YOUTH worker Megan Sarl, who has been volunteering with Childline for nine years, said that she loves the energy and enthusiasm of young people and has always wanted to help children forge their path.
“I always wanted to work with children and young people, from an early age, and the second I turned 18 I wanted to volunteer with Childline and I started when I was 18,” Ms Sarl said.
“I wanted to be there and listen to children and young people and try and help in any way I can. Since that day I started, I never looked back.”
Ms Sarl said her volunteering has benefitted her career.
“I studied youth and community work in college and this really helped me in my line of work,” Ms Sarl said.
She loves pitching in with Childline.
“It’s a great privilege, being left into a child’s life, even just for five minutes or 65 minutes,” Ms Sarl said. “Every single child I talk to, I feel so lucky to share even half of what they are going through. I love listening to the stories of a young person’s day and how they are feeling, what is going on for them in these moments, and I think that children and young people have so much to say. Being a positive adult in their life, who gives them time to talk about whatever they want to talk about, is very special.”
Ms Sarl gives up four hours every week to answer phones at the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children’s (ISPCC) Childline service.
“When I come into the ISPCC office, I start taking calls from children and young people,” Ms Sarl said. “There are never two shifts the same. The amount of young people and children I talk to varies. I could talk to six children in those four hours or I could talk to 20. Every shift is so different. I talk to children and young people about every single possible situation you could think of and still, after my nine years, there is probably something I haven’t heard. I have talked to children about things, everyday life or school subjects, and what they are watching on Netflix, to sexual abuse and domestic violence.”
Since the pandemic began, Childline has been receiving more calls from children.
“We have many more children calling, because they are anxious about the virus,” Ms Sarl said. “They are extremely worried about grandparents getting Covid-19 or themselves. There is a genuine worry among the children and young people. They also were feeling quite isolated themselves.”
The 27-year-old said the pandemic also made children more aware of things that they would have been protected from previously.
“The pandemic let children and young people experience things at home that they once before would have been sheltered from,” Ms Sarl said. “For example, domestic abuse at home, or drugs and alcoholism in the home. A lot of families thrived on more home time with their children, but, unfortunately for some children, we saw how it broke families down. Parents lost jobs and there was more stress at home.
“Some children and teenagers, in particular, found online schooling so hard: Some don’t have access to wifi or laptops at home. They are living in homeless shelters and hotel rooms. Some children don’t have a backyard that is safe to go outside and play in. Some children and young people definitely experienced the worst in this pandemic.”
Volunteering has helped Ms Sarl gain insight into life.
“I feel being a volunteer with the ISPCC Childline has taught me that you never know how much is going on for a child you may see in front of you. Children are just so brave, resilient, and extremely funny. They have the most amazing sense of humour, even if they are in a difficult situation. Some children go through such horrific times, but their ability to see the positive in a situation, or how they show such bravery, is amazing to me. One of the main things I make sure I do on a call when I’m talking to children is to tell them how strong or brave they are.”
To donate, see www.ispcc.ie/donate-now/ or visit the Ispcc Childline website to get more information on how to become a volunteer.