04 Feb Life Through A Different Lens
Being a mentor means being in touch with realities different than one’s own, since you encounter humans whose experience of life is quite different than yours. Being a mentor does not mean that you understand what your mentee is going through; it is truly difficult to understand what another person is going through or feeling if you have never been in a similar situation or faced with certain difficult choices. And even if you have, we are all individuals who react and respond in different ways. What you do as a mentor is empathise and support your mentee as best you can, in an emotional and practical manner. So for me being a mentor means being open to different ways of life and most especially having a kind and non-judgemental attitude about this different way of being and doing. In short? Being human.
It is often written that mentors have ‘greater knowledge or experience’ than their mentee. However, I dare say this is not always the case, and it is certainly not the case with Emma and myself. Emma has a lot of knowledge and experience which is different than mine. And ‘different’ doesn’t mean it is less valuable. In fact, I have learnt so much from Emma, and this relationship is a continuous opportunity for personal growth for me. Our mentoring relationship started just two months ago but Emma is such a genuine person that I immediately felt a deep connection with her. Our conversations go on for hours, and I barely notice! On one occasion Emma shared with me her passion for sketching and drawing, showing me her art over a zoom call. Wow, what talent, I was truly speechless! Her attention to detail is incredible. And I am more than sure that she has so many more talents that I still have to discover!
Emma is a beautiful human being who is determined to make a good life for herself and her child. She is a very dedicated mother who always puts the needs of her child first, and who constantly needs to be reminded that she also needs to care for herself. Struggling to survive is so utterly exhausting, and when you are faced with a decision on whether to put food on the table or buy essential medicine because you can’t afford both, it is an impossible situation to be in. What would you honestly do if this was you? I admit I have never been in such a situation, and I do not know what I would do if I were faced with such choices on a daily basis, and not having anyone to rely on. Emma is a hardworking woman who has been in employment all her life, but due to the difficult circumstances she has found herself in, it is extremely hard for her to find a good and stable job that will give her the flexibility to care for her child. What will happen when her child cannot attend school (once, twice, more times) and she has no one to rely on? As some of you know all too well, this is like being caught between a rock and a hard place. Notwithstanding this, Emma cannot wait for that day to come, the day she will start working and finally be once more financially independent. And this is why temporarily, she has to rely on social assistance which she absolutely hates, since she yearns to be self-sufficient, like she always was. And she is not one to waste any time either; she has a never-ending curiosity and loves to learn, especially new languages, and has attended several courses to increase her chances of finding a decent job. Emma is determined to do whatever it takes to reach her goals.
With this short piece, I want to challenge the saying that ‘hard work always pays off’. I really believe this is a myth and, most crucially, a dangerous narrative. There are so many factors in life that affect one’s chances of ‘success’ (whatever that means for that individual) and some individuals are faced by what professionals in the social field refer to as ‘constellations of disadvantage’. In brief this means that an interplay of multiple factors, such as mental health issues, lack of social support, disability issues, traumatic events, etc. results in ‘disadvantage’. As we are all very aware of, life is not a level-playing field. Many individuals work extremely hard day in day out just to survive but the odds are stacked against them for so many reasons. Yes you do need to make an effort to help yourself, no doubt about that, but unless you find the right kind as well as the right level of support, it will be extremely tough to improve your quality of life. Some people’s circumstances are just very difficult, and not everyone has safety nets in life, like the support of one’s family and friends, which for some of us is such a taken for granted assumption that we don’t even give this a second thought. It is very easy – and unfair – to judge from a privileged position. And sometimes we are not even aware that we are doing so, myself included! I wish we would all make more of an effort to understand, instead of judging. Making blanket statements about certain ‘groups of people’ whom we give different labels to is just useless, and plain hurtful. Some empathy truly goes a long way.
I am grateful that through the Elle-Evate project, the Women for Women Foundation brought me and Emma together. Emma’s story has been marked by loss, trauma and grief, but her strength and resilience is astounding. Above all she is so kind-hearted and seeks to give to others the kindness she wished she experienced in life.
I know she will make it, because she is amazing and has a whole community of strong women behind her!
Written by C.G.
If you would like to support Emma with the costs of her medicines, which are expensive and currently not available through the POYC scheme, you can do so by making a donation below and write ‘For Emma’.