TELL is a multifaceted, nonprofit organization that has been serving the international and business communities since 1973. Our services include free phone counseling and information, professional face-to-face counseling, and educational workshops.
"Tokyo English Life Line...May I help you?" In the nearly 30 years since TELL's founding, the voices have changed. Those who founded TELL are gone, and the volunteers who staff TELL's phones are a more diverse group. TELL now has professional face-to-face counsellors to back up the volunteers on the phones and community education programs that reach out to people instead of waiting to be called. But TELL's core mission remains the same: to be there when someone calls, to listen, to care, and to help them find their own solutions to the problems that bring them to us.
Why was TELL founded? What's kept us going all of these years? In April 1993, TELL founder Carl Westby described TELL's history as he had lived it. Inochi-no-Denwa, the Japanese-language suicide prevention life line, provided the inspiration.
As Inochi-no-Denwa came into being in 1971, it caused a number of people in the Tokyo area to begin thinking about the need for a similar English language service. Missionaries, counselors, and others in the community began to put together the information that would show if there was a need. At this point it became evident that the local English language congregations might become the basic support group for such a venture. They were soon involved in the start up operation, throwing their resources and commitment into the organization of this new and experimental emergency telephone counseling program. Two persons, in particular, were much involved in our beginnings. Ruth Hetcamp, a German missionary, was the founder of Inochi-no-Denwa. Rev. Yukio Saito, Executive Director of Tokyo Inochi-no-Denwa, was not only involved in our start, he's been actively involved with TELL ever since. He now serves on our Board of Directors.
Obviously, a trained cadre of workers was needed. So in November 1972, TELL's first training got underway, with seven trainers and 50 trainees. That first training finished in March 1973, just in time for TELL to start taking calls on April 1.
In TELL's first eight months of operation, we received 1,016 calls. In 1982, approaching the end of our first decade, we received 2,869 calls. In 1992, the year preceding our 20th anniversary, we received more than 10,000 calls. As Tokyo 's foreign community grows, TELL is helping more people than ever.
TELL is now more than the telephone counseling service from which we take our name. In 1991, the decision was made to start a Community Counseling Service able to offer professional face-to-face counseling to those with problems too complex or severe to be handled by the phone line alone and ensure that this service would be available to all those in need. Plans were also made for a Community Education Service whose outreach programs would reach a wider community. September 1993 saw the start of the TELL HIV/AIDS line, with counsellors specially trained to deal with issues surrounding the HIV/AIDS epidemic; with all TELL phone counsellors trained to handle HIV/AIDS-related calls, the service was combined with the main counseling line in 1998. The Filipino Line, which offers telephone counseling in Filipino languages, opened in 1994.
Each year brings new challenges. Where, then, do we find the strength to meet them? Tina Pinnell, TELL's second Executive Director, said it very well.
Strangers meet at the first session of the training courses, tentatively bringing themselves, willing to learn, willing to open themselves and to explore areas quite new to them. By the end of the course, new, deep, and meaningful friendships are formed, sensitivities heightened; and the community benefits from their service. We come willing to give, but as our lives are touched by our fellow volunteers and by those who call the line, we receive tenfold...
Now we would add the skills and commitment of TELL's professional staff. The result would be the same: giving of ourselves to benefit the international community.
For more history, or information about international Life Line activities, please visit the Life Line International Web site: http://www.lifeline.org.au/About-Lifeline/Lifeline-International