This summer, to help families, Covid warriors, caregivers and patients struggling with loss and grief in India due to the second Covid wave, a group of counsellors and life coaches came together to launch a free counselling service called Listening Hearts.
With all sessions conducted in complete confidentiality over video or voice calls, the group of 11 coaches has supported over a hundred young and old people in just over a month, offering a compassionate shoulder to cry on and a means to express and unburden difficult emotions.
It all began with a heart-breaking week for Nasreen Khan in April 2021 when the Covid wave was at its peak in India. The Delhi-based executive and life coach received bad news of dear ones passing away – a colleague’s parents, a younger friend, a vendor who had left behind an eight-year-old daughter.
One friend of Nasreen’s was in the ICU, another one desperately trying for a hospital admission and not getting it. This, besides horrendous stories of no oxygen, no medicines.
“It was every hour. Every day. Literally,” says the coach, behavioural skills facilitator and NLP trainer who has over 30 years of professional experience behind her.
One day in the last week of April, a young colleague called Nasreen and broke down. For more than 48 hours, she had been trying for a hospital bed for their office attendant. They had tried not only in Delhi but even places like Panipat, Hisar, Alwar and other locations.
They had kept the young man in the car the whole night and managed to source oxygen for him. But by the time they could manage a hospital bed, it was too late and they lost him within an hour of admission.
“This young girl was heartbroken,” recalls Nasreen, sadly. “She kept sobbing for over 40 minutes on the phone, and all I could do was listen. I really had nothing to say. What do you say to something like this? By the end of our ‘conversation’ she said she felt so much ‘lighter’, having at least been able to cry her heart out.”
With bad news pouring in from everywhere, Nasreen felt helpless and frustrated. Currently with Catalysts Advisory Coaching and Training as a coach and training facilitator, Nasreen’s work involves supporting individuals (CXOs and leaders) and organisations to be their best.
She has led public workshops for the United Nations, National HRD Network and Life Positive Foundation. She has also been invited to UAE and South Africa for leading personal development training. “I wanted to be able to help Covid-affected families in some way, and contribute and support beyond just donations,” she says.
On April 30, she sent a message to a dozen fellow coaches, telling them she was planning to start a free support service, and invited them to join her to give “listening and support” to whoever needed them. Within minutes, she had responses, and by the end of the day, she had 10 more certified coaches, besides herself, signed up and ready to offer their time.
On May 1, Listening Hearts came into being, comprising 11 coaches from varied backgrounds – Lt Col Ajay Chaudhari, Arvind Dimri, Deepanshu Sharma, Manisha Choudhry, Nasreen Khan, Sangeeta Chopra, Sanjay Gupta, Dr Shubha Rajan, Sushma Banthia, Varsha Chitnis and Vivek Chopra – with backend support provided by Kavita Sharma.
They drew up a Google Form for people to fill in, and began distributing the link through their WhatsApp groups and social media. All of them have over 20 years of experience each, and between them, they offer confidential and empathetic listening in six languages and also offer the help of psychotherapists and psychiatrists for more serious cases. All of them do this as a social service juggling their working hours.
The group has two rules, says Nasreen: “One, we cannot charge anyone any money or make them our regular client, so this platform cannot be used commercially by any of us, now or later. Second, we will keep the identity of anyone we speak to confidential.”
“The pandemic brought in an extremely violent and uncertain time. The fear of the unknown became prevalent. The enemy was invisible, and one had no idea when and how it would strike. Anxiety, stress, grief and regret are some of the common emotions that tormented people,” says Lt Col Ajay Chaudhari, a leadership, SEI and life coach who is on the Listening Hearts panel and compares the pandemic experience to his days in the Armed Forces and the trauma that servicemen went through during operations.
“When Nasreen asked me if I was interested in being a part of the team, with my core value of ‘making a difference and adding value’, it was only natural for me to say yes. Utilising my coaching skills is the very least I can do,” he says.
“For me, talking to each person who reaches out to us has served three purposes,” says Sangeeta Chopra, a CFI certified executive coach who had been doing her best to help friends and family source oxygen and hospital beds during the second Covid wave when she got Nasreen’s message and decided to volunteer with Listening Hearts.
“Firstly, it has allowed me to know the situation on the ground first-hand. Secondly, it has given me an opportunity to contribute and make a difference, and most of all, it has made me hopeful again. Knowing that we have given hope to someone, altered the mindset from negative to positive and left the person with possibilities for the future is the biggest gift I have received. It allows me to sleep in peace and be content knowing that like me there are many others out there who are adding their drops of help to create an ocean of positivity, love, compassion, and hope,” she says.
Sanjay Gupta, who has been working with people for the past 20 years as a talent professional, coach and facilitator, also values the idea of lending a compassionate ear to people in need. “More so, during this pandemic, extending a helping hand became a priority for me. So, when Nasreen approached with the idea of Listening Hearts, it was an instant connection. What better opportunity could I get to fulfil my highest value of giving and contributing,” he says.
The aftermath of this pandemic is going to continue to show up for quite some time, predicts Nasreen, who says she would like to continue to offer this support to anyone who needs it later as well. “My wish is that no one should feel alone, with no one to talk to. Money should not be a constraint to get this support. We really want this service to reach as many people as possible,” she says.
If you need mental or emotional support, fill out this form or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The Listening Hearts volunteers will get back to you within 24 hours and set up an appointment at your convenience. The service is totally free.
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