By Ankita Ghosh:
“My mentee, Sharmeen, is a sensitive 13-year-old girl who finds great happiness in spending time with her baby sister and is disturbed for days when her mother falls sick. She’s a thinker, thinks a lot and talks less“, fondly recollects Neha Mathur as she writes to me about the child she’s mentoring. Well it isn’t every day that an early morning correspondence via email plays you up like a little breeze. Neha is a 23-year-old marketing professional who’s gone out of her way to try and bring some positivity, a cup of latte a week and a rare change in the life of a kid, that’s probably not as fortunate as my niece growing up on the PSP.
There are in fact a whole clique of students and young professionals that are looking to help impressionable, albeit corruptible young children born into economically ill-fortuned and therefore socially marginalized households. They remind me of something I read in a catalogue for a leadership seminar about how given an opportunity, you can find a hero right in the next person you meet. In this case the opportunity is being fed by The Green Batti Project, a mentorship initiative by Social Quotient, that’s pairing a kid from a low-income group family with a young adult pursuing a degree or a working professional. You’ll be pleasantly taken by the meticulous and rather comprehensive modalities of this one-of-a-kind program that’s operating in collaboration with the United Nations Organization, Teach for India, Mumbai Smiles and Tata Institute of Social Sciences. Currently running primarily in Mumbai, The Green Batti project takes under its wings kids between the age of 11 and 15, recommended by partner organizations Teach for India and Mumbai Smiles.
Parental consent and psychological fitness of the child is a must to avoid accidental and irreparable damage, and same-gender pairing is also mandated. Prospective mentors are made to go through a systematic training period under Centre for Lifelong Learning, Tata Institute for Social Sciences covering areas like the role of mentor, cultural sensitization, session curriculum, problem-solving & safety procedures. Mentors also meet the mentee’s parents for deeper insight into the conditions in which the child is growing up and for future reference, in case of concerning situations. Through personal conversations, interactive activities and fun games the mentor assists the child in harnessing life skills, social skills and technological exposure, targeting key areas like goal setting, problem solving lateral thinking, self-efficacy, social adjustment and acceptance of responsibility. The mentor-mentee duo meets once every week at a public area like a coffee place. Thorough safety nets are in place to ensure that no harm befalls the child and meetings are regularly monitored to appraise progress.
From available referee reports, I gather that the kids on the receiving end are infinitesimally benefiting from the ‘friend, philosopher, guide’ rhetoric. Midway through Cycle 2 of the project, Neha observes that Sharmeen “has become more positive and happy, and makes a conscious effort not to let the negativity of certain things affect her.” In theory, this program is about the mentor assuming a voluntary leadership role to help a less fortunate mentee to strive to achieve the best of his/her abilities. But essentially it’s about one individual stretching an arm out for another to grab. It’s about micro-people doing macro-things.
Simoni Bhansali, a 25-year-old freelance communication designer says, “Ruby is a 12-year-old girl who lives in the Worli slums and studies at the Worli Sea Face Municipal School. Don’t be fooled or pity her for her humble upbringing, she has an extremely supportive and loving family, and she aspires to be a heart surgeon” about her mentee. Ruby in the meantime has grown “bolder and more confident. She is not afraid to speak up, and now she knows how to order whatever she wants at Cafe Coffee Day”, a moment of beaming pride for Simoni and one that abysmally melts your heart.
For the mentors, the experience has been singularly removed from experiences of routine altruism. From initially being intrigued by the idea of mentoring a child she has “learned how to be more patient and understanding”: Neha’s words. Simoni’s firm faith in the wonders of education had prompted her to take up the mentorship project and she has come out with greater perseverance, reiterating the belief that “with the right guide and assistance, a hero/heroine can come from anywhere.”
What Samyak Chakrabarty, Deep Master and Aakansha Kedia had begun three years ago, with humble aspirations, has grown to become a reason of immense gratitude for several children and their mentors. The Green Batti Project is not only turning a kid’s late Sunday mornings into a day they’re looking forward to every week, but it’s also helping them turn their lives around.
To know more about the program, click here.