June 28, 2011

RP-7: Mentoring Stories (from the Reflective Practice Session of May 29)

This is a collection of stories and updates received at one of the mentor group meetings* at a partner centre in Bangalore.

Some of the topics covered here are likely to be similar to experiences mentors have had with their mentees: mentee not turning up for scheduled meetings; conflict with other youths in the community; financial difficulties; losing someone else’s cellphone; difficulty in getting time alone with the mentee; mentee’s use of rude or abusive language; mentee lying to a parent; mentee declining a request to go out, etc.


Divakar mentors Chandan, a 15-year-old from NGR Layout, Roopena Agrahara, whose parents are low-wage workers. Chandan cleared his Std. X exams a few weeks ago. Divakar has been meeting his mentee for about three months now.

In addition to their meetings, Chandan remains in touch over the cellphone, sending a text message almost every day.

During the initial meetings Divakar focused on conversations around school and studies. Divakar and Chandan usually meet near the high school. At that time, Chandan mentioned that he was unsure of clearing his exams, and that he didn’t know how to go about preparing for them. He was also having trouble with Maths and Social Studies.

So Divakar suggested ways to plan for the final exams by keeping notes of the chapters Chandan had finished studying and what he had to do during the week. He explained that this would help him keep track of how much had been completed and what remains to be done. Divakar also showed Chandan his own diary, which showed how he planned his own week, and he explained how it had helped him.

At the following meeting, Divakar was surprised to see that Chandan had taken up his suggestion and had brought along his book with detailed to-do lists for the week. Chandan now seemed much more at ease and confident about his preparations for the exams.

Chandan also brought along his old class test papers. Divakar noticed that his mentee was doing quite okay in his tests. So he tried to offer him some reassurance and let him know that the tests showed that he was doing okay and there was no need to worry.

Divakar also discussed Chandan’s interest in painting and sketching, something he was quite good at. Chandan would bring his work to their meetings to show them to Divakar.

Gradually Divakar noticed that Chandan started sharing even minor aspects of his life. When something bothered him, Chandan would send a message, “I have a problem.” Divakar would then call him back and they would talk about it. Most of the time, they were little things about his day. Once he called to say that his mother would not let him go out and that staying home was boring. Another time, he wanted to go somewhere but was not allowed to wear a particular pair of jeans that he liked because his mother thought he would get it dirty. He was unhappy about it.

Chandan talked about his high school farewell, how everyone had dressed up, and everyone was crying that day. He then tried to explain to Divakar that it was probably because they wouldn’t be seeing each other anymore or as often as before.

During his final exams, although they didn’t meet, Chandan would call to report how he did in each exam and they would then discuss the next one.

Chandan wants to become a police officer. He had noticed the trouble caused by crooked policemen in his area and he thought he should become a better police officer and set things right. Divakar felt that Chandan was quite passionate about this ambition and almost always had a conversation about this at every meeting. So they started working on a long-term plan, listing the steps to get to his goal starting from completing his final exams. 

At a recent meeting, Chandan talked about his difficulties over taking a decision on his pre-university course (PUC). His family was insisting that he take up a commerce combination. But he was unsure. He was certain he didn’t want to take up science but didn’t know what other options he had. And his parents were not really keen on discussing this. So he asked Divakar what he should do.

Divakar advised him to go by his interest in the subjects offered and also think about which combination would help him get the kind of job he wants. They then discussed different combinations and subjects within the commerce stream. They figured that a commerce course would still allow Chandan to attempt the exams he would need to write to become a police officer. So Chandan decided to choose commerce. But he also managed to convince his parents to let him choose a commerce combination with computer science as an optional subject. Divakar later learnt that Chandan had started getting himself enrolled in a computer course to prepare for this.

Divakar is happy that he and his mentee share a good rapport.  However, sometimes it was tedious replying to constant messages from his mentee almost every day since Chandan would insist on a reply. Once Divakar was at a work meeting and for the first time responded he was busy and Chandan seemed to somehow understand, much to Divakar’s surprise. Interestingly, another time Chandan told Divakar that he should not call after 9 p.m. as his family would be asleep.

Chandan had asked recently if Divakar could purchase a painting kit for him, so Divakar is not sure how to respond to this request.

Divakar plans to help Chandan with more information regarding a career in the police force and may be arrange a visit to a police quarters/campus for Chandan.

Reflections from the Group: 

  • It is encouraging to see Divakar and his mentee share a very good rapport from the beginning. Divakar was always available to listen to Chandan. The manner in which Chandan was able to share the little things in his life, his ambition, and his insecurities showed a certain trust that was developing.

  • Chandan’s need for sharing and validation seems evident from his need to have conversations with Divakar about simple things that troubled him, for example, his mother disagreeing with him or the incident about his classmates (and him) crying at their school farewell event, etc.

  • Divakar had offered helpful validation many times. While discussing Chandan’s difficulties with preparation for final exams, Divakar tried to reassure him about his own ability to plan and prepare for his final exams and encouraged him to try making notes or a plan. By disclosing Divakar’s own need to plan his week ahead, it probably helped put Chandan at ease. By acknowledging that he did well in the test papers Chandan would have felt a little more confident. It would have helped him overcome his feelings about being under-prepared or that he was not good enough to clear the exams.

  • Divakar’s conversations with his mentee about deciding a combination for PUC would have helped Chandan get some more clarity about his own thoughts. This also gave him an opportunity to share his thoughts about the decision, because he didn’t really have a receptive audience in his family. It probably would have felt empowering in some way to make or own some part of the decision, like choosing computer science as an optional subject.

  • There is a possibility Chandan is sometimes displaying an over-attachment or over-dependence because he appears to be constantly needing Divakar to respond over the phone. It’s probably difficult for mentors to set boundaries and explain a mentor’s need for space (for example, when he or she is at work). There’s this fear of losing your rapport with your mentee. However it’s good that Divakar had made an attempt and it seemed like his mentee understood when he said he was busy at work. Perhaps Divakar could continue to try this in small steps and gradually.

  • Regarding the request for the painting kit, it’s recommended Divakar explore whether there really was a need and why Chandan had approached him. Maybe it would be a good idea to ask him if he had tried asking his parents first and if not why not try that. If that approach failed or he does not talk to his parents and the request arises again, then Divakar would need to explain that the programme does not normally let mentors do this. If he feels compelled, Divakar would need to explain that an exception is being made only because he did well in his Std. X exams and he is a good artist. Otherwise as mentors we may end up encouraging or accommodating many other requests to purchase things in the future.


Sandeep mentors Abdul, a 16-year-old from Roopena Agrahara, who recently cleared his Std. X exams and is planning to join a pre-university course in science. He lives with his parents and his father has a small shop near their home.

Sandeep has been meeting his mentee for about three months now.  Sometimes his older son (who is a little older than Abdul) also accompanied him. Sandeep felt that although Abdul comes across as a shy boy, he has gradually started opening up. However, most conversations are still initiated by Sandeep. But Abdul stays in touch by sending him an SMS every two or three days.

Sandeep learnt within the first few meetings that Abdul was a gifted artist and has participated in events at school. When asked if Abdul could show him some of his work, he was quite open and in the subsequent meetings brought some of his drawings to show Sandeep. When Sandeep asked him if he could sketch a picture of his younger son, Abdul agreed right away and came completely prepared for the next meeting with his materials and drew a very good picture of Sandeep’s younger son. He seemed to take pride in his work and appeared confident of his abilities on this front.

During the first few meetings Abdul said that he had some difficulty with a few subjects in school, particularly Maths, while preparing for his exams. Sandeep and his older son then offered to help advise him on how to work on certain chapters and they continued this for a few meetings. Abdul eventually did well enough to clear his the exams.

Abdul wants to become a mechanical or automotive engineer and so he has opted for a science combination for his pre-university course.

Abdul sometimes helps his father in the shop. It seems as though his father expects Abdul to work with him in the near future. Abdul however seemed to suggest he didn’t much like that idea.

Another time, Sandeep, along with his family, took Abdul for a visit to a mall nearby. Abdul came in his best clothes and everyone complimented him. They walked together around the mall and then spent some time at the gaming arcade. He seemed to have enjoyed this visit and interactions with Sandeep’s family. He did not appear nervous or uncomfortable as Sandeep had initially thought.

Sandeep now plans to arrange a visit with Abdul to an automotive dealership/outlet. He also inquired if it would be okay or appropriate to purchase some books or a gift for Abdul or give him financial assistance.

Reflections from the Group: 

  • Sandeep and his mentee were doing well. It was good to know there was a gradual progress in Abdul opening up despite his being a shy boy. The fact that Abdul keeps in touch over the phone every few days seems to suggest the friendship is growing.

  • One of the best approaches to build conversations with your mentee is around an interest area and Sandeep did exactly this by encouraging and talking about Abdul’s talent in art and building several activities/meetings around this interest area.

  • Sandeep helped Abdul express his insecurities regarding his final exams and identify ways to prepare better for his Maths exam. It helped him become a little more confident about his own preparation. Sandeep and his older son spending time with Abdul to work out Maths problems and keeping aside a few meetings to focus on this before his final exams definitely helped him prepare better.

  • Abdul’s sharing his dislike for working with his father at his shop was probably something he could not share with anyone home as it would be looked down upon. So in a way Sandeep became an outlet and offered some much-needed validation.
  • While it’s good to expose one’s mentee to new places or experiences (in this case a mall), sometimes it is necessary to set some ground rules so that we don’t build expectations of the mentee.  So clarifying that this may not be the same activity for all mentoring meetings (such as a visit to the mall), but maybe once in a while, would be good. It’s better to keep mentoring meetings as simple as possible.

  • Sometimes a new place is too much to take in at one go. So a discussion in advance with the mentee on what the activity will be can set expectations clearly and put the mentee and mentor at ease. In this case Abdul was comfortable and there was no negative outcome; nevertheless, it’s best to prepare your mentee.

  • Sometimes parents may not approve of such visits outside the neighbourhood and the mentee may need their consent. Sandeep did the right thing by making sure the parents were okay with the visit.

  • It’s a good idea to create learning opportunities for Abdul like the plan to visit an automotive dealership. Normally, youngsters say yes to any external visit, but it would be good to first check if he is interested in such an activity and if he understands the purpose of such an activity, how it could be useful.  If some ownership of the activity is passed on to Abdul he may learn how to do the same on his own later in the absence of Sandeep. So planning together where to go, identifying showrooms/offices closest to his neighbourhood, and discussing what questions to ask the staff or manager and how to approach them, etc., could empower him. Otherwise, his role gets limited to onlooker or observer.

  • It’s recommended that mentors avoid purchasing gifts or offering financial assistance. Certain purchases, if they are inexpensive and related to school or college, could be exceptions but only when there is a need (on a case-to-case basis if the programme permits). Otherwise, as mentors we may end up encouraging dependency. Sometimes we don’t have major problems to solve. Sometimes we are tempted to offer gifts or financial assistance in our effort to do something. But we need to hold ourselves back and ask ourselves: Are we doing this because it’s the young person’s need or is it our need to want to do something good or charitable, our need to solve the problem? We need to let the young person feel empowered, not obliged to us for our generosity. Otherwise we stop being mentors and instead become patrons or sponsors. These young people are not completely helpless; we need to let them know that and convince them that they can take care of themselves. It’s a difficult thing to do, but we must try. In cases where there is a serious need for financial assistance it’s recommended that mentors bring it up with the programme staff and direct the young person to a third party or other organisations.


Vijay mentors Ali, an 18-year-old who lives in Roopena Agrahara with his elder sisters and parents. Vijay isn’t sure but he thinks there may be three sisters. Ali recently completed his Std. X exams.

During their initial meetings Ali mentioned difficulties with certain subjects and with preparations for his final exams and Vijay offered to help. Ali also shared an interest in becoming a police officer, like one of his uncles, as it would give him some power or authority.

At another meeting Ali talked about his father’s tendency to scold him and use abusive language with him. He seemed quite sad when he talked about this. According to the school staff, there was some history of trouble at home.

However, after the initial meetings, Ali did not turn up for the next three or four scheduled meetings although there were telephone conversations in between. His usual response was that he had forgotten or that he had some work related to the marriage of one of his sisters. Thereafter, he has been unreachable on the phone (used by his father) for a month.

So Vijay was not sure how to proceed here on.

Reflections from the Group: 
  • It can be frustrating when one’s mentee repeatedly does not turn up for scheduled meetings. Sometimes youngsters have different priorities at this age; also, they may have chores at home or they may prefer spending time with friends or at work or on hobbies. In such cases, they do tend to forget commitments. Meeting one’s mentor may not be on top of that list of priorities. It takes time for that to develop and most often with more effort from the mentors than from the mentee.

  • It has probably caused Vijay some amount of disappointment and anxiety that even after making several attempts to connect with his mentee he is not reachable. Sometimes things happen that are beyond one’s control. Maybe the phone got lost or the number has changed. Maybe it’s difficult to access the phone as his father uses it (considering his account of his father’s behaviour towards him).

  • Perhaps the focus now should be on trying to re-connect and find out what happened. Maybe through contacts in the area or school staff or Ali’s batch mates. And see where things go from there.

  • 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

** Names of mentees have been changed to protect their identity and maintain anonymity.

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