May 30, 2010

TRAINING THE MENTORS: Dave and Fiona describe their experience

All of us have benefited immensely from the Mentor Training Programme conducted by the experts we lovingly call "Dave & Fiona". At each session we learned more and more about what it means to be a mentor to an underprivileged child. Without the skills and the psychological tools and the wealth of important information provided to us during the programme, we would have foundered.

It's Dave and Fiona who made it all possible.

Here, in the first issue of Dream Mentors, DAVE PEARSON and FIONA KENNEDY tell us what motivated them to set up the mentoring programme for Dream A Dream:

FIVE YEARS AGO we met a young woman on a bus in Mumbai. She told us about Dream A Dream. We told her we were consultant clinical psychologists who had just left the British National Health Service where we worked for 25 years. Dave is a child specialist and Fiona an adult and learning disability specialist. Ekta, the young woman, told us Dream A Dream wanted to set up a mentoring programme to help adolescents transition to adulthood, but they needed expertise. Psychological expertise is what we had to offer!

Four years ago we began the first Dream A Dream Mentoring Programme, training 10 mentors over eight Sunday sessions. Now we train up to 50 as the programme has become known as a rewarding and challenging way to volunteer. Mentees also are more and more keen to get a mentor as they hear from each other.

Dave had noticed how physically small the Dream A Dream children were, compared to other Indian children. This was visual evidence of their ‘failure to thrive’ sometimes called ‘uneven development’.

Neglect, abuse, and lack of care can cause 'failure to thrive' just as surely as lack of food and water. Fortunately, this is one of Dave's specialist areas.

We decided to tell the mentors about uneven development as well as the ‘normal’ developmental stages children everywhere go through. It was such a challenge for us to teach, that too in a different culture. But all the mentors are intelligent and determined and we have all got through the learning together.

Dave teaches about the effects of neglect and abuse and deprivation. These effects can be seen in many ways: the children’s physical stature is often affected; their skill competence levels can vary from day to day and situation to situation; they may have very high anxiety levels; their relationships with friends, family, and at work can go dramatically wrong; they may be unusually trusting or unusually suspicious (or both); they may mistake sexual advances for real love.

Fiona teaches mentors how to manage their own behaviour in the face of the strong feelings the young people’s problems and behaviour can cause.

She explains how to accept young persons as they are, before asking for change.

And she gives techniques to encourage ‘wanted’ behaviour and discourage ‘unwanted’ behaviour.

Dave shows mentors how to make an ‘agreed plan’ to structure the work with mentees, teaching how to ask for very little commitment to start with and gradually building trust and attachment over time. Both of us use many examples and role play sessions to make sure mentors can put these new ideas into practice.

Mentors have to learn to stop being problem solvers and start just being there for their mentee; this is quite hard at least at first for people who are mostly software engineers who solve problems for a living!

Our experience has been that children everywhere have so much in common, but there are specific cultural issues which need to be built into the programme. We are delighted our western skills have come in useful in Bangalore and we look forward every year to coming back and doing it all again!

 THE CLASS OF 2009: Fiona and Dave with their "students".


First, mentor MANISHA VINOD talks about her relationship with her mentee, PAVITHRA, who then explains how the mentoring programme and her mentor transformed her life.

WALKING INTO Ashirwad for my first-ever Mentor training session, I wondered how I, this highly imperfect person, could ever contribute to making someone else's world a better place. Dave and Fiona however quickly dispelled those thoughts with their interactive and extremely interesting training sessions. And my greatest learning from Dave and Fiona has been validation it is now so inbuilt into my natural reactions that it has without doubt made me a slightly better person today. The sessions ended with an icebreaker with the Dream A Dream children and that was the beginning of a wonderful relationship which I have come to cherish today.

Pavithra, or Pavi as she is fondly called, looked as anxious as I did but our interaction comforted us and we settled down soon enough. There seemed to be so much to share; she surprised me every other day with her strength and character, and the way she overcame her struggles with grace. More than being a guide, I realised my role was to be her friend, a support, something stable in her life. The most beautiful part about our friendship is that she’s now someone I learn from every day!

Pavi now works full time with Dream A Dream; she sets small goals and ensures that she achieves them with perseverance and sheer effort. I’m reminded of a quote by Maya Angelou which I’d like to close with: “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
  • Manisha Vinod
I'VE BEEN working full-time at Dream A Dream for the past two years and pursuing my Bachelor of Commerce degree through Bangalore University evening college. Having gone through the mentoring programme, I’ve come to realise and appreciate its importance.

I was initially nervous about the mentoring programme it sounded like an activity where I would be judged and told what to do. However, it was a very pleasant experience and I got a wonderful mentor in Manisha. It was an exhilarating experience and I started sharing my experiences with my friends, colleagues, and my family.

Though I’ve moved out of the official programme, I still stay in touch with Manisha and we’ve become good friends. She’s been very supportive and has always been there for me. I’m proud to say I have a wonderful friend and mentor whom I was introduced to through Dream A Dream. When one is young, it’s difficult to share ones feelings and thoughts with family or relatives. I’m been lucky to have Manisha beside me to talk to and share my thoughts and opinions; she always encourages and inspires me to do more and reach farther in life.

The whole programme is structured and well thought-out. My feedback session when graduating from the mentoring programme actually showed me how much I had improved and even today I feel a sense of pride and happiness when I look back. Now I am ready to sit on the other side of the fence and become a mentor. I eagerly look forward to making that new special friend and build a relationship with my mentee similar to what I have with Manisha. Vishal, Anju, and the entire Dream A Dream team have always been there: encouraging, supporting, and standing beside me.

I want to be a change-maker in this society and I am going to assist my mentee also to be a change-maker in this society.
  • Pavithra

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