June 28, 2011

RP-5: Mentoring Stories (from the Reflective Practice Session of April 17)

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


Manoj mentors Dhanush, an 18-year-old who is currently pursuing his pre-university course. Dhanush also helps his parents sell vegetables and fruits in the morning. He seems to have been coming to the community centre for the last five years and the centre seems to be his world – he spends most of his free time there.

For about two months now Manoj has been meeting Dhanush, who comes across as a confident and cheerful youngster.

Dhanush says he wants to become a police officer and he also seems to be preparing for a future career by trying to learn how to use the computer and by attending karate classes at the community centre. Manoj got a sense that Dhanush had a clear idea of what he wanted in life and was driven to achieve it.

A few weeks back Dhanush confided in Manoj about an incident that had disturbed him. Manoj had planned to meet Dhanush outside the centre for a change but Dhanush declined saying he was needed there and that there had been an incident. Dhanush appeared to be frustrated and upset. When Manoj asked him what was wrong, Dhanush said that a few boys at the centre had damaged some art work owned by his friends. It seemed Dhanush felt responsible for what had happened at the centre as he was a senior youth volunteer there. Manoj was a bit surprised and felt this was a mature and responsible behaviour for an 18-year-old.

Another time, Danush talked to Manoj about his fear of certain boys near his home who tended to get into fights. It seemed to bother Dhanush. However, he did not elaborate.

Manoj felt a good relationship was developing between him and Dhanush and the fact that they could converse in Tamil and Kannada made it easier. Manoj also explained to the mentors’ group that he had lowered his own expectations and consciously tried not to look for problems; instead he just focused on listening.

Reflections from the Group:

  • Manoj was on the right track and should continue conversations and meetings to allow Dhanush to confide in him further about things that trouble him, such as the unruly boys in his neighbourhood or the incidents at the community centre with other young people. These conversations and sharing of confidences are helping Dhanush.
  • Since Dhanush has shared his ambition of becoming a police officer, perhaps further conversations around this subject could give him more clarity about the way forward or demonstrate that Manoj is available should he need advice or help in obtaining information.


Prachi mentors Shalini, a 15-year-old from Adugodi who studies in Std. IX. Her father is a plumber while her mother works as a tailor. Prachi has been meeting her mentee for about two months now.

During the initial meetings, a few friends of Shalini always accompanied her. They played some games or read stories together.  Prachi found it difficult to get some time alone with her as there were always other children around.

When Prachi invited her out for a visit to a park close by, Shalini was not willing to go and wanted to check first with her mother. So Prachi offered to talk to her mother, which she did. However, Shalini still seemed apprehensive about going out. So Prachi continued to meet Shalini thereafter at the community centre.

At one of the following meetings, Shalini mentioned she was unable to sleep at night but did not elaborate. In another conversation, Shalini mentioned she wanted to study to become a doctor.

Reflections from the Group:

  • It’s hard when we don’t get time alone with our mentees. At some centres other children do tend to hang around allowing little privacy. But Prachi can continue trying and also attempt to explain to Shalini that they need some time to speak alone. Perhaps talking to the centre staff can help Prachi find a suitable space at the centre that would permits some privacy.

  •  It was good that Prachi tried to understand Shalini’s apprehensions by talking to her and even meeting her mother. It’s normal for children to be afraid of new things and places and even people. And since Prachi and Shalini had met only recently maybe it’s too early for such an activity. Even if these apprehensions persist we should be patient and in time she will feel safer.

  • Since Shalini did not elaborate on her sleep issues, maybe Prachi could pursue another conversation around this if it comes up again, to see if there is something that’s troubling her.


Mallikarjun mentors Thomas, a 19-year-old school drop-out. Thomas could not complete his Std. X and had worked part-time for a while. His father is a low wage painter and his mother works with a courier service firm.

Mallikarjun happened to get to speak to Thomas’s mother on the telephone one day while trying to reach Thomas. He learned from the conversation that there were some financial difficulties at home that it could come in the way of Thomas’s education; it could also mean his having to take up a job. However, Thomas hadn’t really brought this up or discussed this with Mallikarjun although he mentioned his interest in finishing school. Mallikarjun told the group that he was unsure what he could do about this.

In another conversation, Thomas revealed to Mallikarjun that he had had an asthma problem for some time and he took medications every day for this. 

Mallikarjun noticed quite a lot of boys, including his mentee, speaking rudely to one another and sometimes using obscene language. However, Thomas never spoke this way with Mallikarjun. He was always polite. So Mallikarjun was not sure if he should talk to Thomas about this.

Reflections from the Group:

  • Like many other youngsters, there could be possible financial challenges in Thomas’s life that he is yet to talk about openly. Perhaps he will bring them up in related conversations such as his future plans – to work or to go back to school. Such a conversation might provide some clarity of thought for Thomas and demonstrate how Mallikarjun can be helpful, should he need advice.

  • Thomas’s asthma problem is indeed worrisome. One needs time to accept it so as not to feel awkward or overtly conscious or sympathetic about it. It’s good to have this information now since it gives some insight into his physical well-being. For now, it is suggested Mallikarjun follow up from time-to-time in routine conversations to see if other challenges related to this health condition come up and offer validation where needed.

  • Sometimes children or youngsters from certain low-income communities we work with tend to be aggressive and speak to each other rudely and use obscene language. It’s a result of what they pick up from their environment and social circles. Sometimes it’s also a need for survival, a need to be accepted in the group. This is also seen in mainstream youth. Social norms and what’s considered acceptable language differ from what we would think of as normal. So maybe we should avoid intervening directly in the conversations between the children or youngsters at the centre unless it gets really out of hand, for instance, if there is a fight. Otherwise it could restrict Thomas’s autonomy. Perhaps Mallikarjun can make inquiries to see if everything is okay and try to understand in case there are any more heated conversations with other youngsters – if he was angry, frustrated, or hurt. It’s also okay to share an honest response if Mallikarjun is surprised by the language. It’s possible that Thomas might then clarify and explain so as not to offend Mallikarjun. The fact that Thomas does not speak to Mallikarjun in the same manner he does with other youngsters indicates he already has a sense of what may be appropriate and what’s not and is able to tell the difference.

Geetha mentors Anitha, a 15-year-old who lives in Adugodi studies in Std. IX. Her parents are low wage workers.

During one of their conversations Anitha mentioned that her mother scolds her a lot for not doing her household chores properly. She claimed that her mother was never happy with the way she washed clothes and this was upsetting her.

Another time Anitha mentioned her difficulty with maths in school. So Geetha offered to help her with some guidance and they worked on this during a few meetings.

Lately Geetha has had some trouble meeting Anitha as she tends to have other things she has to do. So it has been hard scheduling meetings with Anitha. Despite several attempts Geetha has been unable to meet her mentee for a month.

Reflections from the Group: 

  • It’s true that it can be frustrating sometimes when one’s mentee does not turn up for scheduled meetings or when it’s difficult to communicate as often as one expects. Sometimes the children or youngsters have other priorities within their group of friends or other things come up at home. It may not be intentional. So we may have to keep trying to meet them and let them know we are still available. Sometimes we have to accept that they have other things to do or maybe they are not used to committing to anything like this in the past.

  • The fact that Anitha asked for help with school work in maths and also talked about her disappointment with her mother shows there was a need for some validation and sharing. And Geetha was available for this need.


Archana mentors a 15-year-old girl from Adugodi, Malini, who is in Std. VII.  Her parents are low-wage workers. Archana and Malini have been meeting for three months now.

Malini was quite active in high school and doing well. She insisted Archana attend a school event she was hosting. So Archana agreed. Archana felt that she shared a good rapport with her mentee.

At a subsequent meeting it seemed Malini was quite upset or disturbed. She revealed that she had lost her uncle’s phone and didn’t know what to do.

Archana tried to talk to her a little more and offer some validation.

A few weeks later, Malini said that she had managed to talk to her uncle and planned to save some money to buy a phone for him eventually.

At a meeting close to her birthday, Malini said that she planned to have a birthday celebration and invited Archana. But Archana could not go. Later Malini revealed to Archana that she went out with some friends for her birthday and told her mother that she was out with Archana instead. This was surprising for Archana and so she tried to explain that it may not have been the right thing to do. When Malini was asked why she had done this, she didn’t really say much.

Sometimes Archana felt it was difficult communicating with Malini’s mother on the phone when she needed to reach Malini as she speaks in Kannada unlike Malini and Archana who speak to each other in Tamil.

Reflections from the Group: 

  • It must have been surprising and awkward to have learnt that her mentee told her mother she was out with Archana and not with her friends. However, it was good that Archana shared her honest opinion of the incident with her mentee without being judgemental. Sometimes teenagers do tend to find excuses to go out. Since Malini knew her mother approved of Archana, she probably thought it was a good idea. In a way, it’s probably a good thing that she came forward and confided in Archana about it instead of hiding it.
  • It was a good thing that Archana did not directly offer to lend money or a solution when Malini told her about the lost mobile phone, but instead discussed it further, offered validation, and allowed her to find her own solution.


Visha mentors 15-year-old Ramya who lives in Adugodi and studies in Std. X. Her parents are low-wage workers.

Visha’s mentee has not been turning up for scheduled meetings. There is also a challenge sometimes in scheduling meetings as the phone is usually with one of her parents and it’s difficult to communicate because of the language barrier. Sometimes Ramya says she has curfews or restrictions at home.

Reflections from the Group: 

  • It is frustrating sometimes when one’s mentee does not turn up for scheduled meetings. Sometimes the children or youngsters have other priorities within their group of friends or other things come up at home. It may not be intentional. So we may have to keep trying to meet them and let them know we are still available. Perhaps we can take the help of the centre staff in scheduling meetings if it is difficult to reach the mentee on the phone.

  • 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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