„Mentorship: a personal developmental relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person.“
Think about your first mentors in life – your mother and your father! They gave you unconditional love and support, provided you with food and shelter, and encouraged you to bring the best out of yourself. But we all fail sometimes – fail to provide the kind of support which is needed. Are we being selfish? Not at all. We just have to keep in mind that sometimes we lack the necessary knowledge in order to be helpful. This is why in 2010 Susanne Binder and Elif Öztürk started a project in Vienna which can close a gap in our education system: Intercultural Mentoring for Schools (Interkulturelles Mentoring für Schulen). The project team consists of cultural and social anthropologists with additional professional training. The project manager, Susanne Binder, has been working in the field of intercultural education for almost 20 years. Through her work, she was able to see a missing link in our schools – a link to help a disadvantaged group of children.
As the name suggests, Intercultural Mentoring for Schools raises awareness of the interculturality in the classrooms today. In the times of globalization and permeable borders, there is a growing number of families who consider migration as a way of improving their living standards. There are more and more pupils every year sitting at school desks, trying to get good grades at school, while learning a new language and getting used to their new life. This increasing demand of multitasking puts a lot of stress on the children, affecting their self-confidence and overall well-being. Parents, who are also going through a similar process, may not always be able to help their kids along the way. This is where mentors come into play!
Mentors are university students who were once sitting at the same school desks as these children, trying to figure out what to do with their lives. Two things they all have in common – a migration story of their own and a diploma from an Austrian high school. They understand what these pupils are going through and therefore are able to empathize with them easier. They know their needs, their wishes and their fears! With the help of their own experiences, they are able to guide the students in a constructive way, showing them the opportunities they have in life and emphasizing the importance of having good language skills. The regular contact helps the youngsters to see their mentor as a reliable source and a role model, who is able to provide them with the attention and support they need – the necessary support for them to see their own full potential! Similarly, these role models, who are now able to make use of their experiences and wisdom they have gained throughout the years and help those in need, find joy and fulfillment through their mentoring activities.
As every child is unique there is more than one way to do mentoring. In cooperation with teachers, mentors seek for activities in which they can help the mentees. These activities may go through transformations in order to fit the needs of the kids in the best way possible. The activities include, but are not limited to, homework help, after-school learning, German language classes and accompanying the class during school trips. No matter which activities, the strong bond between mentor and protégé makes the difference.
Who else is benefiting from mentoring?
Teachers and parents! Mentors can help teachers understand the circumstances, which their pupils are going through and thus enable them to act accordingly in order to meet the children’s needs. Mentors can also play a key role in the communication between parents and teachers, both as translators and as mediators. They can also function solely as contact persons for the families, which are trying to establish a new life in a different country.
At the moment, 10 elementary and 8 high schools in Vienna and in St. Pölten are involved in the mentoring program. With the growing number of refugee movements, the necessity for projects like „Intercultural Mentoring for Schools“ rises rapidly. We need each other, we need to share our knowledge, and we need to cooperate to make this world a pleasant place for our children. Regardless of our background, this is what we need to strive for. Who is in the end the biggest winner? The whole society!