Moner Bondhu: Circle of empathetic listeners | The Daily Star
06:45 PM, April 29, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 06:59 PM, April 29, 2020

Moner Bondhu: Circle of empathetic listeners

While the whole world is focused on the rapidly spreading coronavirus right now, there are a few other constant diseases we must not forget about. No matter how insignificant they may seem at the moment in comparison to the current pandemic, they are just as deserving of our attention. For some it is high blood pressure, while for others, it is diabetes.  Then, there are the silent battles – depression and anxiety, to name a few.

Taking help in the form of counselling and psychotherapy when it comes to our mental health can go a long way in healing from the everyday distresses. Words such as depression and anxiety are no longer taken lightly, and there is always scope for treatment.

One such place to find empathetic counsellors is Moner Bondhu, a platform that provides care for your psychological well-being. Their services enable people to have healthy relationships in life, through mutual trust, tolerance and respect. According to their website, a national survey reported that 16.05 percent of the adult population in Bangladesh suffers from mental health disorders and that in every 100,000 people, nearly 15 die from suicide. Moner Bondhu's intention is to let everyone know that they are not alone in their battles.

Since the beginning of their journey in 2016, Moner Bondhu has reached 800,000 people through online platforms, and close to 100,000 people through various social events. Roughly 1,200 people receive their counseling services, provided by their highly skilled mental health professionals.

Appointments for one-to-one therapy sessions can be made through Moner Bondhu's helpline number, website or Facebook page. If it is urgent, therapists are also readily available over the phone.

What makes the organisation unique is their video counseling services. They offer professional therapy sessions through Skype and WhatsApp video calls, for anyone unable to travel long distances or make time to visit their premises.

Moner Bondhu also holds group workshops for children, adults and senior citizens alike, on topics such as depression, stress or anger management, behavioral patterns, parenting and more, in and around offices, schools, universities and at EMK Center in Dhaka.

 "Due to extreme social stigma, people are afraid to open up. Many don't even know where helpful services are available," says Founder and CEO Tawhida Shiropa, who recently received the prestigious Acumen Fellowship. "There are people in our lives who constantly play the role of caregivers, but we must remember that they need to vent and be provided with mental strength too. That's where the name 'Moner Bondhu' comes from."

Moner Bondhu also led a project with BGMEA, where for the first time in Bangladesh, RMG workers were provided with mental health support, free of cost. These workers face difficulties regarding issues, ranging from social security to sexual harassment. While this project began as an experiment for both BGMEA and the Moner Bondhu team, in just 6 months and across 50 factories, over 10,000 workers have had access to such care.

Multiple workshops around Gazipur, Savar, and Ashulia were also conducted to raise awareness. Once the project took off, not only the workers, but members of the management in these factories came forward to help or ask for help as well. "They found relief in meditation and the gratitude expressing exercises we did, and said they'd never known such activities even existed," adds Tawhida.  

Additionally, Moner Bondhu collaborates with BRAC's Social Innovation Lab to help out students and young professionals, regarding stress relief and coping mechanisms. They've already conducted close to seventeen sessions in and around Dhaka, including Rangpur and Khulna.

Moner Bondhu also worked with USAID on engaging English medium schools to identify inclusive parenting and student behavior through USAID Bangladesh's 'Obirodh, Road to Tolerance' project in 2019. They developed three crisis assessment tools for adolescents, with the findings of the FGDs and literature review. They hope to expand this project across more schools, including the Bangla medium schools of Dhaka.

The Moner Bondhu community is also available to support people via radio and television. Amar Moner Kotha airs live on the first, third and last Mondays of each month from 11 pm to 1 am on Colours FM 101.6, as well as on their Facebook pages. Moner Kotha Phone er Kotha airs on Nagorik TV every Saturday.

 Furthermore, Moner Bondhu hosts yoga and meditation classes throughout the year, and they are planning to launch one for children as well. They will also be introducing a form of community at their premises for senior citizens, who are lonely. With proper membership, health support and the idea of having a friend or a place to go to, Moner Bondhu hopes that this arrangement will be a good success.

They are also working with an organisation in London for digitalisation of all their services, particularly for Bangladeshis living abroad. In addition to their regular research and workshops, they are bringing in an expert trainer in Non-Linguistic Program (NLP) to help people understand better their behavioural patterns in the office, home and elsewhere. Moner Bondhu is part of the Amra Moner Bondhu Foundation, through which the profits from their work are used for the benefit of other social causes out there.

From the second week of March, as soon as the coronavirus pandemic became more apparent than ever, the organisation made all of their regular services available online, for free.

The panic and anxiety surrounding the pandemic have taken a toll on everyone's mental health. Bearing that in mind, Moner Bondhu, with the support of UNDP, is providing free tele and video counseling sessionsuntil April 30.

"We have been receiving about a hundred calls every day through WhatsApp or Facebook from people seeking help in these trying times," said Tawhida. Moner Bondhu also recently launched their services on Imo, a video calling and instant messaging app popular with migrant workers and workers in the RMG sector.

Additionally, they uploaded free Bangla videos of guided meditation tools on their YouTube channel and Facebook page. The videos focus on exercises on breathing, mindfulness and gratitude, as well as ideas for activities with kids at home and fixing sleep cycles, among other things.

Most of the people seeking help from Moner Bondhu have complained about lower productivity rates due to their lack of sleep or an improper sleep routine. This adds to their panic and frustration, and a huge number of young professionals are worried about post-pandemic times and their means of earning. Many young students are unsure of their graduation dates, or if they will be able to pursue higher studies abroad.

As a solution to all of the above, Tawhida suggests relationship building and skill development. "More often than not I have found that people wanted to do one job when they were young but ended up pursuing a completely different line of work when they grew up. So, at this time, they should ask themselves who they want to be, and what you want to do with your lives," she says. "Instead of engaging in spreading misinformation online, or falling prey to misinformation online and panicking, they can take this opportunity to figure out their lives and their dreams."  

Plenty of institutions have started providing online courses for free at this time. From learning a new language, to learning a new instrument – opportunities to learn from home are countless. Tawhida notes that without these activities, anxiety is most likely to increase, causing trouble at home and discomfort for everyone in the family. It is our responsibility to take care of each other in this uniquely challenging period. "Our mission is to make professional counselling accessible, affordable and convenient. I want Moner Bondhu to be a safe place for everyone, on both their bad and good days," says an optimistic Tawhida. Moner Bondhu is located at Lalmatia, Dhaka. For further queries, connect through their hotline number +8801776632344 or their website http://monerbondhu.org/

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