March 19, 2011

RP-2: A mentor's story -- Dealing with a runaway mentee

What should a mentor do when her mentee, a young girl, flees home where she had been deeply unhappy and gets married? Here, one mentor shares her experience

CHILDREN and youngsters face diverse kinds of challenges in the early part of their lives and as they grow up. There are cases where youngsters run away from their homes, or from the institution or centre caring for them. How they cope with the situation can also influence — positively or negatively the decisions they take later on in life. Often the presence of a mentor or friend can help them deal with the situation.

Last November, we came across one such story from a mentor at one of the Reflective Practice Sessions* and we discussed it again at a refresher training meet in January.

For about a year, Geetha had been mentoring Priya**, who came from a partner centre in Roopena Agrahara. Priya had failed two subjects during her Class X exams but had rewritten and cleared those exams. She was hardworking and ambitious and she was very keen to go to college. With the help of her brother and uncle she eventually managed to gather funds to pay for her tuition fees and started attending PU college.

Geetha learnt through her conversations with Priya that her father was abusive and caused trouble at home: he was an alcoholic who would come home drunk most days. There were constant fights between the parents. To get away from this disruptive environment and to be able to focus on her studies, Priya moved in with her aunt for some time.

Priya was often sad and she had few friends. She always talked about being unhappy over her home situation and said that she felt the need for someone like Geetha to talk to as there was no one else.

FOR MORE THAN A MONTH Geetha had been unable to speak to Priya. She tried to contact her but every time she was told Priya was not there or had gone to her native place. Eventually she learnt from Priya’s mother that Priya had run away from home. This came as a shock to Geetha as she had not heard from Priya about this decision.

In order to understand the situation Geetha paid a visit to Priya’s home and learnt that she had run away from home and moved in with a boy and they had got married. Priya’s mother claimed that Priya was being tortured and held against her will and that they had filed a police complaint. When the police summoned Priya’s family and the boy’s family, Priya insisted that she did not want to return to her home. A week later Priya’s mother claimed she got a call from her saying she wanted to come back. Her mother insisted that the boy was uneducated and belonged to a local gang. She also said she was worried about her daughter's welfare. She claimed the boy had threatened the family and influenced the police and she insisted that Geetha persuade her to return to her family.

This left Geetha extremely worried and confused. She was unsure how to proceed. Should she make an effort to rescue Priya or should she seek help from the police or other organisations? Was she in danger?

Geetha thought about it and decided to first gather more information, establish contact with Priya, and hear her side of the story. She spoke with Priya's former school principal with the help of Dream A Dream staff. He acknowledged that he was aware of the situation but did not want to interfere because it seemed as though Priya had willingly left home.

Geetha managed to find the address of the boy (with whom Priya was allegedly involved) and she set out to visit the boy’s home to understand the situation. This was a difficult task as Geetha was unsure how the boy’s family would receive her and wondered if there would be trouble, as Priya’s mother had warned.

However, she managed to meet Priya without any difficulty. Priya and her new family welcomed her. Geetha managed to find some time alone with Priya to check if she was fine and safe and had anything to share or needed any help. Priya assured Geetha that she was very happy there and had chosen to leave home on her own will. She could not cope with the troubles at her home and needed a way out. That’s when her boyfriend came into her life. The family members of the boy were warm and welcoming and extended their hospitality to Geetha. Priya now plans to get legally married in a year (she has yet to turn 18) and, in the meantime, continue with her PU studies.

AT THE reflective practice session in January, after sharing her story, Geetha talked about how relieved she was now knowing that Priya was safe. She also expressed relief at having been able to establish contact with her mentee again. Perhaps moving out was the best solution for Priya because she had been unhappy at  home where her parents were always fighting. It’s therefore understandable that she would take such a step. Regardless of the change in Priya’s life, Geetha said she was committed to continue remaining in touch to support and mentor her when needed.

Fellow mentors validated what Geetha may have felt: the anxiety of not knowing whether her mentee was all right and the frustration at not being able to take suitable action. They agreed that they would have felt the same in similar circumstances and they said it was understandable why Priya would go down this road given her challenges at home and the circumstances.

They also agreed that as a mentor Geetha had taken the right approach by confirming the facts of the story and going out of her way to locate Priya and ascertaining if she needed support and offering to be there for her. That would definitely have been one of the few validating or positive or non-judgmental interactions Priya would have had with an adult after leaving home. Most family members would have been very critical of her decision. Sometimes difficult situations at home do cause children to run away and sometimes children are afraid or ashamed to talk about them.

In this case Geetha’s visit to her new home and offer of support and understanding would have helped Priya cope with the situation and move on. Perhaps there will be new challenges in life after marriage revolving around Priya's relationship with her husband and in-laws, or, perhaps, concerning her continuing education, where Geetha could continue to mentor her, although Geetha does wonder if she will be able to continue meeting her considering Priya’s changed circumstances.

AT SUBSEQUENT reflective practice sessions, Geetha talked about how there were times when she wondered if this had been the right decision for Priya and how this would affect Priya's life. Also, Geetha said, there were times when she wondered if she had done enough as a mentor. These doubts do linger.

Most of us would think the best course for Priya or any girl today would be to finish college, find work, and then get married. But, unfortunately, early marriages are common in semi-rural areas and among the urban poor and the slum population in Bangalore, sometimes due to compulsion by family and sometimes as a normally accepted practice.

Eloping is also commonplace. It’s usually something teenagers are driven to do as they feel there is no other option; sometimes they see eloping as an escape from other challenges or troubles at home. It’s less likely to be as a result of not thinking it through. Young people are more intelligent and mature than we usually give them credit for.

Perhaps the best we can do is try to help or educate the youngsters about making life decisions and the possible consequences. After that, we need to let them take the most informed decision, although the outcome may not always be in our control or preferred by us. We need to learn to let go at some point and let them decide what they want for themselves. Either way, as a mentor you would have played your role. And it doesn’t end there; when difficulties arise you will continue to be there. For many of us this will be difficult. But that is the crux of mentoring. To be able to accept our mentees no matter what their history or background or decisions they take and still be there for them.
  • Compiled by Jeeno P. Jacob, Programme Anchor — Dream Mentoring Programme | Dream A Dream

* Once a month, mentor meetings are organised by Dream A Dream. The session is a forum to discuss challenges and seek support and advice from fellow mentors, senior mentors, and Dream A Dream.

** Name of mentee has been changed to protect her identity and maintain anonymity.

March 18, 2011

RP-1: A mentor's story -- Coping with tragedy in the mentee's family

Helping a mentee to deal with a traumatic episode, such as the death of a parent, is a huge challenge for mentors. Here, one mentor shares her experience

CHILDREN and youngsters face diverse kinds of challenges in the early part of their lives and as they grow up. When we hear some of the stories shared by mentors we also come across challenges such as dealing with personal tragedies or challenges that include loss of a parent, marital discord, domestic violence, alcoholic parent, etc. Mentors try to help their mentees cope with these challenges. In many cases it is a tough responsibility and a demanding experience for mentors.

The loss of a family member is a particularly difficult time for anyone. This is more complex in the case of a child if the deceased person is the sole earning member of the family. Besides the loss of a loved one, it adds pressures and stress – who will now take the decisions concerning livelihood, finances, education, and many other issues? Dealing with the uncertainty that comes from that situation is sometimes overwhelming for children. How they handle the grief, how they cope with the situation can also influence the life decisions they make.

A mentor or friend can often offer support through the grieving process and help one come to terms with the situation.

Sometime last October, we came across one such story from a mentor at one of the Reflective Practice Sessions* and we discussed it again at a refresher training meet in January.

Deepali has been mentoring Pramila** from one of our partner/community centres in Adugodi for almost two years. Pramila, who was doing very well in school and whose parents have been supportive of her wish to study further, is pursuing her pre-university course in a Bangalore college.

Things changed dramatically for Pramila after her father passed away. Deepali visited Pramila’s home the same week. During her visit she realised Pramila was trying not to display a lot of emotion so that she could be strong for her mother. There were discussions going on at home about whether Pramila should continue studying or start working as her father’s job was their only source of income. Deepali then spoke with Pramila’s mother and explained that it was important for Pramila to continue her studies since she was capable of doing well and it would help her in the future. Pramila’s exams were scheduled for the same week, unfortunately, and she said she did not want to write them and needed Deepali’s help to talk to her principal. Deepali agreed and accompanied her to the principal’s office.

sharing the story, her feelings, her sense of helplessness and her concerns for her mentee, Deepali broke down in tears. After taking some time to recover, she continued. Deepali then told the other mentors that she had had a similar experience when she lost her mother a few years back. She shared her story and talked about how she could relate to Pramila’s situation.

At this point, fellow mentors offered validation and agreed that they could relate to her feelings and the situation. They also agreed that this was a very challenging time to play the role of a mentor because anyone would feel overwhelmed in such circumstances. They reassured Deepali that she had taken the right step in terms of her being there for her mentee. It’s probably not easy for someone who loses a family member to explain the situation to others (in this case, school authorities and teachers) and Deepali certainly helped by accompanying Pramila for the discussion with her principal.

The mentors then explained to Deepali that it is natural to feel the way she did. That everyone goes through such a phase when there is a loss in their own family or that of a friend. But as much as she wants to help Pramila and be strong for her, it was also recommended that Deepali gives herself time to come to terms with the situation and talk it over with someone close. Most of us are not prepared to deal with such a situation and there may not be an immediate solution or support we can offer as mentors right away apart from being there for the mentee and sharing the grief.

The group of mentors also suggested that perhaps the immediate step is to let all parties come to terms with the situation, grieve, and vent their feelings. This may take a month or a couple of weeks. So just being there to listen to Pramila was the best thing that could be done at the moment. Perhaps discussions about Pramila’s future could come later when Pramila was ready and there are different options that can be explored later. For now, it is good to keep in touch with her family and continue visits to keep track of the situation.

Pramila eventually went on to write her exams and is pursuing her final PU exams this year. Her mother is now supportive of her desire to study further. Pramila has plans to complete a college degree and earn her own living. Deepali continues to mentor Pramila and is currently helping her through decisions regarding a college degree and career options.
  • Compiled by Jeeno P. Jacob, Programme Anchor — Dream Mentoring Programme | Dream A Dream

* Once a month, mentor meetings are organised by Dream A Dream. The session is a forum to discuss challenges and seek support and advice from fellow mentors, senior mentors, and Dream A Dream.

** Name of mentee has been changed to protect her identity and maintain anonymity.