AFTER three-and-a-half years as president of the Samaritans in Spain, Chris Sumter is stepping down and moving to England to begin the next chapter of her life. Chris’s husband Lubbertus, in a president’s farewell letter, explained that his wife was perfectly suited for the role of helping those in Spain.
“Chris first joined the Samaritans in the autumn of 2008, completing her listening training in early 2009,” said Lubbertus. “She became a Trustee and, as an ex-teacher, took over training, revamping the modules to suit Spanish conditions.
“Chris became CEO in 2011 and took over as president in November of the same year. At this point, the organisation was known as Costa Blanca Samaritans and was struggling to keep going, only being available for four hours each night.
“Chris immediately began to seek out ways to bring the Samaritans into the limelight and to the forefront of charities in Spain. The search was on to find and secure premises to include the call centre itself, a drop-in centre and a charity shop to raise desperately needed funds.
“The ideal location was found and secured at Punta Marina Centre at Punta Prima, just south of Torrevieja. Several individuals were drawn in, such as builders and architects who were surprised when Chris asked them to complete their tasks ‘no later than tomorrow,’ and they did!
“The office and shop opened on March 1, 2013. Since then the Samaritans have gone from strength to strength to now include 24-hour listening, email consultations, face-to-face work, prison visiting and a satellite centre with the British Embassy in Madrid. Samaritans in Spain are now one of the most well-known and respected services for expats throughout Spain and the Islands.
“Chris has always been an innovator in this way. Twenty-five years ago she started a college course for adults with learning difficulties. Most college courses till then had simply taught the students in segregated classrooms.
“The course Chris started was to integrate the students into mainstream courses such as maths, English, motor mechanics, horse management, catering and many others, and also included work experience, even work placements. Everyone said it couldn’t be done. It was done and some of the students, even 20 years later, are still working in their original jobs.
“When she moved to Bangkok to work in a very large, international school she achieved several firsts there, most notably to set up a counselling service in the elementary section of the school. Again people said it couldn’t be done, some even said it was not needed.
“But starting from what Chris called ‘a broom cupboard next to the toilet,’ it grew into an essential service, not only for the children, but also for parents, teachers and the wider community.
“So what is next for this mover and shaker? Only time will tell, but wherever she ends up, it will surely not be to enjoy her retirement gracefully. As Chris says, there are places to visit, people to see, and most importantly things to be done.”
Both she and her husband are already looking for the next challenge, even before starting this one.
Good luck to both Chris and Lubbertus in this move and indeed the next one.