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Why a heart attack won't prevent kind-hearted Dorothy (86) from continuing to be a good Samaritan

By Joanne Sweeney

Published 02/06/2015

Kind act: volunteer Dorothy was inspired by kindness shown to her in Germany
Kind act: volunteer Dorothy was inspired by kindness shown to her in Germany

She is 86 and recovering from a heart attack, but that will not stop Dorothy from being a volunteer for the Samaritans.

A need to repay kindness shown to her as a young girl growing up in her native Germany has spurred this caring woman's nearly 41-year-old career helping people in deep despair.

The Belfast woman's inspiring tale of dedication to others is one of the many to emerge during Volunteers Week (June 1-7) which aims to showcase the work of volunteers who help support organisations throughout the UK.

Dorothy, who has declined to give her last name to uphold the Samaritans' code, said the help that she and her family received from strangers during the Second World War left her with a lasting need to help others.

She told the Belfast Telegraph: "I grew up near Brunswick in Germany. I remember late in 1946 as really hungry times, we were all really hungry then as there was not much food.

"But there was something wonderful for us going to school. Before we went home from school we got a hot meal of a stew or porridge with chocolate in it.

"It was so wonderful to get that and we brought billy cans with us in order to eat it.

"The meals came from the Quakers in North America who, despite the fact that Germany was not in the world's best books at that time, helped us.

"It was such a lovely memory that people who never knew me, helped me but I never had a chance to pay them back.

"So, working with the Samaritans was a chance for me to pay back, not with a meal but in other ways."

Dorothy was a housewife and mother with some free time on her hands when she decided to volunteer for the Samaritans way back in 1974.

She has been doing three to four shifts per month ever since.

She has noticed a change in the calls from people needing the service across the decades.

"Over the years we have many calls from people who are in debt and are out of work who feel that they are also out of society as they have no money," she said.

"That wasn't always the case. When I started in the Samaritans, self-harm wasn't known then.

"We never would have received any nuisance calls when I first started back then as there are some people who try and take advantage of us now."

Dorothy, who is a mother of four, grandmother to seven and great-grand mother to two, is recovering from a heart attack which happened more than a week ago when she was out collecting money for the charity.

She hopes to return when she recovers and adds: "It's just a big reward as you see the troubles of other people and their emotions and you get to learn about yourself at the same time."

Factfile

Volunteers for the Samaritans in Northern Ireland responded to nearly 150,000 calls for help last year.

Figures released yesterday to coincide with the start of Volunteers' Week show that 757 volunteers responded to 145,226 requests for support from people struggling to cope. The suicide prevention charity received 5.3 million calls across the UK for help in 2014.

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