richard Cartwright