What mentoring has taught me about making a difference

Becoming a mentor for a refugee in London involves the desire to make a positive difference to their life.

According to the Collins dictionary, “a person's mentor is someone who gives them help and advice over a period of time”. “Help” can mean sharing what life knowledge one has acquired, especially in a specific cultural context. Speaking English, working in the UK, looking for a job in London, socialising with English people - these are some of the skills that our volunteers can share with their mentees.  

“Advice” however, is a tricky one. Again according to the dictionary, “if you give someone advice, you tell them what you think they should do in a particular situation”.  

Is this what mentoring is about?  For me, the short answer is no. 

TimeBank has partnered with Renaisi to deliver the RISE (Refugees into Sustainable Employment) project to support refugees in North and East London into sustainable, rewarding employment. Our role is to recruit and train volunteers as mentors to support refugees over a period of six months. 

This timeframe is important because it reminds us that making a difference to someone’s life involves keeping in mind that the aim, ultimately, is for them to walk their own path, to gain the skills to move forward on their own. Decision making skills are often top of the list.  

Mentoring is not “doing for” the other person, even when that seems like the easiest or fastest option. It challenges our desire for immediate problem-solving - It is “being” much more often than it is “doing”. It is presence rather than action, being with rather than doing for, sitting with, holding space and moving through. 

In my experience, this is the great beauty and challenge of mentoring, in all its modesty and subtlety. It is what it has taught me about making a difference.