In 1984, Aini Zubedy joined Befrienders Malaysia as a volunteer. One of her duties was to man the 24-hour hotline of the non-profit organisation which helps the suicidal and the depressed, or simply become “listeners” to those who need to talk. The service is non-sectarian, non-religious, non-political, non-directive and is provided free of charge with the assurance of full confidentiality.

“I wanted to do something that was meaningful to me. So I called the Befrienders and they told me what they do. It was related to what I wanted. When I graduated, I wanted to do something that was connected to helping someone, some kind of social work. The degree that I got did not qualify for social work because it was an economics degree. I was looking for volunteer work related to helping people.”

While there, she worked on her Masters degree which was based on a study of attempted suicide among female youth in Malaysia.

“I was with Befrienders for 17 years. I stayed because it was very fulfilling. And I was learning all the time. Not just the hotline work but also the outreach programmes, whereby we go out to reach the community. I also got involved in the training – educating the new batch of volunteers. I realised that was very much my forte.”

Seventeen years later, using the fundamentals she acquired at Befrienders, the skills she learnt at her brother’s training company and armed with a Masters degree in Counselling, she headed to the United States – specifically Austin, Texas, to join her sister and put her skills to the test.

She first worked in the Psychiatric Emergency Services Unit at Integral Care, Travis County, which supports the health and well-being of adults and children living with mental illness, substance use disorder, and intellectual and developmental disabilities. Integral Care (formerly called Austin Travis County Integral Care) was the first community centre to provide high-quality, community-based behavioural health and intellectual disabilities services in central Texas. With her skill set, Aini fit right in.

A few years later, she applied for a position as Group Leader for a Recovery Centre, and got the job. She led daily groups in psycho-social rehabilitation, socialisation and recovery. She also supervised Peer Recovery Specialists, people with a mental health diagnosis and life experience trained to provide support services for other mental health clients.

Says her former boss, Tom Polacheck: “I met Aini while we were working together at Austin Travis County Integral Care about 10 years ago. We both worked in the Adult Behavioral Health Division, Aini as a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and I was a Behavioral Health Team Manager.

“Despite her being an LPC, Aini assumed any and all duties to help our unit prosper. She would drive a van for community outings, prepare lunches for clients as needed, enthusiastically lead hikes, bowling, parties and anything to expand the social world of our often isolated clientele. And they loved her for it.

“Also, let it be noted that Aini brought diversity and modelled acceptance in a conservative white culture/society not familiar with Asian or Muslim customs.”

Today, she is a much sought-after licenced and certified DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy) therapist attached to the Austin State Hospital (ASH). Aini has been at ASH for three years. She currently works with the staff to facilitate patients’ transition into the community and to reduce recidivism and relapse.

At ASH, she reaches out to, and works with, a diverse population of staff and patients to meet patients’ needs. And she continues to be a facilitator for cultural responsive care at Integral Care.

As a single mother with a 10-year-old son, Aini’s day-in-a-life is one of constantly striking a balance of working with her diverse group of clients, training, and the soccer-study-music-swimming activities of her young son.

“I’d like to believe that growing up in Malaysia, a multi-cultural society where tolerance and acceptance of different races and communities is part of being Malaysian, did in many ways prepare me for the diversity-emphasised work I am doing in the United States.

“With this exposure, I’d like to think that I bring openness, acceptance and a non-judgmental approach to my practice. And I really believe that this is something Malaysia can teach the whole world.”