I first met Desmaree in 2013 when I was asked to give her extra maths lessons in the afternoons after college every week. She was one of my most disappointing students, often missing the session without notice, half completing her work and even, on a few occasions, blatantly cheating by copying out the answers at the back of the book. And yet, I enjoyed her. In fact, long before she became my official mentee at LifeXchange, I saw her as my protégé.
It was a challenge to go about building a relationship with her. As a tutor, I felt that there was a certain role to play in her life. And as a member of the LifeXchange team, I was responsible for helping with the bursary that she’d received for college and checking whether she was actually going to college every day so that she could receive the next bursary instalment. It was so difficult to hear from the college about how poorly she was performing, and then have her lie to my face about attending all her lessons and passing her assignments etc. Not a great foundation of trust.
Things became so much easier when I decided to officially ask her if she would be interested in having me as a mentor. She excitedly said yes! And suddenly my role changed from supervisor/tutor/policewoman to friend/guide/encourager. It didn’t matter about her performance, it mattered whether I knew what was going on with her and in her life (which ultimately was affecting her performance!).
It didn’t come as much of a surprise that Des dropped out of college before the end of her first year. She’d fallen pregnant. It was another disappointment and a moment of helplessness for me. I saw this beautiful, cheeky, talented young girl about to become a mother before her 21st birthday without any chance of decent employment because she’d dropped out of school and college before Grade 10. Her life was now thrown away.
Or was it? The reality was that she’d never really been ‘in college’ before that anyway. So, maybe her life had been thrown away way before this moment?! I got stuck in.
Fast forward four years and it’s now 2017 and Des has re-enrolled in college, is working part-time to support herself, and is committed like never before to pass her three year course in Tourism. It hasn’t been an easy journey to get here, we’ve gone through the application process every year so far, but something has kept Des from finishing every time. The step out of her comfort zone was just too big for her, until now. And as her mentor, it’s been one of the most frustrating things to see her give up, for no real reason, again and again. But, I hold to the belief that a mentor just stays in their mentee’s corner. And now, in round 5, we are finally moving somewhere!
And that somewhere is going to be big. Des is going to finish college, not just by scraping through, but performing at her best. And she’s going to leave with a whole bunch of new friends. And she’s going to keep her job and support her son for these three years, no matter how tough or how tired she gets. She’s going to leave and walk in to the first job of her career with confidence. How do I know this? Because I see resilience in her. I see the fact that she is learning that whatever knocks her down, or comes against her, she will be able to get back up again and pursue her dreams. We can run around and try to fix everything for our mentees, but at the end of the day, what have they learned? Resilience is the true name of the game.
by Tamsin Oosthuizen