Harriet Gridley shares her experience as a Routes mentor.
Harriet is Head of UK Business Development for the Norwegian startup, No Isolation.
My mentee and I met for the first time in October 2018. We have laughed about it since, but we had both worried about how to greet each other for the first time. Becky made this easy for me - we settled on a big hug, which set the tone for our relationship. We’re over half way through the 10 week programme now, and I’d like to share how transformational it has been, for us both.
Routes is a social enterprise dedicated to helping female asylum seekers and refugees to advance within a stifling migration system. The mentorship arm of the organisation pairs up women, who then meet weekly, to identify and work towards a series of goals, big or small, professional or well-being related. Simultaneously, mentees attend theatre workshops to build confidence and practice english skills, and mentors are taught about the complexities of the asylum process in the UK, and are trained in techniques for effective and compassionate mentorship.
Becky is a warm hearted and driven person. She loves to sing, and has a dream to work with children. Due to situations out of her control, she is also an asylum seeker, and that’s put her life on hold. She hopes to be granted refugee status soon, which would at least mean she’d have the legal right to work. But in the meantime, she lives off £5 a day, and is restricted in everything she does. For her it can be a battle to wake up each morning, and find hope or meaning for the day ahead.
We meet each week in a cafe, to work towards tangible goals that improve her wellbeing, and importantly to demonstrate progression in her life, when often her situation can feel stagnant and infinite. Together we have identified three areas to focus on:
The fun stuff
We’ve had some great successes so far, and I think that is largely down to Becky’s positive attitude of trying anything and everything, despite nerves or low moods.
A member of my work space was kind enough to donate a laptop, which Becky now uses to follow online courses to boost her English and Maths, and delve into other areas of interest. Becky has also been doing regular work experience with The Trampery, which has helped with self-confidence and meant she could add some references on her CV. Lastly, Becky has joined a choir, attended a jazz gig and has been to the cinema, all at the expense of kind folk who were happy to provide her these experiences for free.
Despite these positives, the mentoring process has sometimes been frustrating. My mentee’s struggles are caused by a complex and seemingly unchangeable system. Sometimes it can feel like what Becky and I are working on only counts for 2% of what really matters, that I can’t help her with the 98% that really matters, which is her asylum case, acquiring the rights to work and making a life here in the UK.
Nevertheless, over the past six weeks, I have been happily surprised by people's willingness to help. And I have been lucky to witness the gratitude with which these acts of kindness are received. My weekly meetings with Becky have become the highlight of my week.
By Harriet Gridley