Transformation and Friendships
All of the children we work with have at least 5 ‘risk factors,’ that is why we work with them and their families. Therefore, all of the children we work with come from challenging and difficult family lives. Of course, there are some who have more challenging lives than others, or who have suffered under much more traumatic circumstances.
José is one of those children. His past and his current living situation is extremely difficult, and he has clearly suffered trauma in his shot life. There are things about his life that I won’t share here but trust me when I say his displays of challenging behaviour are understandable. Having come to know him over the past 2 years I have seen his vulnerable side as well as all his walls and barriers.
José does not always interact well with others, both adults and children, he finds it particularly hard to be in big groups and to concentrate. Yesterday I got to witness something truly remarkable and beautiful. José was having his last mentoring session with Joseph, a close friend and colleague. Joseph is about to go back to the UK for 6-8 weeks and so José was allowed a treat and to choose a friend to go with him. He chose a boy called Melvin, who he plays well with. I went with them as extra support. Let me tell you about our time together and you will see why yesterday was so special.
Joseph and I arrived at our mentoring centre to find two very excited boys, ready for their outing. We first had to get their permission forms from their guardians, so we went with them to their homes. When they had their forms signed, we walked back to the centre to set off on our trip. As we walked, they both hugged and thanked me and Melvin looked up at me and said, “te quiero mucho” – “I love you a lot.” My heart melted, it was clear how excited and how special this was for them. We piled into Joseph’s car and off we went up to a place called Cayala, which is basically a big open air commercial centre, complete with fun places to do activities and games.
Now for the laser quest, we arrived at the games centre and geared up for a few games of competitive laser quest. Only for these children do I engage in such activities. I am not a huge fan of running around in the dark in an intensive game of tag, but seeing their excitement and hearing them laugh certainly made it worth it. Dare I say I even enjoyed it. It was great to see them work together to beat Joseph and I. To see them letting off some steam in a fun and healthy way. The true joy was seeing José, a boy who can often act out in frustration and aggression, smiling nonstop and enjoy playing with his friend. After our laser quest adventure, the boys sat and played Mario-cart to calm down a bit. They sat close to each other, chatting away as they raced their virtual vehicles. Beautiful moments like these are difficult to capture in words of photos.
Before heading back to the centre, we went across to Mc Donald’s for a quick drink. This Mc happens to have a small indoor soft play, with slides and other fun things. After asking if he could go and play Melvin barely waited for our response before his shoes were off and he was in there.
Now, quite a lot of the children we work with feel very self-conscious about removing their shoes, due to poor hygiene. José frequently has low hygiene (we have often showered him in our centre and helped him with this) and was very hesitant to take his shoes off. A bit of encouragement from Melvin to come and play and an approving thump up from Joseph meant that he chose to be brave. He took his shoes off and in he went to play. I can’t express how this was to witness. The trust it displayed, José took courage and chose to trust that his friend would not mock him or mind the state of his feet. Watching some of his walls come down, seeing a softer side of him made my heart warm. It is hard to like some of his choices and actions sometimes, but never is it hard to love him. He is just a boy. A boy looking for approval, a boy looking to be cared for and about. Simply, he is just a boy looking to be loved, with a good kind of love. A love that is consistent, honest and unconditional.
I have had the privilege to see how mentoring really can change lives. Little by little José has let Joseph in and started to trust him. He has certainly pushed a lot of boundaries and acted out many times. He has rejected Joseph repeatedly, testing him, finding out if he really cared. If he would still be there. Joseph remained consistent, set up firm boundaries and standards in love and is seeing the benefit. It is slow progress, often with one step forward followed by serval back, but change is happening. And we are all learning and growing together.