August 1, 2011

RP-9: Mentoring Stories (from the Reflective Practice Session of June 26)

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.


Murali mentors Varun, a 16-year-old from Roopena Agrahara. His father is a low-wage construction worker while his mother works at a garment factory. Varun, who lives with his parents, has two siblings: his elder sister is married; his younger brother is in middle school.

Varun and Murali have been meeting for four months. They started meeting when Varun was in Std. X and preparing for his exams.

During their initial meetings Murali and Varun talked about preparation for exams and school. It was during one of these conversations that Varun revealed that his father would come home drunk and cause a disturbance, which made it difficult to study in the evenings. Varun’s high school teachers also mentioned there was trouble at home for a while now as his father was an alcoholic.

Gradually they started meeting almost every week near his high school. Murali found Varun very cheerful and open and always polite. Varun seemed to be responding well and always turning up for scheduled meetings.

For a month during the summer break Varun helped his father with his masonry work to support the family and pay his junior college fees.

Varun just about managed to clear his Std. X exams, after which he joined a government pre-university college in Agara. He initially applied for a commerce course there but his low marks made him ineligible. He was thinking about studying for a B.Com. degree after his PUC so that he could get a job later. Also most of his friends were thinking along the same lines. The college offered him the option of enrolling in an Arts/Humanities course instead. His friends urged him to change to commerce. So he discussed this with Murali.

Murali tried to validate Varun’s disappointment and confusion, and his desire to go along with his friends. He then explained that there are also other options beyond commerce and science and there are job/career opportunities available to art/humanities graduates as well. Perhaps, considering his final exam marks, it would be difficult to manage subjects in commerce or science. Murali asked him to think about this again. A week later Murali brought some textbooks for Varun as he figured Varun may have trouble with the subjects.

A few days later Varun called to tell Murali that he was still unsure about his options for PUC as his friends kept urging him to choose commerce. Murali sensed that Varun probably felt awkward since he had got him those textbooks or perhaps he felt that if he changed his decision it would offend Murali. Murali assured him that he would not feel bad and Varun could change his decision. He advised him to think about what would be best for him. He also offered to accompany him to talk to the principal if he still wished to change streams. But later Varun came back and said he would manage with arts/humanities and did not intend to change.

Recently his sister had a baby and she moved in with them for a while. He said that his father seemed to have reduced his drinking after some of his relatives talked to him about it. Things seemed to be better at home now and his mother had stopped going to work at the garment factory.

During one of his phone conversations with Varun, his mother invited Murali home. He agreed.

Murali later also invited Varun home.

Varun always asked about Murali’s family, his son and wife and his work.

At one of their recent meetings when they visited a coffee shop Varun was very hesitant to order anything, so Murali had to encourage him.

Varun was thinking of joining some computer classes at Dream A Dream at some point but is not sure because of the travel costs involved. Varun told Murali that he recently found a part-time job he could do after his classes at a small printing shop. He would start next month.

Reflections from the Group:

  • Murali has been available to Varun to talk about his problems and offer validation on several occasions. Talking about his father’s drinking habit and how that disturbed him prior to his final exams were crucial conversations and would have helped Varun gradually come to terms with it.
  • Varun’s initial disappointment at not being eligible for a commerce stream as he scored low marks in his Std. X exams, the subsequent confusion regarding his alternative options for a PUC course, and the pressure from his peers/friends to opt for commerce, would have troubled him a lot. Murali tried to talk him through it and constantly encouraged Varun to decide whatever he felt was best for himself. Although Murali discussed alternative options, he also offered to support him by way of accompanying him to talk to the junior college if he still felt compelled to study commerce. He explained the possible reasons for the college not permitting Varun to take up the commerce course and how it could be a little difficult considering his low scores. Despite Varun changing his mind a few times, Murali remained patient and assured Varun that he was available for guidance or help regardless of Varun’s decision. This was a great way to help Varun.
  • Varun seemed to be more and more comfortable talking about his family and also talked about Murali’s family. There seems to be a good rapport building between them. He also seemed to have explained to his family who Murali was and hence the invitation home.
  • Although sometimes we feel compelled to support our mentee by buying things for them, it’s recommended that we hold ourselves back and try to see if there are ways one’s mentee can empower himself/herself or if there are third party sources/sponsors he or she can be directed to.
  •  Visits to the mentee’s home with the consent of, and in the presence of, a family member are okay. This helps break the ice with the family and allay their apprehensions about the mentor. However, programme guidelines advise against mentors having their mentees over at the mentor’s home or other private residences, etc., for child safety reasons and to avoid repeat visits. This is just a standard protocol that needs to be kept in mind; it’s not a reflection on any individual mentor.



Vijay mentors Ali from Roopena Agrahara. Vijay had been having trouble meeting Ali as he had not been turning up and was not reachable on the phone. He had reached a stage where he was unsure how to continue and thereafter he made efforts to re-connect read more in an earlier report.

A few weeks later, Vijay managed to obtain a new contact number for Ali from the programme staff and his school friends. He learnt that Ali’s mobile phone had been stolen and hence it had not been reachable. Vijay was relieved that things were back on track; now he could think again about continuing the meetings.

Ali had cleared his Std. X exams and he planned to join a junior college nearby opting for a science course. He had recently taken up part-time work in the afternoons: he would collect old waste and used threads or cloth and take the items home where his sister would clean them. He would then sell them to a nearby store.


When Vijay talked to Ali about his choice of science as a course for pre-university college, it seemed as though Ali hadn’t thought it through. He was not sure about career options or future college courses or work. He said he took up the science course as someone had told him it would allow him to become a software engineer. Vijay was a little concerned because he knew Ali had trouble with science and maths. Ali then asked questions about careers or courses that did not involve maths. He also wanted to know if there were any easy options for a career and if there were diploma courses he could take up instead of joining PUC. So it seemed to Vijay that he needed some guidance on this front and also access to more information. But Vijay was not sure where to start.

Vijay was concerned that his absence could have been a reason for Ali not having access to timely guidance; he worried that he had not contributed enough owing to the gap in their meetings. He felt he had not probably done as much as other mentors.

Reflections from the Group:

  • It’s encouraging that Vijay has re-connected with his mentee after a gap and resumed meetings. It is understandable that he would feel a little bad when he hears about other mentors and mentees meeting more often and doing more. However, the gap in the meetings here was a result of an external factor that could not be helped. The good thing is that Vijay is making an effort to re-connect. Let’s try not to compare mentor-mentee relationships in terms of achievements. Each relationship is unique and has its own set of positives and challenges.  Sometimes we have to work with what we can.
  • Vijay was on the right track when he identified the need for some guidance on career choices and began helping Ali identify his interests and challenges in academics. It will be extremely helpful if conversations continue on this front.
  • Sometimes young people make mistakes. We can only guide them and offer information. Even if Vijay feels a science course would be too difficult or the wrong fit for Ali, we have to let youngsters take their own decisions. It’s difficult for us to take decisions on their behalf. What we can do is to keep making the offer to be there, should they need advice or help with academics or coping with those challenges.

  • 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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