The Cycle of Mentorship

The Cycle of Mentorship

By Anjelica Rankin, Palms Participant since August 2022. Feature image: Balibó 5 Community Learning Centre team – Marino, Rofina, Ella, Michele (Palms participant), Sidonia, Mario and Anjelica.

The very first mentor I had in my life was my mother [Michele]. Isn’t it fitting that now, twenty-six years later, we’re both working alongside each other mentoring other people?

Recently, we developed and delivered child protection training for our team at the Balibó 5 Community Learning Centre (CLC). Child protection is an important element of our work here – our dental team leads education sessions to kindergartens, our children’s English course, our Days for Girls’ ambassadors visiting high schools, and all the other work we do that includes children.

Mum and I worked together to create the content for the training. Mum in her very familiar role as a mentor to me, helping to source and collate information. And me, in my exciting new role as a mentor to her, helping to assemble and compose the information into training materials.

When it comes time for the training, our CLC team gathers in the English classroom, with mum and I facilitating the session.

There’s a tightrope you walk along when you are exposed to a new and remarkable culture. You’re warned about it during the Palms orientation course. You’re an observer, not judicator, in this country – and while you’re sharing everything you know you also have to be prepared to absorb everything everyone else knows. You’re not there to judge, you’re there to create a cultural exchange.

We experience this exchange every minute of our time in Timor-Leste and we’re faced with it again when mum gives an example of a dangerous photo to post on social media.

“Like if you post a picture of a naked newborn,” she says.

Some of the team look worryingly at each other.

Mum and I share a glance.

There are a thousand times in your time as a Palms participant where you’re walking on that tightrope between observer and critic and you ask yourself, is this where I jump off? You have the privilege to experience the wonder of another culture and, among the brilliant moments there are the challenging ones too.

When Mum and I glanced at each other, we knew what their worried look meant.  Facebook is a family photo album here – every proud parent puts pictures of their beloved babies on the internet. Have their friends, families, and even themselves committed some terrible crime without meaning to?

They’re absorbing the knowledge we’ve given them, so it’s our turn to absorb the knowledge they’re giving us.

“Anybody can look at those pictures online,” mum tells them, “Not just people in Timor but the whole world.”

“You can still post pictures of your children, but you have to be careful which pictures you pick.” I add.

Navigating cultural intricacies on the internet – an entity with no singular shared ideology – is a delicate process. And, no matter how much you prepare, or how long you’ve been in the culture, there are still things to learn. There will always be cultural exchanges to make.

We learnt that family is something to be shown off and, hopefully, we exchanged that for what an appropriate picture to show off would be.

Receiving Certificates of Completion from Anjelica L to R – Ella, Mario, Rofina and Sidonia

Mentoring isn’t a ladder – there’s no top rung you can climb up to where you finally become The Ultimate Mentor. Mentoring is a cycle, a circle that spins like a wheel, and you’re always running along that wheel, forever learning things from other people that help you to grow to become a better mentor.

A few weeks after the child protection training, English teacher and our International Liaison Officer, Marino had a meeting with an Australian donor. When they asked him to take pictures at the school for stakeholders, he said, “I’ll get permission from their parents first.”

And the mentorship cycle makes another turn.

Marino with Anjelica receiving his Child Protection certificate of completion