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“Mentoring is a gift…”

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 Khrystyna katola: «mentoring is a gift: i receive more than i give»

Assumption that a mentor is supposed to be a mature person somewhere close to the retirement is misleading. A young person, who has already established oneself and is able to win a teenager’s trust, can become a friend and an advisor just as much. Khrystyna Katola, a 24-year-old volunteer of the international NGO Care in Action with it’s office in Lviv, has been a mentor for three years already.

Khrystyna claims that after becoming a mentor she has received more than she has given — the support turned out to be mutual. Not only she supports her mentee but the mentee does the same in return.

Future mentor started as… a clown

Mentoring came into Khrystyna’s life unexpectedly. As most miracles, all this happened shortly before Christmas time. Khrystyna’s friend had already been a volunteer of German NGO Care in Action (established in Germany but operates and spreads its knowledge in Ukraine and the Republic of Malawi, Eastern Africa). The friend offered Khrystyna to take part in a festive performance. At that time volunteers from Lviv were visiting orphanages with an eventful programme: theatricals, sketches, contests, cartoons for younger children. “We need a clown. Would you like to be the one?”, suggested the friend of Krystyna. She agreed immediately and it went really well. The children fell in love with the character she performed. After the show the children surrounded Khrystyna chatting with her joyfully.

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— The children got along with me easily; they all wanted to become friends with me, said Khrystyna recalling her first interaction with children raised without parents. – I realized how much these kids are in the need of socializing with a grown-up, with an older friend who would be near, how much they lack attention and communication. They have so many questions which they want to ask someone whom they can trust. And I received back much that much of their attention! When I saw their faces glowing with happiness I felt the warmth growing inside of me. This is an unforgettable feeling… After this, Khrystyna started to visit regularly orphanages with the volunteers of Care in Action. Khrystyna believes that it is always possible to find time, even once a week, to see the happiness in a child’s eyes.

Later on, Khrystyna became an active member of this organization and coordinator of Job Orientation Program (JOP) within STEP- Life Skills Coaching project, which aims at helping young people, brought up in orphanages, to prepare them for the adulthood. It provides basic knowledge and skills needed for dealing with organizations and services such as banks, housing service, various administrative services, etc. Volunteers also help pupils to choose their future profession. On a visit to an enterprise, organized for the orphans to get them interested in occupations which are in demand nowadays, Khrystyna met a girl whose mentor she later became.

A grown-up orphan assists her mentor

An interactive lesson was organized after the trip to an enterprise within the JOP STEP project. Both teenagers from orphanages and volunteers were invited to participate in it. One of the participants, a 15-year-old pupil of the orphanage, smiled at Khrysryna and offered her a vacant seat next to her. It was an obvious invitation to communicate.

Soon after that, a general meeting of the Care in Action volunteers took place, where participants were offered to fill in the form regarding their willingness to become mentors for the orphans. By that time, Khrystyna had already made up her mind to be a mentor.

I felt the need to accompany the child who wants it her/himself and by that moment Maryana and I had already became friends, says Khrystyna. The only thing I wasn’t sure about was my readiness for this role, I doubted whether I had enough knowledge for this kind of commitment, as this kind of friendship should be forever.

A short time afterwards, three-day training was held by Care in Action for those who decided to become a mentor, which gave them a chance to get an answer to their numerous questions. Khrystyna successfully completed the training and became Maryana’s mentor. For the years spent together with Khrystyna, Maryanna has chosen a profession – she is mastering social worker job and already helps Khrystyna in volunteering.

– When Maryana told me that she wanted to help children with the background similar to hers to stand on their own feet, I supported her greatly, says Khrystyna. — Maryana was challenged by the choice between becoming an elementary school teacher and a social worker. Finally, she decided in favor of the latter. I didn’t push any ideas, and told her that I was happy with her choice because this profession would be in a big demand quite soon.

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Khrystyna says that Maryana is truly a gift for her: there were no stumbling rocks along their way. Maybe, it is because the girl did not live in the orphanage since early childhood. Her father taught at that very orphanage and it was convenient for him to have his own children study under his supervision. That is why Maryana and her older brother appeared at that orphanage school. After their father’s death the family faced really hard times, thus a decision was made that children would keep on attending that orphanage school.

For the past three years Maryana and Khrystyna have become very close friends.
— There have already been many moments when this optimistic sociable girl supported me a lot! When I was ill, Maryana always called to cheer me up and even make me laugh, — says Khrystyna quite proudly. — We have planned together that I will teach her to sing and play the piano. There is a piano at student dormitory where Maryana lives these days. If her group mates would like to join, I will teach them as well. A mentor should be able to work with any children even not under his/her supervision.

The most important thing is not to hurt a child

Maryana and Khrystyna are always supported by the coordinator of the mentoring project Guarding Angel carried out by Care in Action. Within this Khrystyna attended a training, which was a part of the project, conducted by specialists from NGO One Hope. She had to play a character of an orphan and ironically it soon came in handy for her.

They acted out a situation when a child could not take care of herself because nobody in her family taught her how to keep tidy. Moreover, the child witnessed something which was definitely not the best example to follow: her mother was a messy woman who did not care about her appearance while staying at home. When the mother was in public spaces she stayed away from people because those avoided her with disgustedly. Sometimes unpleasant the mother even heard unpleasant comments.

When a childen are brought up unkempt and involuntarily observe and copy their parent(s)’s behavior, then in a group of peers they become a laughingstock, an easy target for the attacks. Children openly tell them that they smell badly, their clothes are horrible and they don’t want to stand next to them. An untidy teenager becomes an outcast in their peer community.

Khrystyna played the role of an orphan, who has problems with hygiene, really well because of her regular communication with orphans. She did it so well, that the trainer had to stop the performance. The tension lingered in the air and was growing. Khrystyna, acting as an orphan, had a lump in her throat that wouldn’t let her speak. The mentor was not able to comprehend that an orphan, who is got used to being an outcast, is trying to resist. Future mentors discussed the situation and found a way out.

— The mentor gave me a handkerchief, but I still wiped the tears with my hand, — Khrystyna reproduces the role-play. — She thought that in that way I’m sticking to my guns, as if claiming that I’ve never used handkerchief and I’m not planning to use it any time soon. It didn’t occur to her that the orphan accepted a handkerchief as a gift from someone who became very close to her. That very gift became a token of the long-awaited attention to her problems, so she didn’t want to stain it. During the discussion the mentor realized that it was the first step towards a partnership with a teenager. There were still a few steps left for a mentor to make in order to achieve the intended result without hurting a teenager.

Soon Khrystyna faced the very same situation. When she was in group of children, she paid attention to a girl who stood out because of her untidiness. Khrystyna and her colleagues decided to organize a class trip to a beauty salon in order to convince her that she can look better, and all she needs is to start taking care of herself. Before the event, children were told that they were going to act as models, so their hair had to be clean, and the rest of their bodies as well. All girls without any exception prepared well, including the girl who had problems with hygiene. The girls really loved the event, everybody started to like themselves, some of them even learned to make simple everyday hairstyle that they «tried on» in the salon.

But most importantly, the girl, who caught Khrystyna’s attention, was involved in the process of turning Cinderella into the princess as well. After visit to the beauty salon Khrystyna presented the girl with some body care essentials to consolidate her desire of taking care of herself. That was the first step towards understanding between an orphan and a person who became her mentor, and the first step for the girl to boost her self-esteem. In most cases hygiene problems in orphanages occur due to the low self-esteem. If there is no self-respect, no feedback of an adult who would be interested in the child’s life, the child lacks an incentive to become better — look and study better.

Each mentor has to come a long way to evoke the appropriate self-esteem and self-respect in a child’s mindset. Securing the positive achievements in the development of a teenager requires systematic efforts and constant reminders from a mentor.

The girl, who is Khrystyna’s mentee, is mastering a profession of a tailor. Khrystyna and her colleagues at the volunteer center wanted to encourage her to have serious attitude towards studying, so they decided to be her first customers.

— We are going to place an order to this girl, — Khrystyna shares. — I told the kid that she chose a profession in demand. But, like in any business, only the one who has become a master of their craft will have good earnings. I told her that a good tailor earns a lot and can make dress for themselves, and even their family, thus making savings. And those who did not try to achieve a high level craftsmanship would have to settle for being an apprentice with a low income.

Khrystyna’s mentee took her words seriously and began to study more diligently.
According to Khrystyna, joint meetings, when mentors, mentees and coordinators get together in one room, play a crucial role in training mentors. Such conversations are conducted as a part of Gurdian Angel project to support and accompany the mentor-orphan duet.
— For example, volunteers and a group of teenagers from the orphanage celebrated the New Year together. We all cooked dinner, decorated a Christmas tree and the event hall, set the table, — Khrystyna shares. In such close to home setting children were able to learn several useful skills that their peers learn at home with their families. But these kids don’t have a family, thus we gave them the opportunity to feel the family atmosphere — prepare for the family celebration and make everything with their own hands under our supervision.

Khrystyna believes that mentoring is a gift. If child feels that a mentor is a soulmate, then a wholehearted return is possible.

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— Mentoring is a movement towards each other and mutual support, not only a mentor helps a child to become better, but also the child fills mentor’s life with meaning and heart with warmth, — Khrystyna says.

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