Kaan Pete Roi: The Twenty-Month Update

This blog has returned for no reason except that a few wonderful young people have demanded that it should, people that are so wonderful that I apparently find it very hard to say no to them!

Now that it’s back, we’ll see where it goes. My previous blog was about the making of Kaan Pete Roi, Bangladesh’s first and only emotional support and suicide prevention helpline. While I’m sure I will write about Kaan Pete Roi often – it owns my heart and mind, now – I hope to also be thinking and writing about the rest of the world too.

I call this “Walking Back” because my walk from NYU to home every day is the longest, coldest, and, oddly, the best part of my day.

Kaan Pete Roi: The Twenty-Month Update

I’ll start with a few numbers. Kaan Pete Roi is open 5 days a week, 6 hours a day, except for Thursday, when it’s open for 12 hours. We’ve now trained 7 batches of volunteers, we have 4 staff members, and we have taken almost five thousand calls, a third of which have taken place after 9pm. We celebrate our two-year anniversary on April 28th, at which point we’ll have a team of about seventy people.

BUT, we of course don’t measure how we’re doing by numbers, so here are a few details. Rozina Khanam – Rozy – runs the show as Helpline Coordinator, KPR’s steadiest rock right from the beginning. Her co-staff are now Rubina Jahan Rumi, Outreach Coordinator; Arun Das, Volunteer Coordinator, and Muhtasabbib Rumman Matin, Referrals Specialist. Rumi and Arun are volunteers from the very first trainings, promoted to management for their sheer excellence and popularity. Muhtasabbib, one of my oldest friends, has also been with KPR since it’s baby stages, teaching us different ways to think about mental illness in Bangladesh and remembering the details that nobody else ever remembers. These four are what we call, with a touch of reverence, ‘the management.’ Several senior volunteers act as Backup Supervisors; they’re the ones who can (and often do) take over if the actual management members are unavailable for some reason. We have our very first School Representative and more and more people lining up to take on that role in their schools.

So what have we been upto? We officially joined the Befrienders Worldwide network as the newest member, and have made immensely productive connections with Befrienders members in Sri Lanka, India, Singapore, and the UK. We had our first fundraising concert, Kaan Pete Roi’s Evening with Arnob and Friends (check out photos here) which will go down in my life as one of my favourite Evenings; we were truly honoured to have Arnob Bhai, Pantha Bhai, Buno Bhai, Saad Bhai and Shoeb Bhai perform for us, and I still marvel that I got to make a speech in between songs. (Volunteers who made the concert happen are reading this and no doubt expecting me to make a special mention of them, so here you have it: your first concert was perfect, when’s the next one?) Media attention, awareness talks, and suicide prevention workshops have been thriving; we’ve done suicide prevention workshops with school teachers, police commissioners, rural community leaders, womens’ advocacy groups, and of course, many, many students. These days, if anything is happening in the country on mental health, we’re there! We now have our very first promotional short film, created by Nuhash Humayun and his team at Pique Productions (check it out here) which could not have captured our message more elegantly.

And we are taking more and more calls every day. Again, we do not measure our success by the number of calls, but by the interactions we have with the individuals who put their trust in us by calling. And I can see in our volunteers as they’re on the phone and when they hang up, and I can feel from those who write to us about their experiences with Kaan Pete Roi, that we are, actually, doing what we set out to do.

I am, of course, constantly stunned by this.

When I first wrote about Kaan Pete Roi, I wrote about the excitement and joy I felt because of the enthusiasm with which people came to volunteer. Now that it’s been almost two years, I also must mention the delight I feel about how that enthusiasm has been sustained. I could not be more proud of the work that people put into holding Kaan Pete Roi up. Even now, when the ‘petrol bomb’ (which should be some kind of sick joke but is unfortunately a reality) is a daily occurrence, our volunteers are still making their way to the office, on the buses and the rickshaws, to be there when the phones ring.