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Yiwei Wang is a second-year BSc Psychology student and a volunteer befriender for the Association of Jewish Refugees. As well as offering social and welfare support for Jewish Refugees, AJR supports a variety of educational and commemorative projects to enable future generations to learn about the holocaust. Their befriending programme helps support elderly AJR members in London and offers a rewarding experience to their volunteer befrienders. 

Yiwei spoke to Jenny Murphy and Nick Batley from the Volunteering Service about her experiences as a Volunteer Befriender.

As an introduction, tell us a little about your volunteering. What kind of things did you do, how long did you do them for, and how often did you do them?

I started this volunteering job in February 2017; it’s a befriending volunteer role, and you arrange a time with your client – we call them clients – you just visit them in their homes. Usually, it’s around once a week. At the beginning when I had more time, I started with just once a week.  I think gradually because of an increase in my uni workload, and because the client had some health problems, it’s now about once a month.

What drew you to volunteering with AJR?

At first, I just wanted to try something I really enjoy – I studied History in my A-level. I’m really interested in German history and WW2 – I was interested in finding something related to the holocaust and what happened to Jewish people. I thought I should help because it would be helping someone had survived something as horrible as the holocaust. I was lucky with the location – at first, I lived really far away in Wembley Park, but they had one immediate start near me.

Do you have one befriend or more?

For my role, I just have one befriendee.

What separates this befriending role from other befriending roles out there? What does befriending mean with the association of Jewish Refugees?

I think for this one, I’m doing more face to face work. You can go to their home and sometimes they just want you to comfort them because usually they’re just living by themselves and don’t have many family members left. It’s kind of to make them feel accompanied. We do discuss anything. At first, I was apprehensive about discussing the holocaust. At first, my client and I discussed her experiences, but it would be quite painful to describe it. Instead, we talk about things different things, like she remembers things in Germany, her culture – or about her living in London and the house prices getting too expensive. She actually has let her house before to some Japanese people, so she actually knows a lot about Asian culture, and asks me about differences between Japanese and Chinese culture – it’s really fun to talk about anything you want.

How have you found this experience compared to the ones you’ve had on the UCL campus? How does it differ from UCL life?

I’m not sure how to describe it – I think because at UCL you mainly deal with younger people a lot. You’re interacting with your own age group, and my client is in her 80’s. She has a lot more to talk about because she’s of the experiences she’s had in life and because she’s quite international. So I can really talk to her about everything. I think also for me, I really enjoy talking to people older than me, so it’s really interesting to talk to her.

Are there any challenges with the role?

For me I was really lucky, my client is really nice. Apart from us talking too long, there isn’t any challenge. Like I plan on being there for 2 hours but get talking and will be there longer! Apart from revision too, there aren’t any challenges with finding time for it. It’s like having a friend.

Would you recommend this opportunity to others??

Yes – I would say the befriendees aren’t different from people who haven’t experienced traumatic experiences, - they’re just the same as us, they have a lot of history to tell us, and I think they’ve just been really nice.

If Yiwei s experience with AJR has inspired you to get involved, check out their other opportunities, along with other befriending volunteering opportunities!  Or if something else strikes your fancy, please visit our online directory to view all the current roles we have on offer with our 400+ London-based partners!