We provide group mentoring sessions on a Saturday for mentees who are unable to commit to one to one mentoring. The sessions are fun and interesting with topics that encourage discussion in English and the sharing of information about the mentees’ lives in London.
For more information about the group mentoring or how to join please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My plan for the morning was to review a selection of tabloids-the Mail, Sun and Mirror. Every front page had endearing pictures of Prince George arriving for his first day at school with (a few) more serious stories inside. I partly chose to do this because one person had sighed last time “can’t we talk about something cheerful”. Perhaps it was as well that this was a morning she did not turn up.
The group facilitator suggested we devote our time to depression and handed me a well set out information sheet. But, as it happens, I know something about the subject from the time I spent on an NHS mental health trust and from my own (luckily short) experience. I started by saying I know depression is a very difficult and painful thing to talk about. I asked if people would begin by telling us about something they had felt very sad about, but no response.
So I talked about my depression and how talking, counselling, therapy and medicines can all help. I was still facing resistant expressions. Then I saw one woman listening, half smiling and nodding. Thank goodness. I turned to her.
She had good reason to be depressed. In her home country she had been a professional working with children. Here she did not have the language skills or contacts to get into the work that made her who she is. She realised what her problem was and began, despite isolation and loneliness, to concentrate on improving her English and finding other courses. She is slowly coming out of her depression and beginning to talk about it.
Her neighbour on the sofa was still dumb with misery. I asked her, gently how she felt when she got up in the morning, what she did, who she talked to. Her story is a classic of loneliness and difficulty in communicating in a new country (some of her answers had to be translated and she repeated them in halting English). Yes, there is a doctor; there is a possibility of counselling in future, she does talk to a social worker in her community. But meanwhile there is heavy hopelessness.
The last member of the group to respond fully was a businesswoman, wife and mother. She had suffered a traumatic accident when she was young in which friends had been killed. But with the support of her parents the experience had been channelled into a determination to succeed – and she has – benefitting from education, a profession that is recognised internationally and easy mastery of English.
We did not have time to elicit everyone’s story. But I sense that, although each would be painfully individual, there would be common threads of isolation, lack of communication, and feelings of powerlessness.
Afterwards I worried. I am not a psychotherapist. But I learn that the group wants to continue with our discussion next time. So much for the Mail, Mirror and Sun and winsome photos of little princes!
A United Kingdom
At the end of my last session I asked what everyone would like to talk about next time. A long silence . The someone said “ Something that makes life seem happier” A tall order.
Sessions seems to go better if they start with me talking so that people can take up a subject and ask questions or comment and add personal stories. A couple of days before our meeting my eye was caught by features in the papers about Seretze Khama and Ruth Williams. We visited Botswana last year and the history rang a bell .
What could be more life enhancing than an unlikely love story across an enormous cultural divide that at first aroused fury and hatred but then ended well. The son of an African chief, studying law, met a middle class English girl at a dance in London. They conducted a chaste courtship for a year. He proposed. She accepted. But it was 1940’s England. They were insulted when they walked together in the streets. She lost her job at Lloyds. Her father threw her out of the family home. No priest in England would marry the couple so they made do with a civil ceremony.
But this was not just a domestic drama. The British government, the South African government and Seretze’s uncle, ruling as regent in what was then Bechuanaland, all became involved. South Africa did not want a mixed race marriage celebrated next door as it had just introduced apartheid. Seretze’s uncle liked being ruler and Labour, and then Tory ministers caved in because they needed South African gold and uranium. The newly married couple went back to Bechuanaland; then Seretze was exiled by the British from his own country.
Eventually the people of Bechuanaland petitioned the Queen for the return of their hereditary ruler. He went back and renounced the chieftainship but started his own political party. That party negotiated independence and Botswana was born and he became its first president. The couple had four children .A good tale.
The group were interested in the old colour bar and thought it could never happen now. We talked about marrying outside your own community. Religion seemed to be a more important factor for most than ethnicity. Most knew someone who had married out. There was tolerance even by those who would never have married out their community themselves.
Everyone appeared to have enjoyed the story and looking at the photographs of the main players including one of the Khamas with the Queen and Princess Anne. Seretze was knighted by Queen Elizabeth.
Then I played my trump card. Liked the story? Why not see the film due to be released next week. Reaction was subdued. Everyone said they never went to the cinema. “My daughter
takes the children but it is not something we do.” I was astonished. I said they would enjoy it. It is easy to go to the cinema. You don’t have to plan it. Everyone has a cinema within easy distance. And my usual nag. It would be a good way of learning some more English. The group’s convenor came to the rescue. She would organise an outing. I was delighted.
But that is not the punch line. Imagine my dismay. The reviews have been terrible. But I am still going to see the film and I hope my mentee friends go too.
Our group mentor Anne has written about her experiences of running the group mentoring sessions:
“What would be a useful way for a group of refugee and migrant women, aged from early 20’s to over 60 to spend a Saturday morning with a retired, British born, journalist/ television executive? I was not sure and nor were they. So we are working it out together.
I began the first session by asking them how they would get help from friends and professionals if they found they had a lump on their breast or were diagnosed with breast cancer. No-one wanted to talk about it. What would they say on the phone to their closest friend? What would they ask the doctor? Shy shuffles were the response. So I said if you won’t talk I will bore you with my experience. And I did. That opened, not the floodgates, but a conversation.
In the second session we talked about Brexit and what it meant for them and migrants generally. Some fears, but more often stories about getting residence and nationality here. In our latest session we talked about difficulties they had faced and what most puzzled them about British society. Housing, getting from hostels to flats, appears a big problem. And here we managed some role playing. Members of the group told friends about the problems of four children in one room with a shared kitchen and lavatory, they sent each other to the CAB; one was a council official talking about the length of the waiting list. And on what was most puzzling about Britain? One of the older ladies said, in her own language, it was it was gay and lesbian culture and British acceptance of it. Was there a parallel between her feelings and what some British feel about the hijab? I am not sure we made the connection.
Next time I hope the women will bring individual stories about getting a job, what happens at the school gate or something funny. And that they will be able to say we want to know more about this or that issue.
They are a disparate group ranging from a pharmacy owner, through young social workers to those who speak no English and seldom move outside their own national group. But they are all studying English. At the moment I think practicing speaking and thinking in English about their lives in a small group is probably helping to build their confidence. I hope so. But can I answer the question I started with? Not yet. But I think we are getting there.
Everyone is friendly and hospitable. Mid-morning breakfast is great -delicious croissant and even better flatbread. This may not be conventional mentoring with measurable outcomes but as an add – on I think it makes sense.”