Here are the students after 4 hours of talking about mental health issues - they all look very well too...

Like I’ve mentioned a couple times on this blog before, most days as a volunteer are fairly ordinary. You’ve got to deal with meetings, emails,  crowded commuter buses, bizarre phone calls, availability of clean toilets, weird co-workers, no power (like right now), etc., etc. Pretty run of the mill stuff.

Then there are those rare days. Days where you actually feel like you’re maybe serving a purpose here. Days when you’re not just running around or sitting at your computer with no particular direction. Days when you’re in your wheel house and you know it. If I had to take a guess, I’d say I’ve had about 6 or 7 of those “days” – which I think is pretty good and I’m thankful for everyone of them.

I had a day like that last week in Jaffna, when I ran a workshop for 26 journalism students at the University of Jaffna on mental health reporting. Even though none of them spoke English and the entire session was run through a translator in Tamil, the students’ enthusiasm and interest in the subject was evident as soon as I walked in the door.

I could have been talking about how to report on garbage dumps or Leo Sayer and they would have been engaged. Not only did this make my job easier (because by no means am I a teacher), it also lead to some great discussions about mental health, and hopefully a deeper understanding of the topic for the students.

I know the questions they raised challenged and taught me a lot, and I can only hope I did the same for them.

Will these young journalists ever report on personal details of an individual suicide? Will they refer to someone with a mental illness as ‘mad’ or ‘crazy’ in their articles? They might. The fact remains that this type of reporting is still the norm here, and there’s no doubt they will face pressure from their editors as junior reporters.

All I can really hope for is that at some point in their careers they remember that goofy looking foreigner with the white eyebrows who stopped by once to talk about mental health issues. Come to think of it, the effectiveness of my session rests solely on my eyebrows and how memorable they may or may not be to those 26 students. They haven’t let me down this far, so my fingers are crossed…