I recently came across an ad on Facebook for a help portal for young people called Kellimni.com and thought to myself what a great idea and initiative. Immediately I reached out to the people behind it in order to help shed some light on this much needed support service. I chatted to Lorna Muscat from the NGO “SOS Malta“, who is currently supporting the management of the project and she helped me understand more about what it all entails. I urge you to take the time to read this article and to spread the word as much as possible to let young people know that help is out there and that they are not alone!
Lorna, what is SOS Malta, its scope and objectives?
SOS Malta is a registered Voluntary Organisation which seeks to support social inclusion and assist different vulnerable groups in improving their quality of life by providing support services and opportunities to implement development and change in their own and others lives. SOS Malta also engages in advocacy and awareness raising on behalf of social issues and promotes and develops models of good practice for social benefit.
We work on four pillars of practice that encompass the following objectives: Social Solidarity; Volunteering; Overseas Development; and Research and Training. We work on a number of different projects and areas of work that fall under one or more of these themes.
How did this organization come about?
SOS Malta was founded back in 1991 to support Albanians refugees that reached the Maltese shores in ship-loads in the early nineties. Not being able to seek haven on our small island, a national campaign to assist them in need was launched. This led to the first visits of the founders of SOS Malta to the country. After various appeals for assistance on a national level, it was soon realised that a more structured and permanent approach was needed if any difference was to be made. This led to the foundation of SOS Malta as the first international NGO in Malta. SOS Malta then went on to support a number of humanitarian missions and development projects over the years.
Whilst originally the organisation worked mostly on overseas development work, we have moved more towards working within Malta on social issues since 2004 when we joined the EU. We have since expanded our work considerably and now take on both a national and international work. At the moment we work overseas, at present we work on food security for children and families in Uganda, as well as locally on a number of different issues, such as raising awareness of global development issues, bullying and other issues relating to young people, integration of migrants, promoting civic engagement through volunteering and other projects. We also seek to support the strengthening of civil society organisations in Malta as we believe NGOs and civil society play an important role in social empowerment and development of a better society.
You are currently managing the kellimni.com project, can you tell us more about this?
I have been working at SOS Malta for around 5 years now on various projects and working on strategic development of different areas of work. Kellimni.com has been running for a number of years and I have been involved mainly in terms of seeking out support and funding to keep the service running and improving. However, it has recently expanded its scope and therefore, I have become more engaged in the day to day management of this service.
Kellimni.com is a flagship example of what we are trying to achieve as an organisation. It encompasses fully our areas of work. It is a service that promotes social solidarity and social inclusion, includes volunteers as a key resource to provide support services and is based upon sound research whilst giving opportunities for training of professionals.
Kellimni.com itself was born 6 years ago with the idea that young people needed a way of reaching out about their problems that went beyond traditional face to face or telephone means of support. We recognised the changing nature of technology and saw that we needed to adapt and be up to date with the way young people were communicating in order to be able to support them better.
It is not uncommon for people to feel uncomfortable to talk about problems. Even admitting having difficulties can be hard. Kellimni.com tries to lower this barrier by offering young people online support. It provides free and confidential online one-to-one support, aimed at youths who need somewhere to go to be listened to and be supported. It may be they are suffering from social exclusion, abuse, neglect, and/or psychological difficulties or are feeling lonely or stressed and/or are in need of emotional, moral and social support. It allows users to express their concerns and talk about the issues directly affecting them, while assuring them that they are not alone, that someone outside of their immediate circles cares for them, that their life can be free from pain and fear and that there is hope. It provides young people a forum in which to voice their concerns, express and realize their rights online: a medium of communication with which young people feel most comfortable and one that is readily available to them.
This service itself is being provided not solely by SOS Malta but through the partnership between SOS Malta, Appogg, Salesjani and Agenzija Zaghazagh who together are vested in ensuring the service is a successful resource for young people.
How does this support system work and who does it target?
Kellimni.com provides an opportunity to all young people to reach out through easily-accessible online channels of communication. Nowadays many young people make use of social networks – we have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat ….we can say that somehow they are constantly online. Therefore, Kellimni.com offers support through the media already being used. We recently began providing this service 24/7 which is a new challenge for us but we are already seeing that it is bearing fruit and that people are looking for support at all times of the day
Kellimni.com offers teenagers and young adults the opportunity to voice their concerns in confidence, anonymously to get support from professionally trained mentors. Kellimni.com invites young people to contact a mentor through SmartMessaging available through the Kellimni.com App which is downloadable free of charge from the AppStore and PlayStore. They can also chat with mentors to receive immediate real-time support through the website. Alternatively we can also be contacted by email. All of our services are private, confidential, free and the service user can choose to remain anonymous.
Kellimni.com also offers an information section where there are numerous topics related to issues that youths may be passing through. These are accessible to those who may not want to access active support but may be seeking information on an issue affecting them. Young people can also share their experiences with others through the Kellimni.com forum which is accessible on the website. The website also offers a range of articles and videos on youth-related topics such as peer pressure, bullying, self harm and others
We find that young people really identify with this way of communicating as it makes them feel safer as they can make use of the service whilst remaining anonymous. They can spend hours talking to Kellimni.com about anything they want and yet the mentors will not know who they really are and we will not ask for their name. Additionally, they are able to seek this support without having to ask their parents first which would be the case in terms of face to face support.
How would you suggest that parents, guardians or even carers create awareness of this initiative’s existence?
A major part of our work is trying to ensure that people know about our service. In order to reach out to young people we try to communicate as much as possible with them and let them know about the service, this requires time and dedication to undertake online marketing as well as presenting at schools, events etc to try and ensure everyone knows about the service and can use it.
Equally, it is important that adults know about the service, both parents, guardians, carers and teacher or youth workers so that they are able to direct young people to speak to us. Obviously it is important that parents are able to create an open environment with their children so that young people can feel that they are able to discuss issues freely in the home. We also seek to support parents in doing this. However, in some cases this is difficult, in this case parents can also let their children know that there is a safe space for them to go if they are having any issues.
Parents talk to each other and share problems their children are facing, so for us it is of benefit if they also tell each other about this service and spread the word, as the more people know about it the more positive impact it can have. Additionally, if adults working with young people in different areas such as guides, youth groups, university etc would like some more information or for us to come and present about the service we are very open and willing to do this.
What drove you to dedicate your time to this cause?
I have always been passionate about social justice issues from a young age and always wished to dedicate my professional life to improving somehow the lives of others in whatever way possible. In the past, I have worked with poor communities in Latin America and Africa, to support them in voicing their concerns and pushing for better social policies and structures for their communities. I have been in Malta now for around 5 years and have since dedicated my time to working on social issues here.
For me, Kellimni.com is really an inspiring service. As a parent, I now understand the struggles we feel to do the best we can for the mental health and well being of our children and how much we worry on a day to day basis that they are ok, especially if they are not vocal about their feelings. I really feel kellimni provides an excellent means for young people to access this support and parents can feel safe and secure that their children are accessing professional advice. I am proud to be a part of this initiative as it goes forward. We would like to pass the message that there is always hope. Sometimes we fail to see this, but perhaps through speaking up and seeking support one may find that there is a possible solution that one could not previously identify alone.