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122 APRIL 2009
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The decision

Carina Lewis

Iíve decided to become a mentor through an organisation called Big Brothers Big Sisters. To be honest Iím a little bit nervous! I think it will be interesting to do an online diary about my new experience as it develops. Partly because Iíve never done it before and partly because Iím hoping it will encourage some other people to do the same.

It doesnít require a huge amount of effort to be a mentor, but it can entirely change a child's life. Iím committing to meet my ďchildĒ for at least one hour a week for a year. At first this will be in his or her environment, but once trust has built up I'll be able to do daily activities with him or her: Helping with homework, going out for lunch or a milkshake, introducing him or her to hiking, to different kinds of music, to my dog and so on. More than that I want to be someone my ďchildĒ regards as a real friend, because Iím there, I care and Iím interested in them. I think Iím nervous because I want to be a good mentor.

One of the reasons I want to do this is because of the growing problems with crime. Violent crime is strongly associated with young people, gangs, drugs and the availability of guns. What makes young people become involved in this kind of thing? Most young people donít grow up thinking they want to be gang members and steal or possibly kill people. Intrinsically the majority of children want to lead a ďnormalĒ life, but something goes wrong somewhere along the line. Evidence shows that what goes wrong is a fractured family life and/or violence and abuse in the family. The most crucial issues in youth crime and homelessness are a lack of decent family and community life.

Iíve been trying to imagine what it must be like growing up in an environment where nobody has any time for you. Your parents either abuse you or ignore you. Perhaps they drink or take drugs. Teachers at school think youíre either stupid or bad or are too busy to notice. You donít feel you belong anywhere and nobody could care less about you. You must lose hope and any sense of self-esteem. Then along comes a ďgangĒ. They want you to belong. They appear to be your friends. All you have to do is join in with what they do. You know itís wrong, but you have a tremendous need to belong somewhere and to feel that someone cares. Gang members look out for each other. Itís almost like belonging to a family. Before you know it youíre embroiled in a life of crime and violence. Iím by no means excusing it, but I can understand how it happens. So many of us lead comfortable lives with reasonably happy childhoods and a parent or two to encourage and support us. How may I have turned out if Iíd had nothing? No family, no love, no money, no education and therefore no chance of a job, maybe no home. There are hundreds of young kids out there who have to try to live this way and it stands to reason that some of them just canít make it and go off the rails

Mentoring of troubled youth is something thatís been around for many years now. A dedicated and concerned adult mentor is matched with a child aged between 6 and 18. Studies have shown that it works. Children who have been mentored are:

Imagine the difference it makes to children to finally find someone who respects them, who they can look up to, confide in, go to for advice and ultimately someone who believes in them. Not only that, but hopefully that child will then make a difference to other people in his or her life. Itís a kind of ripple effect.

Itís going to be an interesting experience for me as well as my ďchildĒ. So far Iíve had an interview and been checked out for a police record etc. The next step is some training. Then I'll be allocated a child. I have no idea what to expect: How old, what gender, what race or what problems, but I do know that Big Brothers Big Sisters choose mentor and mentee very carefully.

Thatís all for now, as an introduction, but Iím going to write regularly about how this all works and what happens. Wish me luck!


Big Brothers Big Sisters is a youth mentoring non-profit organization. It was founded in the USA in 1904 and became international in 1998. The program matches youth in need with adult volunteers in one to one relationships which have a direct and lasting positive impact on the lives of the young people. For further information go to

The International Child and Youth Care Network

Registered Public Benefit Organisation in the Republic of South Africa (PBO 930015296)
Incorporated as a Not-for-Profit in Canada: Corporation Number 1284643-8

P.O. Box 23199, Claremont 7735, Cape Town, South Africa | P.O. Box 21464, MacDonald Drive, St. John's, NL A1A 5G6, Canada

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