Lauren: Overcoming Helplessness During the Refugee Crisis

“I had this overwhelming feeling of helplessness in terms of the refugee crisis and I wanted to do something practical with those feelings.”

Lauren felt a sense of helplessness when thinking about the immigration situation in the UK. She had spent a number of years working with a variety of groups dedicated to supporting refugee and asylum seekers through theatre and understood the complexities and challenges that young people face when relocating to a new country. In 2016, she sought out Hope for the Young, excited to get involved and provide her skills through the Mentoring Project. As with many of the volunteers who join the organisation as Mentors, there often is a mixture of feelings when preparing to work with youth in this difficult space.

On one hand, there can be a great sense of fulfillment to building a new relationship with an individual that may not receive it elsewhere. Contrarily, the task of supporting a young refugee or asylum seeker that may have experienced personal traumas can certainly prove daunting. As Lauren reflects, “I had this overwhelming feeling of helplessness in terms of the refugee crisis and I wanted to do something practical with those feelings.”

Mentors with Hope for the Young typically spend up to six months meeting one-on-one with their assigned Mentee in the greater London area. For Lauren, this meant meeting for around two hours each week at a local coffee shop after her Mentee finished college for the day. Though Hope for the Young provides directional guidance for the development of each young person, each Mentor and Mentee is encouraged to build their relationship organically – in a way that is both beneficial and productive to overcoming obstacles in the young person’s transition to life in the UK. As Lauren explains, “My main goal with my Mentee was the hope to try and boost his confidence a bit. He was a wonderful, clever and funny young man!”

As can be expected, Mentoring can prove to be a balancing act for both the Mentor and Mentee. Lauren recounts that her first challenge involved managing expectations around what might be achieved within six months’ time. “He was desperate to start a football course, but I couldn’t get him into those without him having further English lessons at college – which he was reluctant to do.” Ultimately, though, her Mentee stayed in college for the entire duration of their mentoring time, an achievement that can be traced to a mutual understanding of the importance of education in one’s life.

While supporting educational success is at the forefront of Hope for the Young’s mission, the guidance experienced on a week-to-week basis often goes above and beyond this sole purpose. For Lauren, she’d focus each session on helping her Mentee with his homework, but they would regularly find their conversations leading to discussions around the future – his ambitions, politics and the meaning of home. “As we got to know each other more, we were able to laugh together and talk about more personal things,” she recounts. For Mentees and Mentors alike, a relationship often blossoms, creating a bond that can make the transition to life in a new country that much more manageable.

Volunteers like Lauren provide the backbone of Hope for the Young, allowing young people to thrive in their goals and aspirations. But as we’ve seen time and time again, this experience can also have a profound effect on the Mentors themselves and their desires of supporting refugees and asylum seekers in an ever polarised political climate. As Lauren reflects on her time with her Mentee, she recognizes the indispensable value of providing one’s time to the benefit of others – potentially the strongest antidote to a sense of helplessness. “I’ll always be grateful to him for the experiences and the talks we had together. He helped me to develop my skills in one-to-one mentoring but most importantly, he treated me like a friend.”