Dominic Agha-Rafei, volunteers for BEfriend, formerly the Volunteer Link Scheme, which was established in 1994. It provides one-to-one befriending to residents in the borough who have become housebound or socially isolated through disability or long-term illness.
“Through volunteering with BEfriend, I’ve met a client with an interesting life story and I enjoy our conversations,” said Dominic. “He has lived a very interesting life, having worked in scientific research and then becoming a teacher. He’s hitchhiked across Europe and travelled through Morocco, so he has an open mind about other cultures and people. I get the impression he still has that sense of adventure in him. We talk about current affairs and we have differences in opinions sometimes, but this encourages debate so, I feel, it works well. We never dismiss each other outright and take the time to listen. He opens up about the mental health issues he has.”
Dominic is volunteering with BEfriend’s Linked Minds project. This involves befriending people who suffer with mental health problems.
After graduating from the University of Reading, having studied psychology, Dominic moved to Shanghai and lived there for nearly six years. He worked as a high school psychology teacher, coached the school’s football team and also provided counselling sessions for students.
On his return to the UK, Dominic enrolled in a mental health course at Queen Mary University of London on a project looking at how addiction treatments encourage greater participation and engagement. He enjoyed it but was not sure if he wanted to continue as a mental health practitioner or be involved in clinical research.
During this time as a full-time student, Dominic, decided to do some voluntary work with the aim of doing something constructive and making a difference for others.
He was seeking a volunteer role that provided real-life, hands-on experience of engaging with people with complex mental health needs. He wanted to build on his theoretical learning of mental health and psychology.
Dominic said: “I see volunteering as an opportunity, it’s not about giving something to someone it’s more about mutual gain. I’ve learnt so much from my client that, although, I’m volunteering for a charity the work I do is not charity. This idea that work is only worth doing if you get financial compensation is an unfortunate symptom of the society we live in. Unplugging from that and doing something for the sake of doing it is essential for good wellbeing. It also puts you in contact with people with similar values.”