«A mentor is a friend»

April 27, 2016 11:34 am

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How to change an orphan’s life in two hours per week.

A mentorship project for orphans «Knitting Friendships» offers to change a child’s life in two hours per week. The project looks for, trains and accompanies mentors. Volunteers say that today orphans have enough gifts, sweets and even modern gadgets, but when they leave orphanages they unprepared to adult life. The most important thing a child, left without parental love, needs is a long and stable relationship with an adult.

What kind of help orphans need, who is a mentor and how to become it? The participant of the «Knitting Friendships» project has told TUT.BY about the choice that has changed her life.


Julia Pashkevich is a teacher of physical education at school. Even before the project «Knitting Friendships» was created, the girl had been volunteering together with friends. Five years ago a friend invited Julia to hold an event in an orphanage. Having talked to inmates of Children’s Homes, she understood she was not indifferent to orphans’ problems. For several years she had been visiting orphanages and teaching lessons to children together with other team members.

— The more we communicated with children — Julia says — the better we realized that collective communication is not as effective as a personal contact.

In one of her visits Julia made friends with Andrew, an inmate of a Children’s Home, and was keeping in touch with him for a long time.

He approached me while the other boys were learning how to fence and started talking about his life. He told about his family, about his parents who forced him to beg, about how he and his sister ran away from home and were hiding. I was so affected by his story that I started visiting this boy and communicating with him. Unfortunately, I did not know much about the psychology of orphans, and perhaps sometimes behaved incorrectly.  At some point our relations were over.

«They don’t have parents who will prompt where to go, instead they have a lot of chronic diseases».

When a project «Knitting Friendships» has appeared in Belarus Julia became one of its first mentors. She says there was no other way. At that moment she had been communicating for a year with a boy who afterwards became her charge within the project. Yury is a cheerful and sociable boy with a difficult character. He is thirteen, but the tutor says he looks like a boy of nine or ten.

— He is slightly behind in physical development, has many chronic diseases, and often goes to hospitals. These children have such a fate, that you begin to appreciate what you have. I can only imagine how hard it is for them to achieve something in life, to get ahead. They do not have parents who will help them, will prompt where to go, instead they have many chronic diseases that are difficult to drive off. Orphans have low self-esteem, they do not even think they can achieve something, and do not appreciate their lives at all.


Within «Knitting Friendships» mentors’ training is held in three steps. All-comers attend an information meeting where they learn about the project. This information helps them to make the decision whether to become a mentor or not. Next, participants are interviewed by a psychologist and have an obligatory three-day training. Julia says without this training it would be difficult to understand the psychology of orphans, to establish a strong and long-term relationship with a child.

— I thought that everything was quite simple. Then after having completed training at «Knitting Friendships» I understood what was going in orphans’ heads. It is hard to establish relations competently on your own. One may get information support within the project, to address a question to a coordinator or a psychologist. One may be advised on how to solve some problems or conflicts. It is great when there is someone to answer. As far as this is mentoring, it is essential to be a professional in relations, but not as emotional, as the child.

«I want Yura to be able to find something positive in his life».

Julia and Yura see each other two hours a week, mostly on Saturdays. If she cannot come, she warns Yura, and the meeting is rescheduled. It is a must-be requirement for participation in the project — an opportunity to spend at least two hours a week with a child during a year. Constancy gives a sense of stability to the child, satisfies the basic need of safety.

Safety is one of the primary needs of a child. Remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. A child cannot study if they have many fears. It is important to build confidential relations with a child so that he could confide with time. Orphans carry so many bygone and painful things inside them that they need someone to share it with.

During the meeting Julia and Yura talk a lot, share week’s news. The mentor tries to hear her charge out, as he has no one else to share his problems with. Julia comes up with various activities. In winter, for example, they go sledding.

— I want Yura to be able to find something positive in his life. He can always tell what bad things have happened to him during a week. However, I am trying to teach him to look for positive sides.

For some time the mentor had been trying to help the boy with studies, with reading, but it turned to be hard.

— Until you satisfy the basic need of the child in safety, acceptance, studying will be a real struggle for him.

«It is impossible to find someone who will listen to you in an orphanage. One teacher is not enough for all children».

The mentor and the boy had difficult times in their relations. When Julia had to leave, the boy went into hysteric, cried and did not let her go. The coordinators of «Knitting Friendships» told that children were afraid of losing a new friend, mentors are often examined with the help of such actions.

— First I felt sorry for him, indulged him. But it is not right – pity is no help. I want him to become an individuality, form the character. Therefore, I set some requirements. If he starts to be hysterical, I leave and say I will be back when he is ready to talk in level tones.

Julia did her best to be patient and managed to win Yura’s confidence.

— I rejoice when he confides. At the latest meeting I told Yura about my family, showed photos. He told me about his parents who exposed him, about a family that takes him on holidays to Italy. He remembered his childhood, his first fears. We have never had such frank talks before. Everyone needs to be heard. It is impossible to find such person in an orphanage. One teacher is not enough for all children. When a child speaks his mind, he finds it easier to study, to communicate with peers.

The mentor and the boy have been keeping in touch for almost two years. According to the girl, it is important to treat mentoring as friendship, rather than formal relations. When Julia has some problems, she shares them with her charge. First, so that the child could understand that he is not the only one who has problems. Secondly, to get pieces of advice that sometimes surprise the mentor with the profundity of thought.

— Once I had difficulties with work and I was going to leave Minsk. And he said to me: «Julia, do you realize that to leave Minsk means to lose?». I fell to thinking… — the girl smiles.

A mentor, according to Julia, should be faithful, responsible and patient, should love children and should be ready to endure insults.

— A mentor is primarily a friend. It is an adult who is not indifferent to a child, who is ready to listen, to give advice and to support. There is no need to teach, to impose one’s own views, this will only alienate the child. One should not expect gratitude.

Julia says that there are hard times, when she cannot see the result, when it seems that there is not enough time even for her own life. Then it is over. These relations help both to the child and to her.

— You start to understand that you should appreciate what you have, although you got used to it. You learn to make friends, to get to know people and to enjoy little things.

41 children are waiting for their mentors

The director of the organization «Knitting Friendships» Artyom Golovy has brought the idea of mentoring from Kiev. For several years there has been a similar project «One Hope». Artyom became an orphan when he was 13. But he was lucky to meet a woman who supported him in the hour of need. At that time he understood how important a mentor could be in anyone’s life. Today Artem is raising an adopted boy and promotes mentoring for orphans in Minsk.

yulya_poluchaet_blagodarnost_ot_diretora_niti_druzhby_artema_goloviyaFriends from Kiev were happy to share their materials with interested friends from Belarus. On July 31, 2014 the Institution for social adaptation of orphans «Knitting Friendships» has been registered. Today there are 16 pairs of mentors and children within the project. Another 41 children are waiting for their mentors, among which there are 36 boys.

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This post was written by kidsmentororg