July 31, 2011

RP-8: Mentoring Stories (from the Reflective Practice Session of June 19)

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.


Prachi mentors Shalini from Adugodi (read more in an earlier post).

Shalini has completed her Std. VII exams and is moving on to Std. VIII. Recently Prachi and Shalini went to get ice-cream together.

During the last few times they met, Prachi observed that Shalini spent a lot of time with older boys at the centre and they got quite physical, pushing each other and playing around. This is a worry for Prachi who thinks this may not be safe or appropriate. She feels this is happening because Shalini is attracted to boys and she is concerned that Shalini could be taken advantage of. So Prachi felt she should discuss this with Shalini. First she talked it over with staff members at the centre, who said that it was possible that Shalini was looking for affection not received from her father. It seems the father isn’t around a lot.

At one of their meetings Shalini’s mother happened to be visiting the community centre. She spotted Prachi and Shalini and came over to speak with them. Shalini’s mother started talking about her, telling Prachi that she was not doing very good at school and needed help. She went on for a while about Shalini not being good at studies or not working hard or not showing interest and suggested Prachi should talk to her about this. She also wanted Prachi to help Shalini with her studies.

Shalini eventually began crying as her mother went on in this fashion. After her mother left, Prachi had to console Shalini till she regained her composure. Thereafter, Shalini said she would bring her books to their meetings.

Shalini also asked Prachi if they could go out together but the centre has now imposed restrictions on the mentees going out with their mentors, and Prachi had to explain this to Shalini.

Prachi has also noticed that Shalini rarely talked about her family. She recently came to know from a staff member at the centre that Shalini has a younger brother. So Prachi feels maybe Shalini doesn’t look at her as someone in whom she can confide. Prachi feels Shalini looks at her more as a teacher and she is not sure that Shalini understands the role of a mentor.

Prachi also revealed that she would need to discontinue mentoring Shalini the following month onwards as she is going abroad for higher studies.

Reflections from the Group:
  • It’s understandable that mentors would feel it a little odd when their mentees have different expectations or none at all. Sometimes young adults or children take time to understand their roles in the relationship. So they may need our help to understand and slowly start to pick up the nuances depending on what we offer as mentors or demonstrate at the mentoring  meetings. It takes time for this to evolve and become clear.
  • The incident where Shalini’s mother talked about her lack of interest in studies or not being good at academics may have been a bit awkward and difficult and unexpected. When Shalini started crying, Prachi did the right thing by trying to console and reassure her. It’s most likely that Shalini felt embarrassed and uncomfortable by her mother’s complaints to Prachi. Most young people like to maintain a good impression with a new friend and don’t like someone (especially parents) intruding into that space. So maybe she looks at Prachi a little differently than a teacher after all.
  • Some young people or children may not disclose everything about their family in the first few meetings. Some take longer to open up. But maybe Prachi could attempt to learn a little about Shalini’s family through casual conversations unless she senses Shalini is uncomfortable talking about it. Sometimes it may not come from the mentee directly unless asked.
  • It’s understandable that Prachi is worried about Shalini’s safety, that Shalini may be taken advantage of by the older boys. Most mentors would feel that way. It’s good that Prachi shared her observations. Maybe we could gather a little more information from Shalini herself before we take the next step. Maybe she isn’t just mature yet to understand and thinks it is okay. Maybe she is unaware of what’s appropriate or not safe. Or maybe she just likes the attention of boys as normal teenagers do at that age. Since we don’t know, let’s find out a little more. Perhaps we could ask the centre staff for their observations as well. For example: Ask her a little more about who her friends are at school, at the centre or near her home and how she normally spends time with them. If it seems they are predominantly boys, ask casually why she has fewer girlfriends than male friends. See where that conversation goes. Thereafter, if Prachi feels it’s needed, a brief conversation on what may be inappropriate in terms of physical contact with boys could be explained. This may not be an easy conversation, so let’s collect some information before doing this.
  • While her mother wanted Prachi to help Shalini with her studies it is not mandatory that further meetings be only about this. Depending on what Shalini needs, Prachi can take a call. Maybe Shalini just needs a little guidance once in a while and not complete tutoring. Since Prachi is likely to discontinue soon, maybe it’s better not to make a commitment on this issue. So a general conversation around her academics to get a sense of what she needs could help. It’s true that the aspect of discontinuing mentoring may be a little difficult to bring up. But it needs to be discussed and Shalini will eventually understand.


Archana mentors Malini from Adugodi. She has been meeting Malini over the last four months (read more in an earlier post).

Sometime back, Archana and Malini visited a nearby bookstore. Archana first browsed through the shelves along with Malini and showed her a few interesting books. After a while, Malini started taking a look at books in the Kannada section on her own. They spent about an hour there that day. Afterwards, Archana and Malini talked about the jobs people had at the store and Malini mentioned that a friend’s sister also worked there. She said it would be the kind of job she would like as well. Before they left, Archana told Malini that she would buy one “spoken English” book and keep it at the centre library and Malini could use it if she wanted. Malini seemed to like this idea.

Malini, who now studies in Std. VIII, had to recently move to a different school after her Std. VII exams because her school only has classes up to Std. VII. Malini told Archana that her friends from the previous school are no longer talking to her although they have also moved to the same new school. She thinks it’s because she made some new friends at this school. She feels they didn’t want to make new friends unlike her and so now she sits with her new friends. She tried talking to her earlier group of friends but they were not responding. So she decided to move on to her new friends.

Archana observed that Malini rarely talked about her family. Once she stopped midway while she was talking about her family and quickly changed the subject. She seemed a little uncomfortable talking further.

She once talked about her interest in becoming a police officer but Archana was not sure if we should try to have a discussion about careers. Once when Archana offered to arrange a meeting with a police officer, Malini said no. So Archana got a little confused.

Reflections from the Group:
  • The visit to the bookstore would have been a good learning experience for Malini. She seemed to have a good time browsing through the books there. The subsequent discussion about jobs and working in such a store was a great way to help Malini start thinking of her future career or part-time options.
  • It seems Malini is comfortable enough to share her disappointments and frustrations (such as the incident with her group of friends). It would have been a relief for her to share it with Archana.
  • Young people take their own time to be comfortable enough to talk about family, their background or past especially if it is a troubled one. Some also tend to paint a pretty picture when talking about themselves to an outsider or third person to make a good impression. It’s possible that there are unpleasant things about her family or her past that make her sad or upset. Or she fears it would look bad if she disclosed some parts of her life. And so she avoids the topic. If she is not comfortable talking about it then let’s not push too much. Maybe at a later stage she will talk about it, if not today. We just need to be patient.
  • Conversations about her ambition of becoming a police officer are certainly helpful and great source for clarity of thought in setting goals for herself in the future. Perhaps Malini found the idea of meeting a police officer a bit too intimidating. Maybe something less intimidating, like how or where does one find information about qualifying exams, what kind of work it could involve and positions, etc., could be started for now.


Mallikarjun mentors 19-year-old Thomas. He has been meeting him for about four months now (read more in an earlier post).

Thomas spent almost a month at his uncle’s house in Kerala. He told Mallikarjun that he liked the time he spent there. That he could explore a lot of places and liked playing on his uncle’s computer.

Thomas and Mallikarjun had had a conversation in the past about his attempting the Std. X exams again. Thomas had dropped out a year back after failing to clear a couple of subjects. At that time, it seemed to Mallikarjun as though Thomas was keen to finish school.

Thomas told Mallikarjun that he had recently visited his school to apply to sit for the supplementary exams. But when he learnt there were just two weeks to go before the exams began, he felt he could not do it and changed his mind.

Now he’s thinking about writing the exams next year or mid-year. He was not sure about the schedule and he said he needed to find out details from the school. Mallikarjun offered to help Thomas if needed. Later Mallikarjun also talked to the member of the staff at the centre, who said he would try to arrange for a tutor.

Thomas said he didn’t have much to do in the last few days as his friends were all busy with exams or other things. Now that school has started and football sessions at Dream A Dream have started, he gets to spend time with more friends.

Thomas’s health has improved although he continues to take medications for asthma.

Reflections from the Group:
  • Being able to share his challenges and his desire to finish school is a sign that Thomas looks up to Mallikarjun and was looking for some validation. Mallikarjun did just that for Thomas, by listening and offering encouragement and support. It must have not been easy for Thomas to tell someone he backed out of writing the exams this time as he was under-prepared or afraid. Being out of school for a year and going back to writing exams and studying alone at home is a difficult thing to achieve for many young people from Thomas’s background. But he seems to be trying. Any form of encouragement from Mallikarjun can definitely help him stay the course. But we need to let him decide if he wants to use our help although Mallikarjun made the offer to help. It seems as though the least pressure results in Thomas trying to avoid doing something difficult. And we don’t know for sure if things will work out or if he will stay the course, so Mallikarjun may need to be patient and let Thomas slowly find his way.
  • Meanwhile Mallikarjun could continue conversations just to check how things are going on this front from time to time without being critical of the pace of Thomas’s progress (however frustrating it may be for us). Instead let us appreciate and praise every small step forward.
  • It’s best to let Thomas decide when he wants to write the exams at the end of the year or mid-term although we feel mid-term would be better for him. Either way, we’ll only know if such a facility to write the exams mid-term is available, after Thomas visits his school to find out about this.
  • It must be a relief for Mallikarjun to know that Thomas is managing his asthma better now.
  • Thomas seems to be sharing more often about the little things that he likes and how he spends his time. The more he shares the better the relationship seems to be growing between him and Mallikarjun. It must feel good for Mallikarjun to listen to Thomas sharing more. Mallikarjun can continue similar conversations about how Thomas’s week was, simple conversations about football, friends, or how he spends his time.


Manoj mentors Dhanush, an 18-year-old from Adugodi. They have been meeting over the last four months. (read more in an earlier post).

Manoj and Dhanush met a couple of times in the last two months. They also speak on the telephone often.

Sometime in the previous month, Dhanush had attended a summer camp along with a group of youths from the community centre. Since Dhanush is a senior and also a volunteer at the centre now, he was also involved in organising the event. Dhanush called up Manoj one day and talked about a problem he was facing. Some of the youngsters and children had apparently stopped talking to him after the camp. Dhanush was worried and said he didn’t know what to do. He was not sure what could have caused this. Manoj tried to learn more about the incident to understand what had happened, if the problem was with any specific group or the opposite gender, etc. But Dhanush did not disclose further details. So Manoj just tried to reassure him and explained to him that these things happen sometimes. That it’s best to wait for a while and give his friends some space instead of probing too much. And maybe things will get better with time. He explained that everyone takes time to get over their feelings and maybe Dhanush could try talking to them after a week. Manoj told him that he shouldn’t worry too much.

After a few weeks, Dhanush came back and reported that things were better now and the friends who didn’t talk to him before had now started talking to him again. Dhanush was feeling much better now.

At another meeting, Manoj learnt that Dhanush had started some part–time work during the summer holidays with another centre nearby. When Manoj inquired about the work, Dhanush told him that he was unhappy and found it difficult to work with the youngsters there. He said they would not follow his instructions and he had to keep repeating them since they did not understand them; also, he said, he found it difficult to manage the group.

Manoj then explained that such ups and downs are normal in every job. Manoj shared his own difficulties in managing his staff.  He suggested that since it is just a short period, Dhanush could try for a while and if he still finds it difficult maybe Dhanush can talk to the person in charge and share his problem or maybe ask for a change in role.

Later Manoj learnt that Dhanush eventually decided to talk to the supervisor and managed to get re-assigned to a different role back at the earlier community centre.

Manoj felt he had come to the realisation that he was becoming a helpline or outlet for Dhanush now. He also felt he needed to help Dhanush with decision-making.

Reflections from the Group:
  • Manoj is gradually becoming a source for validation and an outlet for Dhanush to vent and share his problems, even if they are just related to incidents around work or at the community centre. And this seems to be strengthening the relationship.
  • The incident about his friends not talking to him after the summer camp may have been frustrating and confusing. By listening to Dhanush’s concerns and reassuring him that these things happen and things will eventually get better, Manoj helped him manage his immediate frustration. Gradually things got better with his friends and Dhanush did feel better.
  • Manoj also helped Dhanush manage his frustrations at his part-time job and put him at ease by letting him know that everyone, including Manoj, faces similar challenges. His suggestions may have helped empower Dhanush to walk up to his supervisor and request a reassignment or change in role. In the end, Dhanush was able to resolve things for himself.
  • Manoj could continue helping Dhanush through conversations when it comes to decision-making. Perhaps Manoj can gradually try helping Dhanush start to believe in his own capabilities with regard to decision-making or problem-solving, by demonstrating a simple process of brainstorming and trial and error. This way Dhanush could slowly learn to list options or ideas he can think of, with fewer inputs from Manoj. Maybe Manoj can hold back some suggestions and see if he can draw responses from Dhanush and list them as “Dhanush’s ideas” and only towards the end add a few of Manoj’s own points.

  • 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.