Mentoring pilot project underway in Guyana By Esther Elijah
Guyana Chronicle
August 15, 2004

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A HANDFUL of children are this year getting a new brother or sister.

It’s not that the `stork’ would visit their homes with little bundles of joy. Rather the latest addition to the families would be older `siblings’ whose duty would be to dedicate one year to specifically mentor children.

The Big Brothers/Big Sisters programme is in its 100th year in 38 countries worldwide offering community or school-based programmes. It is slowly gaining momentum in Guyana in an initial pilot project until June 2005 that matches a disadvantaged child in primary school with a professional adult, who undertakes to become an influential mentor with a child who risks failure because of family or environmental constraints or limitations. The mentor will be a positive role model to the child and help him or her stay in school and perform at their fullest potential.

Twenty children, between the ages of eight and 12 are participants of the special pilot project of Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Guyana. The programme was officially implemented last May under the stewardship of the Volunteer Youth Corps.

The first schools enlisted for the project are: J. E. Burnham Primary, Rama Krishna Primary, St. Angela’s and St. Andrews. The project in its entirety has no timeline and promises to incorporate a secondary school component targetting the age groups eight to 19.

A Big Brother or Big Sister is a caring adult over the age of 21, who has a sound educational background, is of good character with no criminal record, and someone who is able to commit their time and energies to a child throughout the duration of one school year. Mentorship can only be done during the working day and it excludes all school breaks (Summer, Christmas, Easter).

He or she volunteers his/ her time once per week for one hour during a class period to help mentor a child in a one-to-one relationship that aims to give the child the opportunity to interact with someone older and more knowledgeable, build on positive assets of the child, further improve academic performance and cultivate a positive sense of self while in school.

The child, who is identified by teachers as in need of a Big Brother or Big Sister lives in a single parent household, in a foster home or orphanage, is recovering from the death of a parent or plagued by the psychological effects of divorce or separation, sexual and/or domestic abuse. He or she is predominantly poor, at risk or has parents or caretakers who are affected by HIV/AIDS.

The idea for a Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Guyana (BBBSG) was birthed by the former American Ambassador’s wife, Mrs. Goddard, who believed a programme of this magnitude could be implemented by the Volunteer Youth Corps in Guyana, says Arlene Dinally, BBBSG Programme Manager.

The American made the relevant introductions that allowed the local non-governmental organisation to interact with the Big Brothers/Big Sisters International to form a country-specific alliance.

During the periods 2002-2003, Guyana qualified as a `programme in formation’ prior to it earning the status of `programme in affiliation’ in 2004.

The local programme can now benefit from technical support and training to better the BBBSG, which gets part funding from USAID and other monies from fundraising events in Canada and the United States.

Dinally said the trend suggests that more males in the primary school are in need of male mentors. But there are not many males in the mentorship programme.

Religious and youth organisations, and corporations such as Laparkan and GuySuCo, are being approached to come aboard and send volunteer mentors for children in BBBSG.

“We are asking (corporations) to give one hour per week to employees who are willing to be part of the Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Guyana programme,” Dinally said.

The programme, which maintains strict confidentiality about a child’s history, has at least 25 adult mentors working with children in the pilot schools.

“The report from teachers, thus far, is that the children’s attitude to work (at school) has changed for the better,” according to Dinally.

She explained that when a child is referred for specific mentoring, the BBBSG sends a correspondence letter to the parent and/or caretaker of the child and must first obtain permission prior to matching the child with a specific mentor.

Interviews are conducted with both the parents and child and once they meet the criteria for selection in the programme, their names are placed on a `waiting-to-be-matched’ list.

“Mentors are screened, interviewed and trained in the terms of mentorship, HIV/AIDS awareness, etc., after which they are also placed on a `waiting-to-be-matched’ list,” Dinally said.

She added that a note is taken of preferences of the mentors and common interests between them and a particular child and/or children before a `match’ is made for a Big Brother or Big Sister. Thereafter, an informal orientation ceremony is used to introduce parents to mentors and mentors to the child under his/her care.

Dinally said the response from parents has been surprisingly good because most of these are single parents who welcome the chance of their child getting an extra role model.

Mentors are not encouraged to spend money on a child and no personal contact information is given on either side as a means to refrain mentors from gaining a personal relationship with the child’s parent outside the school programme.

BBBSG has a case manager/professional social worker attached to the programme and once a mentor discovers that a child suffers abuses of any kind at home, such cases will be referred to a probation and welfare officer or the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security, said Dinally.

While mentors can continue with the programme after their one-year stint has expired, they are not mandated to do so if they cannot commit for a longer period.

“From research conducted in various countries, it was found that a mere one hour, which some might see as insignificant, can actually help a child to stay in school. We are hoping our role models will be able to influence children to stay in school while also enhancing their relationship at home with parents and siblings,” said Dinally.

Persons interested in joining the Big Brothers/Big Sisters programme in Guyana may contact Arlene Dinally on telephone number 223-7966 or contact the Volunteer Youth Corps Secretariat at 235 South Road, Lacytown, Georgetown.