As an experienced administrator one tends to believe one has been through several workshops in the past and are therefore beyond what such spaces have to offer. This is never really the case though and this belief of mine underwent serious transformation when I visited the U.S. in 2003 as a participant of International Visitor Leadership Program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. There I realized the importance of being respectful, responsive and open to differing ideas. The same values were reiterated during the I Have a Dream program. The belief that I have all the answers and techniques to solve problems was challenged once again and it was an eye-opening process all over.
I started listening and taking in inputs before responding. The manner in which Sandeep, the facilitator, explained certain ideas enabled me to understand myself better, including my strengths and my shortcomings. I was assigned three mentees and all of them were at different points in their journeys. My role as a mentor was to motivate and encourage them to achieve the personal and societal goals they had set for themselves. One of the challenges I had imagined would be to understand their expectations, and gain confidence and acceptance. In some ways I was lucky, as they were receptive to my suggestions and ideas, and there was no resistance from their side. Also, it wasn’t that they just listened to me and then did not do anything about it. They would accept my suggestions and follow it up with action.
My response to each mentee was based on the problems they faced. At times I invoked personal examples to be able to better relate to their circumstances. One of my mentees was dealing with substance abuse issues and was also extremely apprehensive about facing his family. It was crucial to first understand his problem and to console him before giving any solutions. I used to hear him patiently and instead of waiting for him to call, I would myself initiate a conversation. After counselling, he is now opening up, sharing his problems, has re-enrolled into college and is communicating openly with his teachers there. He intends to run a de-addiction center in Jamshedpur. In case of another mentee, she came across as quiet and shy in the first workshop. However, I noticed a great amount of transformation during the closing workshop, where she seemed more confident and willing to express herself openly and actively participating in community welfare activities. My third mentee was already working towards his societal goals and it was his personal goal that needed guidance. He is now enrolled into an architecture program and is taking his education forward, and still continues to contribute by way of community engagement.
Looking back, I see this workshop as a step towards my own personal transformation as well. It has been particularly helpful in my role as an administrator. Earlier I used to hear people out but stick to the official guidelines. Now, I first try to understand their problem, and respond after thinking about possibilities from their perspective. Regarding my mentees, I feel attached to them and want all of them to do well. I call them regularly, and from the beginning they have responded positively to my suggestions. A program like this should not stop after the closing workshop and there should be a yearly review or some kind of follow-up organized by Pravah or the American Center to understand how mentors and mentees continue to nurture their relationship.
S.S.Akhtar is currently Deputy Registrar, Birla Institute of Technology, Mesra, Ranchi. He participated in the USG-sponsored International Visitor Leadership Program in 2003. He mentored Anupam, Prachi, and Shubham through the USG-sponsored I Have a Dream leadership and mentoring program for International Exchange Alumni.