A HAND HELD OUT
Sisters Jeanne Marie and Marie-Noël, in community in Monsempron-Libos, share with us their experience of pupil mentoring.
The pupil mentoring centre in Monsempron (Lot and Garonne) opened in 1988 at the demand of Catholic Aid. Volunteers were already going into some family homes to help the children with their homework. This method is very enriching because it allows the whole family, and not just the children, to benefit from the advice of the volunteers. I did not have a driving licence however, and have difficulty walking. They proposed therefore that I should open a centre where the children could come once or twice a week. To begin with it was in the community but we were soon lacking in space and so we were offered one of the parish rooms.
To familiarise myself with the activity, for the first few years I participated in the September meeting of the social workers and volunteers of S.O.S. Fairly quickly however, word of mouth was enough.
As the demand grew so other volunteers joined us. At one time it was a group composed of teenagers (15-16 year olds and senior secondary school), then adults. Nowadays we have 8, sometimes 10. The pupils regularly work with the same person who accompanies them. In this way links are developed that allow the teenagers to blossom.
We want the centre to be a serene and welcoming place, where they can find help and where they come because they like coming. Sometimes, particularly in spring, they arrive with flowers they have picked on the way, or with a cake (preferably home-made!) which is shared with those present. We have noticed that often, the teenagers’ difficulties stem from a lack of self-confidence or from work that is badly organised. How can you do an exercise and apply a rule if you have not understood or learnt it? We use our memory too much instead of our intelligence, or we want do what the teacher says : “Miss doesn’t do it the same way as you!”. But the difference is superficial. When they have understood that, they have taken a great step forward.
We are happy to observe :
• the links of friendship that are forged between adults and children
• that this relationship sometimes lasts well beyond the school years
• the self-confidence that is established.
What a joy it is when a former pupil who struggled during his junior secondary years, comes back in the course of his first year in Technical High School and says to you, “You know, I’m one of the best in my class now”. Soon he has no more need of us.
Fumel is a neighbouring town with a mix of population from different cultures (especially Moroccan and Portuguese). At the centre, from time to time, we like to get to know a speciality from another culture, a cake or a recipe.
It is a place where we help the young to succeed, to be able to choose an occupation later. The contacts with the families are generally very good. We try to encourage them. Being able to have confidence in the other, that’s the great question! For some of them language is a difficulty. They don’t like to speak in meetings, but with us the group is small, so they speak quite happily and encourage their children to have confidence in us. Every one advances together. To make relations easier, once or twice a year, we organise an afternoon with games and tea and invite the families to come along. The older ones help to run it and the younger ones love it.
This year, a member of the S.O.S. team from Agen came to see us. This link is important for the continuation of the Centre because, as the years pass, finding new volunteers can sometimes be a problem.
So! My advice to those who have the time … there are children awaiting you. Who is going to help them discover that they have unsuspected possibilities in them? And that they will find happiness in realising these possibilities, even if it is a bit hard.
“Comee and se”! It is a good means to live handicaps due to age or illness …
Jeanne Marie et Marie Noël
Community of Monsempron-Libos