THE JOURNEY OF A MENTOR IN THE JO’BURG COMMUNITY
There was this time when he said to me “you know, I really needed to speak to you then, as you and my mother are the only ones I can really speak to about these things”
Nearly 4 years ago now, I got involved mentoring students from disadvantaged backgrounds with an organisation called Thrive. It pains me to admit but the initial reason for starting to mentor was less than honourable but that is a story for another time. The reason I started and the reason I continue to mentor are worlds apart, so I hpe that, as you read this, my reasons will become apparent.
After assisting at Thrive, I joined Ignition. This will be my second year of active involvement with Ignition as a mentor. Ignition is a programme that selects matriculants from Alexandra schools and provides them with a matrix of support to enable each one to study at a tertiary level or complete technical training, with the goal of finding sustainable employment. I have come to acknowledge the work they are doing as being of critical importance. Many well-intentioned people and institutions sponsor university fees for deserving kids from disadvantaged backgrounds only to find them drop out. Although Ignition help fund individuals, they have realized that they also need to walk alongside these same individuals to ensure that they are equipped for the challenges of university. One of the many ways Ignition assists in this regard is through connecting willing people with talented students from disadvantaged backgrounds and developing a mentoring relationship. Sounds wonderful doesn’t it but for me, it has been tough as I have not just had to sacrifice time and dealt with immense frustration because of our differences, but primarily because it has exposed things in me that I really don’t like.
It may sound cliché but I really have grown by being a mentor and specifically through some incredibly uncomfortable experiences. My very first meeting with my mentee, I had to confront my own prejudices about Alexandra as I offered to take him home. The long and the short of it is that I had to tell my newly found mentee that I wasn’t comfortable driving into Alex and so dropped him off on the outskirts – not a great start you may say and you would be right. The next couple of meetings were not a whole lot better as we learned that we communicate very differently and even view time differently. He viewed our agreed time to meet as more flexible and I was quite rigid with my planning, spending just an hour with him after he had travelled over an hour on numerous taxis to meet me. I realized shortly after that, I wasn’t going to be able to do ‘hit-and-run missions’ but was actually going to have to spend quality time with this kid and build a relationship. There were instances such as I already mentioned but then there were also times when something clicked for me, like the time I took my mentee to the movies which in his 19 years he had never been before. Or there was the time when he said to me “you know, I really needed to speak to you then, as you and my mother are the only ones I can really speak to about these things”. These are few and far between but help in realizing things about myself but also that how I may actually be contributing to something positive in some small way.
Through this relationship, I have learned of the many hardships some rural or township students have to face in getting qualified just so that they can potentially better their circumstances, which were from no fault of theirs. These difficulties that they will encounter are numerous and are sometimes taken for granted by people like me. For example, how to budget. Some of the students will get NSFAS grants and when you have been living in poverty, learning how to manage this is a whole new ballgame. I remember having to listen to my mentee tell me that he had run out of money for food as he had bought a second pair of earphones as his first pair had broken. Everything within me wanted to be accusatory and judgmental but I have had to develop saint-like powers of restraint and a wider skill set in order to facilitate learning and growth even when the context is outside of my frame of reference.
My journey as a mentor with Ignition has been a winding one and if I said it was easy, I would be lying. It has been a journey for me to realise that in the South African context, mentoring someone who is very different from you, will not work without first building a quality relationship. Building a meaningful relationship that can bridge gaps and provide support in the dark times to someone else, will cost and I am a testament to how messy it can be. That said I have grown so much from the process and although I wanted to throw in the towel numerous times, in retrospect I wouldn’t change one bit of the journey.
SIOPSA has assisted Ignition with different initiatives such as the workshops we ran in 2019 but we are looking to build a more sustainable partnership in the future. One of the initiatives we hope to grow is connecting interns with students for a few career coaching sessions but more importantly, I would like to encourage more of my fellow IOP’s to consider mentoring whether formally or informally. At the very least I have shared my story in the hope that something will be stirred in you to offer yourselves in whatever capacity and to whatever cause resonates with you as an Industrial/Organisational Psychologist (IOP). Make no mistake it will cost you but the growth and what you learn about yourself can far outweigh the challenges and we can build the #IOImpact together.
View the latest interview with Andrew Morris where he shares current challenges in SA with Wilme van Niekerk, SIOPSA Executive Member responsible for Corporate Social Development.
SIOPSA members and IOP Interns who are interested in being a part of the SIOPSA Ignition Programme can enroll with the SIOPSA Johannesburg Regional Branch at firstname.lastname@example.org before 31 March 2020.
For more information kindly send an email to email@example.com.
To read more about the SIOPSA/IGNITION Programme click here
Andrew Morris is a Consultant: Industrial/Organisational Psychologist at JvR Consulting Psychologists (JvRC).
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