Dmitri Checheli is a hotline operator, answering calls from this home office. Photos: Ion Buga

INCOMING…

”Request No. 2251:

Bender city. Woman 52 years old. Single mother, raising a 15-year-old daughter, and also caring for a paralyzed mother of 75 years old. Low income, difficult life situation. There is no one to help.

Description of the request:
✔ Diapers number 3 for adults;
✔ Wheelchair.”

Sometimes help comes quickly, other times callers to the Line of Goodness 1165 wait in the queue.

Dmitri Checheli, 45 years old from Tiraspol, had no idea he would be “crossing” the Line of Goodness.

After being confined to his home for four years, he had decided it was time to move on. His previous office job as a civil servant was physically inaccessible to him in his wheelchair, which is why he left.

The middle of the COVID-19 pandemic might not seem the perfect time for a life paradigm shift.

But he answered a call for hotline volunteers for the Line of Goodness 1165, established to bridge people in need of personal protective equipment, food, medicines and other essentials with people willing to give them a hand, either by buying or distributing the much needed packages.

This was March 2020, when restriction measures to stop the spread were taken in the Transnistria region, similar to those throughout Moldova. They were taking a toll on the older generation and those with disabilities, who were most affected by the pandemic crisis.

“In those moments of crisis, I understood that I couldn’t stand aside,” tells Dmitri. He started working from home, in shifts, as a hotline operator. A corner of his bedroom is now a fully equipped office. Besides taking calls, he inputs the information in a database he manages, with the other 15-20 volunteers, and send alerts to their internal Viber group.

“Sometimes I take 25 calls a day,” he says. “It’s not only older people, but also those who have lost their jobs or have family members with disabilities, who were already in a complicated situation before quarantine.” People are not just seeking essential products, but also the relief of sharing their struggles."

Dmitri Checheli, 45 years old from Tiraspol, had no idea he would be “crossing” the Line of Goodness
Elena Timaghina, hotline worker and operator of the Trust Line.

Elena Timaghina, 48, is no stranger to this type of work. A nurse, midwife and emergency worker, she specializes in communication with those affected by domestic violence. She operates the Trust Line for Victims of Domestic Violence and is the S.O.S cases coordinator.

“The pandemic negatively affected people, and from the beginning of quarantine, the number of calls increased ten fold,” she says. “People called with questions about the pandemic, then asked for humanitarian aid. That's why we decided to open the Line of Goodness.”

The hotline was created within a grant of the National Coalition "Life without domestic violence" (with the financial support of the OAK Foundation). Overall, almost 600 people from vulnerable groups - single mothers, survivors of domestic violence, people with disabilities, homeless people and elderly from communities on left bank of Nistru river were supported by the hotline operators. Packages of food and hygiene products were distributed, meeting the needs of over 1800 people

“There are many requests for help, much more than the donations available. People need help right away. It is indeed difficult and such a responsible task to prioritize,” notes Dmitri.

He and his team publish the announcement of each case on the organization’s website (anonymizing all identifiable data) and wait for a donor to help.

In the Transnistrian region, public social services for vulnerable people are scarce. During the quarantine, the de facto Transnistrian structures, as in other places, were caught unprepared. The adopted anti-COVID measures weren't sufficient to support the most affected, and many fell through the cracks of the system, left alone to face the crisis. This hotline is the only support network of its type, not only in Transnistrian region, but in the whole of the Republic of Moldova as well.

Dmitri recognizes that the callers are in challenging situations. “One has to be patient and understand that [they] might get offensive, which comes from despair, and the operator needs to find the right words.

We listen to people and many times, after the first sentence, they start crying and then a lump appears in our own throat.

I try to distract them with questions from the survey, which are concrete and to-the point, and this helps them move away from tears and stress,” says Dmitri. In time, he learned how to gain their trust through his voice. Still, people's emotions and difficulties are difficult to detach from.

"I try to reassure them and tell them that this is a first step in solving their problem. I thank them for having the courage to call, so we can help them to the best of our ability.”

INCOMING…

Raisa*, Tiraspol. Woman 38 years old. Divorced, mother of three and survivor of gender-based violence. She called the hotline in the midst of the pandemic, when she lost her job and income. 

"Life was so difficult at that moment,” she remembers painfully. “I didn’t even have access to water. I purified the water from the radiators, and I used it to prepare food, wash clothes and take baths. During lockdown, we all remained isolated at home for three to four months. As a mother with many children, I received a social allowance of only 720 rubles per month (€38.2). We couldn't handle it, so I called the Line of Goodness and asked for help."

Volunteers helped her with food and detergents. Raisa now visits a psychologist at partner organization “Interaction” regularly, and is looking for a stable job to earn her living.

In August 2020, after the restrictions were eased, the volunteer team decided the hotline should continue its activity. They joined efforts with civil society organizations that provide legal and psychological support, and companies that can make donations of clothing, food and supplies for students. They mobilized financial donations through ads, and managed to procure essentials to distribute to those in need.  From November 2020, the hotline operates with the support of UNDP and the Government of Sweden, as part of the One UN Joint Action "Cross-river support for human rights”. It’s a free call from both landlines or mobile phones, and assistance is anonymous and confidential.

"Most of the time people call us and ask us to bring them food, because they don't have money to buy it or can't leave the house for the store. They also ask us to buy medicines or want legal advice, addresses, telephone numbers of institutions to contact with various problems. For psychological help, we direct people to a partner organization, as they have a psychologist and a social worker there,” notes Dmitri.

Maia Karpovna, hotline caller

INCOMING…

Maia Karpovna, Tiraspol, Woman 87 years old, lives alone in her apartment. Children living abroad for a long time.

Maia heard about the Line of Goodness from a neighbour. "It is very difficult to search for help when in need,” she says.

She has seen terrible times in her lifetime: war, famine, poverty. But the pandemic brought a new experience she had never lived before - isolation from family, society, absolute loneliness. She was brought up to not ask for help, so when she called, it was more to talk about her loneliness and problems in general. But the operator, who knows what pension the elderly receive, that she can't leave the house and has no one to help her, asked volunteers to bring her humanitarian packages.

Now she enjoys attention from many people who communicate with her so she does not feel so alone anymore.

Helping others has helped inspire Dmitri as well. He had already started to push for disability rights, advocating for installation of a ramp to reach the elevator at the entrance to his house.

Now, the social engagement at the Line of Goodness 1165 is a new field in terms of communication with people in crisis. In his free time, he reads law, psychology, sociology books, and is taking human rights courses.

"The numerous thank you messages our teams gets every single day fuels our motivation to go on and on and develop our line of good.”
 

* the real name was changed, to protect her identity
 

The Line of Goodness hotline operates with the support of UNDP and the Government of Sweden, as part of the One UN Joint Action "Cross-river support for human rights” initiative.

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