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126 AUGUST 2009
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Buying gifts

Carina Lewis

Itís time for an update on whatís been happening with Mary and me. (For those who donít know: Mary is the 16-year-old Iíve started mentoring through Big Brothers Big Sisters.)

My third meeting with Mary followed a similar pattern to the second. We met at the girls' home and went to a local shopping mall for a drink and a wander round the shops. Thereís a general rule with BBBS that you donít buy your mentee gifts too often. This is for obvious reasons. First, they may start to take presents for granted and expect them each time you visit and second, all young people need to learn the lesson that you donít generally get something for nothing. This is a difficult rule to stick to because I have this urge to run out and buy whatever she doesnít have, especially when itís something inexpensive.

The interesting thing about Mary is that sheís learned to be quite manipulative during her years surviving without a family. Inwardly I smile and admire her acting. Sometimes she will look sad and tell me that she canít afford a certain thing and everyone else at school has one. I usually deflect the comment, but this time she told me about the talent show she was taking part in at school. It had been mentioned before and I knew she was going to be a model in a fashion show on the night. (Being Mary she was planning to dress in ďhip hopĒ clothes. Sheís not a great one for dresses and said if she felt uncomfortable because she was wearing a dress she would look uncomfortable, which I thought was very true.) But, she very badly wanted some braids to fix in her hair. After giving it some thought I gave her a small amount of money to buy braids, on the understanding that it was because the talent show was a special occasion and I would see them in her hair at the next visit.

Afterwards I worried about giving in to her request, but when I next saw her with the braids in her hair I was glad I had. She looked good and it must have boosted her self-esteem to be able to go on stage feeling pretty. One of the things that these young people need so badly is a boost to their confidence. When we are growing up most of us have parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles or friends, who tell us we are pretty or clever and have the time and desire to make us feel confident about ourselves. Children in foster care or orphanages get very little attention in that way.

I also talked to Mary about keeping a diary. I told her I was writing one about us meeting and getting to know one another. She thought it was a great idea and I suggested she might like a journal where she could write all her private thoughts and so on. This appealed to her, so at the end of our visit together I took her to buy a small notebook she can use as her journal. Not only will this help her with her writing, but she will start formulating her thoughts and putting them into words. Journal writing is fabulously therapeutic for us all to do, even when we have lots of other people to talk to. Adolescents often keep many of their thoughts hidden, even from their friends, so keeping a diary is a great outlet for writing about fears and anxieties, loves and hates or life events and feelings.

That will be enough gifts for a while. We parted with a warm hug. I certainly felt good and I think Mary did too.


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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