After the orientation, I had understood the large scale aspects of the program. While extremely rare, there had been situations in which mentees had chosen to opt out of the program. The major contributing factor to this disheartening event was that the mentees’ parents had experienced a change of heart. Sigh. I already had a dozen scenarios playing in my head.
What will she be like? What if she’s shy? Will she find me too chirpy? How should I dress? What if she thinks I am boring? Will she have predetermined expectations? Or will she be open to adventure? Will she speak her mind? Or will it take me 6 months to find out her favourite colour? What if her parents don’t like me? Oh god, what if they judge my ink and decide I’m unfit to be around their child? Will they find me patronising with all my enthusiasm and ideas?
For the first time in my life, my babysitting experience was falling short. I was nervous to the point of rehearsing my introduction in front of the mirror. Dammit. I’d never been this apprehensive even before a job interview. I had worked with a School on Wheels program in Deloitte. Despite the evident language barrier (my limited Telugu vocabulary), I had done just fine. I remembered the older kids speaking near fluent English and the younger ones expressing unhindered enthusiasm. Fear will build walls only if you let it – I reminded myself. I decided to make her a ‘excited to meet you’ card and left the name blank. I still didn’t know who this young girl was. I showed up at the school with my fingers crossed.
In the sessions, we stick name tags on our shirts / wrists to make introductions easier. Our names are coupled with symbols to assist grouping for activities. I eyed the ice-cream cone next to my name and wondered which one of the girls already present in the classroom was my mentee. I didn’t get long to pause. “Didi!” a voice cried out from the first few benches. “What’s your name?” I approached the desk and introduced myself, my fears disappearing with every successive smile that greeted me. What followed was a string of questions ranging from what are your hobbies? to do you like quilling? I laughed as relief washed over me. The chatterbox was Lohita. But the girl that caught my eye was the one sitting next to her. She couldn’t stop smiling. Her voice was soft, but her diction was perfect. Her eyes were expressive and full of shine. I couldn’t help wishing that I be paired with her. “Didi,” Lohita interrupted my wishful thinking. “I think you are with Maithli.” I asked her to explain her conclusion. “Because you both have ice-cream cones on your sticker”, she answered simply. I turned to look at Maithli and if it was even possible, her smile was now more endearing 🙂
As we navigated through the one-on-one and group activities, she asked me about my education, where I lived, the number of people in my family, my love for art, the books I had read and liked so far, and if I had any secrets! I sent a prayer to the heavens. This girl was my perfect mentee match ❤ She decided that we should converse in English despite the fact that we both speak Marathi. I was glad to see that she wasn’t averse to stepping out of her comfort zone. But if you think the questions stopped there, you are wrong. She asked me to explain my motivation for joining the program and my thought process preceding the decision to make the final commitment. It was nothing short of a formal interview. I threw the question back at her and I was floored by her response. Didi, I read that there was a mentee who was shy. But after spending time with her didi, she became confident. I asked her where she had found this information. “On the MMI website”, pat came the reply. This 11 year old had done her background research!
I had waved her au revoir for the 6th time before she left, promising to call me in the following week. A short conversation with my coordinator told me that this resourceful child had interviewed even the program staff! My heart brimming with enthusiasm and promise, I began to count the days until our next session.
I spoke to Maithli yesterday and found out that she has been busy preparing for her upcoming quarterly school exam. She said she was a bit bummed that our last session had to be rescheduled because of the rain and was looking forward to meeting me on Sunday. I have a friendship day surprise planned for her and I hope she likes it!