Helping girls from rural Karnataka find their voice

“I don’t know if she’s like a friend, a parent or a guide. I think she’s more than God to me,” says Nayana (name changed), 19, who feels she can’t thank her mentor enough for giving her life a new dir
Clockwise from top left: Mentors Nandita Bhandarkar, Suma Y V and Sangitha Krishnamurthy; founder of Mentor Together Arundhuti Gupta (third from right) with her team
Clockwise from top left: Mentors Nandita Bhandarkar, Suma Y V and Sangitha Krishnamurthy; founder of Mentor Together Arundhuti Gupta (third from right) with her team

BENGALURU: “I don’t know if she’s like a friend, a parent or a guide. I think she’s more than God to me,” says Nayana (name changed), 19, who feels she can’t thank her mentor enough for giving her life a new direction. Just like her, a few other girls from Karnataka’s rural areas have been helped by Mentor Together to guide them academically and emotionally.

Mentor Together (MT) was started in 2009 by Arundhuti Gupta. MT provides a one-on-one mentoring relationship for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to break the inequality of opportunity. One of their recent programs — the mobile/web-based mentoring for girls in rural areas — has seen teenage girls excel in their own ways.

Sushma Nagaraj, a coordinator at the organisation, says that the mobile program is particularly for girls. So, they make sure the mentors are women too.Sangitha Krishnamurthy, a counsellor and Nayana’s mentor, started mentoring her in October 2017. She had developed a special bond with Nayana and loved guiding her. “She’s not my daughter but our bond was like that of a parent and a child. She always wanted to learn so much and that really motivated me to guide her more,” she adds.

Nayana says that she was a very sensitive person earlier and wasn’t really close to her parents. “Sangitha akka taught me how to deal with my emotions and now I share my thoughts with my parents too. Owing to our conservative background, I had to discontinue my education, but akka helped me get back to studies. She listed colleges and guided me through the exact courses I could pursue. I am indebted to her,” adds Nayana, who hails from a village in Hale Budanur, Mandya.

Arundhuti Gupta believes that education alone isn’t enough to help young people in developing the skills and mindsets they need to fully overcome their conditions. “Providing them life skills that can broaden horizons, build identity and connect to opportunities, is also necessary,” she says.

An interest to facilitate a mentoring relationship and the ability to commit to at least one year of mentorship with about 40 hours of mentoring over the period, are the attributes that MT looks for in mentors. “All aspiring mentors have to submit a written application of their background and intent to the mentor, appear for a phone interview with a team member, and then attend a six-eight hours mentor training,” Arundhuti explains.

Suma Y V, a freelancer, faced a different challenge when she started mentoring Preethi (name changed), a class 10 student who is from a village in Hale Budanur, in Mandya. “Mentoring through phone isn’t an easy task, especially when you are dealing with a teenager’s emotions,” she says. Her mentee was reserved by nature and would hesitate to talk to her teachers and neighbours too. “Preethi would shiver while talking to her teachers; she was that afraid of them! I remember, one of her teachers had asked Preethi to call her mother to school. She was so scared that she wanted to commit suicide, anticipating the consequences. I calmed her down and told her that she’s just her teacher, and that she shouldn’t be afraid of them,” Suma adds.

After months of counselling, Preethi has now come out of her shell and has become much more expressive, says her mentor.Seventeen-year-old Shazia (name changed) feels she has found an outlet in her mentor to express herself. She says, “My life has changed for the better. It’s good to have someone to talk to about things that bother your mental peace.”

Her mentor, Nandita Bhandarkar, who works as an HR at a Mangaluru college, says Shazia is a bright student but had to drop out of school. “All her friends stopped going to the school so the parents didn’t find it safe to send her alone,” the mentor says.Nandita adds that her mentee, who’s from a village near Somnathpura in Mysuru, wants to be a teacher. “I tried convincing the parents to continue her schooling but they didn’t give in. So, I suggested other ways to continue her education,” she says. Shazia, with the help of her mentor, has now planned to apply in Open universities. She has also started giving tuitions. “I haven’t met her and yet she trusts me so much. The whole experience has been quite overwhelming for me,” Nandita adds.

Mentor Together plans to grow their mobile mentoring program in 2018. “We’re also going to experiment with mentors who receive a small stipend to support more than one mentee,” informs Arundhuti.

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