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Mentorship is a two-way process; there are answers to exchange and lessons to learn from one another. My experience of mentoring young women has taught me much.
I always wished that mentorship was a formalized structure back in 2007, when my instincts played hide and seek with the reality around me, as I oscillated between the idea of pursuing engineering and media studies in my graduation.
Since 2013 when I officially started my career in media, I have always believed in the power of networking and seeking timely advice from a set of people, who I considered as my mentors. In 2019, I decided to join a formal mentoring program, this time as a mentor.
GOAL Program (Going Online as Leaders) a joint initiative by Digital Empowerment Foundation and social networking giant Facebook – which I joined as a volunteer in June 2019 as a mentor – is aimed at educating young girls from rural India with digital literacy, and train them to use the mobile phone to their benefit. I was shortlisted to train five teenage girls from Hariharpara, West Bengal, owing to the fact that my mother tongue was Bengali and this would help me better communicate with the girls from the state.
The classes, which are scheduled every Sunday, are usually one hour sessions where the girls are trained via video calls – from helping them learn basic activities such as creating short videos, learning multiple features of apps like Whatsapp, Facebook, Bolo, to clearing their critical apprehensions around online privacy – these girls are hungry to know it all.
The mentees mustered the courage to take videos of locals talking about issues that matter to them, creating photo galleries of their family members, learning the hacks for consuming news via Facebook and other news apps, and navigating and understanding the structure of a physical newspaper – as part of the program.
At times, we casually talk about each other’s lives and daily banters, but the very next moment one of the mentees is quick to remind me about the previous week’s assignment. The mentees are eager to learn and make the most of this one-year program.
When I started out as a mentor, I was keen on following the chalk and blackboard methodology, where I would speak and they naturally grasp and follow. But when I met these girls in New Delhi a few months back, I realized that these mentees, who I now refer to as “my girls”, had a lot of emotions contained inside them. They were firstly very street smart and knew how to get around things. But due to various social structural conditions around them, they have over time become prone to restrain themselves from expressing their thoughts. One of them aspires to become a beautician, and using Facebook’s verified pages of brands and celebrities, she now realizes the size of the industry she wants to be a part of. Two of them aspire to become lawyers, one a teacher, and the fifth wants to become a nurse.
The last few months have taught me that mentorship, at times, involves listening to your mentees – understanding their journeys, not always having the answers, but cushioning their thoughts with your knowledge and patience so that they can search for their answers. The shimmer of hope and aspirations that appears across their faces by merely the process of trying to answer certain questions and discussing some very crucial things.
I took my own time to understand each of their apprehensions, dreams and ambitions. Some of them come off as very confident, while some are still shy and coy – but equally enthusiastic. For them the phone provided by the program is a source of empowerment and knowledge, which all this while was only owned and used by the the elders or young male members of their families.
While I still have a couple of more months to formally complete the program, GOAL has helped me empathize and understand that things aren’t always white or black – there are shades of grey that need to be worked on.
Mentorship is a two-way process; there are answers to exchange and lessons to learn from one another.
Mentorship does not mandate answers, but a lot of hand-holding to navigate through various queries and provide the right cues to convert possibility into reality. It also helps you uncover blind spots and let go of preconceived notions.
While the end result of such a program is calibrated using various factors – for a mentor it remains ingrained as an experience to sit back and relish as a fond memory.
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