I wanted to write about something a little different this week, something that I probably never would have engaged with if I hadn’t become involved with SAYes. I’m sure other mentors are also processing this aspect of their experience and I know it will certainly differ from person to person, but I think it’s important to acknowledge.
Before I became a mentor with SAYes, I had never been to a group home. I’d read books and heard stories and seen news reports, and in my mind, I had a picture of what the homes for youth from South Africa and other African countries might look like and an idea of who the people are who run them. I must note that this particular home is quite well resourced, structured and supported and that not all of the homes SAYes works with are as fortunate. Still, it’s been such an interesting experience to visit one every week.
Here are a few things I see when I visit my mentee:
1) There’s love: In the home that I visit, I see a family‑like love between the grownups and the youth. It’s one that I’m sure has developed over time, but it’s there and it’s consistent.
2) There’s youth‑to‑youth mentorship: Maybe because my mentee is one of the older youth in the home I see it more, but it’s amazing how the other children look up to her for guidance and support. They teach each other so much, and there’s an unspoken comradery; I know that they have one another’s back.
3) There’s respect: The home has a youth council that’s elected and those who sit on it are the acting voice of the rest of the young people at the home. They bring matters up that they want addressed, they defend their rights and they vote on issues. The youth and adults aren’t all from the same background and the fact that they can respect each other in this way is so important.
4) It’s hard work: I see the adults who are employed there – the on‑site social worker, the managers, the child and youth care workers, the cleaner – and notice how much they must learn to hold. They are relied upon not just as staff, but as confidants, as role models, as friends, as parents and as disciplinarians. They fill all the gaps that are needed. Imagine what that takes. I commend them.
I feel so welcomed at this home by the staff who run it and by the youth who call it theirs. Last Friday, I walked in just after most of the youth had returned from school. It was a sunny day and there was a group in the courtyard just chatting, climbing trees, dancing and playing. There was a lovely energy and my mentee and I started playing basketball with one of the younger kids. It was so special to see the role she plays in that space and I know it’s important that she’s experiencing the sort of admiration and respect that she gets there.
Thanks for reading,