Ahmed and Teresa have known each other for barely over three months, but no one would tell. They are one of the mentor couples of the Atenea project, which is part of the international project Road to Adulthood. During this time, they have already visited La Pedrera, the Miró Foundation, they have gone to public libraries, museums and cultural centres and they have walked around the Eixample and Gràcia neighbourhoods. “In the short time that we have known each other, what has grown between us is trust. At the beginning it was like an avalanche of questions, but now it’s as if we’ve known each other for years”, explains Teresa.
She wanted to be a mentor because “accompanying people motivates me and, above all, young people in their growth towards adulthood. I think that newcomers, like Ahmed, lack a social environment. We have had a family and an accompaniment from people that we have met as we grew up, but in their case, they are quite alone. When they arrive, they are completely alone and then move from flat to flat making short-lived contacts that they soon lose after. And they also lack the cultural, social, and religious references of the country. All the elements that are usual to us are different to them. Accompanying him offers him the chance to learn everything in a natural way and allows us to enjoy leisure and have a good time together.”
A time well shared with Ahmed, who arrived here from Guinea Conakry, his country of origin, two years ago aged 17, and is now studying an intermediate cycle in Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Systems. A year ago, he “wasn’t focused” and a friend told him about Punt de Referència. “He told me that they helped him with his studies and taught him things he didn’t know”, he recalls. And seeing how the project had improved his friend’s life, he didn’t hesitate and asked for a mentor. And that’s how he met Teresa. “She is a very important person for me. She helps me to have good ideas, gives me advice with my studies and with life in general. It’s not that she helps me do my homework, but she does give me tips to pass the courses”, says Ahmed. He says he wants to tell his story to encourage any young person who needs it to be part of a mentoring project. For him, he says, having a mentor has changed his life: “Now I have clearer idea of what to do and what not to do.”
A well-drawn triangle
It is also clear to Punt de Referència, that “for mentoring to work, it must be a triangle between the mentor, the young person and the educational team”, explains Laura Terradas, Mentoring Coordinator at Punt of Referència. “As the months go by, the technical team withdraws gradually so that the relationship builds its autonomy, but it always requires support so that this relationship may be of growth and mutual enrichment, a matter that, sometimes, is not usual. And, since it starts from a very different structural framework, if we don’t set these limits, the relationship could be tinged and it wouldn’t become emancipatory, but just the opposite”.
What is indisputable is that Punt de Referència was born with mentorship. For 25 years with Referents project. “We’ve been calling it mentoring since 2010 – explains Laura Terradas – when we saw that other European initiatives were calling it like that. We, who are the pioneer organization in Catalonia in mentoring, until then we called it voluntary accompaniment or effective link”. Later, together with three other entities, the Social Mentoring Coordinator was born. “Now it seems that mentoring is very new, but it has been built little by little”, says Laura, who claims the importance of the social network: “it is as essential as work, housing, training… But since it is invisible, it’s not a title nor money at the end of the month, sometimes we do not pay enough attention to it. But it is just as vital, both to promote opportunities and the “Pygmalion effect”. Because, she explains, “when someone looks at you, recognizes you, takes an interest in you, talks to you… it allows you to face day-to-day challenges and increase your self-confidence. In Punt we say that having someone to count on means that someone cares for you”.
Ahmed has Teresa. And she explains that there are feelings that unite them: “our father died when we were both 16 years old. These are deep life events and shared experiences.”
The transformative capacity of mentoring
Does it make sense for mentoring to continue to expand? According to Laura Terradas, “in a utopian world, mentoring projects would eventually run out. It would mean that everyone has a network and loneliness does not exist. This is very far from reality. What is true is that mentoring is a very powerful methodology, and it makes sense that it continues to grow.” For her part, Teresa emphasizes that “when you collaborate as a volunteer, you really appreciate the great professionalism of Punt de Referència. There is no improvisation. You will be positively surprised, both at the time of selection, the training, and the support of the whole team. Everything is thought out and established.”
Laura Terradas, mentoring coordinator, stresses that “for us, each relationship is unique. It is important. We spend time on it, let it simmer. There is a methodological framework, but the application of this framework is unique. And this creates the magic that each person has the possibility to make its journey according to their starting point and knowing where they want to go”.
The Atenea project in which Ahmed and Teresa participate has a duration of 9 months. “If after this time, we want to continue seeing each other, it will be our decision”, explains Ahmed and assures that “I would like to because I like good people like Teresa. I need good people in my life who don’t buy me or give me anything, just to be by my side accompanying me. Spending time together, talking and advising me. I need people like her”.