While studying for his LLM in Law, Brian Dikoff has managed to volunteer for a range of organisations. He has been an extremely dedicated volunteer to the legal support project at Migrants Organise, working closely with the organisation’s immigration barrister and continuously going the extra mile to secure the best outcome for members at Migrants Organise. Brian was a proactive volunteer and took his own initiative to set up the Migrants Mental Capacity Advocacy Programme at Migrants Organise to ensure vulnerable adults have access to legal representation in the immigration system. We were extremely impressed by this and Brian’s commitment, that we were delighted to award him with the LSE Volunteer of the Year award at the LSE Volunteers Awards on 26 April. We caught up with Brian about how he felt about the award and what he would say to other LSE students who are looking to volunteer.

What were your volunteering roles?

I was a legal volunteer at Migrants Organise, a support organisation for migrants and refugees. Migrants Organise offers holistic and ongoing immigration and welfare advice under the Community Programme to vulnerable migrants who are unable to access mainstream services.  So I helped mainly with casework and providing welfare advice. Last year, I started a strategic project to look into the lack of safeguards for migrants who suffer with mental illness and are unable to make decisions (i.e. lacking mental capacity). Currently, I am working at the charity to coordinate the project. 

I am also currently a volunteer immigration trainee-caseworker at Islington Law Centre, where I help mainly with clients who need leave to remain based on their right to private and family life in the UK. 

My past volunteering roles include being an intern for Reprieve, a legal caseworker for Prisoners’ Advice Service, and a Summer admin volunteer for Liberty Human Rights

I was also involved in a charity called Education Partnership Africa – every year, they have university students fundraise money in the UK and send them to rural secondary schools in Kenya and Uganda to help the schools make sustainable investments. I went to Kenya in the Summer after my first year of my undergrad, and in my second year, I was the treasurer for the London committee. 

What achievement have you been most proud of through your volunteering?

I remember helping a family of asylum seekers with three young children at Migrants Organise, apply for asylum support. Just to give a bit of context, if you are an asylum seeker this is the only support you can get from the government and you are not allowed to work. The family’s finances was a mess – they were helped by a lot of their friends and local community informally, which was great, but also meant that they had money coming in and out of their accounts, making it very difficult to prove to the Home Office that they needed asylum support. If I remember correctly, a previous application for asylum support had also been rejected. 

I think it took me almost 6 months preparing the application. The Home Office asks for 6 months bank statements and you have to make sure that every single transaction is accounted for, otherwise they might suspect that the applicant has other sources of income or capital. So if someone had given the family even £50, we had to get that person to write a letter confirming the support and stating clearly that they were unable to help the family more than they already had. There were times when the mother cried because their landlord kept on threatening to evict the family, and she was scared that her three children would be rendered homeless. 

To be honest, I wasn’t sure myself that the Home Office would accept the application because we weren’t able to account for everything. But surprisingly they did and the family was given a weekly stipend and an accommodation. It was of course really not a lot and the accommodation wasn’t great either. But I remember getting a phone call from the mother and no one has ever been as grateful for something which I have done before. 

How have you benefited from volunteering?

I never wanted to be a lawyer. I wanted to do English literature but was scared that I was not being practical enough and I thought a law degree would be useful. By chance, I found the volunteering opportunity at Migrants Organise (and subsequently at the other charities), and I learnt first hand how useful the skills and knowledge that I acquired in university can be. For me, my experience volunteering has been as integral to my education as lectures and tutorials, if not more. Through volunteering, I found my passion and what I want to do. It is also through volunteering that I’ve developed an academic interest in public law and human rights, which is why I am pursuing my LLM at the LSE. 

How did you feel when you found out you won the LSE Volunteer of the Year award?

I was shocked and extremely grateful. I really did not think that I would win after reading what some of the other nominees have done. I also thought that if I had won, surely someone would have contacted me prior to the ceremony, but no one did. So when my name was called I was genuinely surprised. 

What would you say to other LSE students to encourage them to volunteer?

From my experience trying to get my own friends to volunteer, I know that saying how great it feels to do good and how much it will contribute to your personal growth doesn’t work that well. So instead, I will say that as university students, we all know how ridiculously difficult it is nowadays to get good graduate jobs – everyone has a 2.1, a role on the committee of some club or team, and maybe has a Masters degree. Volunteering can give you the opportunity to actually do something to show-off your skills in a real-world setting. Apart from winning all of the academic prizes, I can’t think of a better way to set yourself apart. 

Want to follow Brian’s example?

Brian is, besides extremely inspiring, the living example that volunteering next to your studies is do-able. If you still need some more inspiration you can read about the other LSE Volunteers nominees. Convinced? Why not search for volunteering opportunitiesbook an appointment with us, or send an email to volunteer@lse.ac.uk with any questions.