As I walked through the streets of an unknown town, music of drums caught my attention and that’s when I saw her- balancing pots on head, a stick in hand, dancing on a string of rope. People around had a smile on their face and a sense of amusement in their eyes. Yes, she had that skill of making people happy and as the show got over, out came a tiny soul (probably her brother) to collect reward for such a grand performance. I looked to my right and my friend who was standing by my side, watching the show had suddenly left. She was heartbroken and upset at the plight of the little girl who had to work to earn a living and was missing out on her studies. I argued with her that the girl was probably enjoying what she was doing and looked happy and healthy. Maybe she was attending school by the day. How am I supposed to know if we didn’t enquire? For a moment, I felt guilty for having watched the show as if I am encouraging child labour, but it got me thinking of innumerable kids out there being superman/superwoman, working by the day & studying by night.
How quick are we to reach conclusion and show sympathy and disagreement to the things happening around us, but what do we do to change it? Just turning a blind eye towards a situation would not necessarily change it. If you actually look at it, you would realize that most of the times we are blinded by our biases, that’s what volunteering with ‘Mentor Me India’ has taught me.
I still remember the day I was going to meet my mentee for the first time. The classroom was filled with air of tension and excitement. The mentors and mentee sat in group, speculating about possible pairings. I sat in the corner looking at the kids, worried, thinking if I had done the right thing. If I was ready for this responsibility but there wasn’t a possibility of stepping back now.
We were all given a batch and mentor-mentee with same batch were paired together. I searched through the group of kids before me, trying to figure out who my mentee was when she tugged at my kurta, indicating me that we had the same batch. I looked at her and she blushed. I think she was as anxious as I was (or maybe I was more). She told me her name was Tejal and we spent the next hour knowing about our families, our likes and dislikes. She told me that she loves to paint, study and aspires to be a teacher.
During our training sessions with MMI, we were told that we are not their teachers, not their parents, not a financial support and not many other things. That brings me to the question of who I am to this little angel. The answer is very simple and hence, difficult to explain. I am simply her role model.
Remember how as kids we looked up to our mom and said we wanted to be a good cook, we would drape a sari and pretend to be her or look up to our dad and say we want to be a doctor or an engineer or banker. That’s the role I am playing. I should inspire her to be better in every walk of life. Yes, simple as it may seem, it is the most difficult part because you are always tempted to cross that line and help her out with everything you have.
I had a simple plan in mind. Post our first meet, I met her almost every weekend so that I understand her well and develop a deep bond with her.
So, the first one-on-one meeting was planned at her house. I expected her to open up in the comfort of her house and also took this as an opportunity to meet her parents so that they trust me well and I was right. Unlike to my contrary belief or rather my bias (I am using bias because that’s what we were taught in training conducted by MMI) her house was spic and span, well-furnished and surprisingly cute. We spent four hours together reading stories, drawing, talking to her mom and understanding her lifestyle, status of studies.
As months passed, our bond became deeper and she became more comfortable sharing her stories and secrets with me. It was a “mission accomplished” feeling for me.
But that was not my goal. Fun times were over. I mean “Only fun” times were over. It was time for “Goal” setting.
We brain stormed on it together. It had to be simple, achievable and quantifiable so here is what we decided:
While Tejal would be working on her Marathi writing skills, I decided that I would start writing my blog and fulfill my dream of traveling.
With help from our ever enthusiastic event coordinator Dharamraj I met with her teachers, who helped me understand her study pattern better and also gave a few innovative methods of teaching her Marathi. It was fascinating to know how the school had developed a special curriculum to help kids with their shortcomings. The teachers were doing a commendable job of putting in extra efforts to help the kids with extra classes and introducing some fun factor in studies.
Tejal is a sincere kid. True to her word, she loves to study. All she needed was a little guidance and a bit of personal attention and encouragement.
It’s been over a year now and both of us have accomplished our goal and have set new ones. We celebrated our victory by making this beautiful piece of art in hobby ideas.
Although I started my journey as a mentor, thinking that I would be helping a child, it has in turn helped me do things I never thought were possible. Tejal is constantly looking up to me for inspiration and observing me, taking a note of everything I do and every “Hi, Hello and thank you” I say. It makes me feel more responsible and accountable and I try to be a better person every day.
So next time when you look at the kid begging at the street or selling tea or entertaining the crowd, do not turn a blind eye on him. You cannot escape a situation by closing your eyes. Try helping him out and if you cannot help them out at least be kind. Remember it is not a life they chose, it is a life they have got and they are choosing to be better by making a living for themselves.