Saturday, April 28, 2018

An opportunity to be alongside someone on their journey of discovering themselves' is how Barbara Lawler defines what mentoring means to her. For the past three years she has been on this journey with Francine Berabose. Parveen Muhammad spoke with them to understand how it all started and where it has led them both.

Mentoring and being mentored

Lawler has been associated with IofC since 1970 and has volunteered with Initiatives of Change (IofC) in Australia, India and the UK, working in a range of roles, from secretarial work to becoming National Coordinator of IofC Australia from 2010 to 2014. This, combined with her background in human resources, industrial relations and the media industry, meant that she had much to offer professionally and in terms of life experience.

Berabose is of Rwandan-Congolese origin and migrated to Australia in 2010.  After working for a few years in refugee settlement services, Berabose started university studies in the field of counselling and is now a trained counsellor. In 2015 she was invited to attend the Life Matters Workshop that is run by IofC in Melbourne, and that is where the journey with Lawler started. 

As a part of the Life Matters Workshop, attendees are given the opportunity to choose a mentor for themselves. Lawler had been doing a bit of mentoring and had offered herself as a resource through the Life Matters workshop; this opportunity was the formal start to her mentoring. Berabose did not know anyone at the workshop, but the ‘quiet time’ practiced during the workshop gave her the time to think, and instinct led her to choose Lawler as her mentor. “I had a connection to her and it was like a love story”, laughed Berabose.

Was it serendipity, or a nudge from the Divine? Lawler believes it was the latter, because at the time, neither of them knew of the other’s family connections in Brisbane. “This really reinforced for us both the value of having a quiet time,” said Lawler. “We could not have foreseen that we would both be there at the same time later.”

Learning

To Lawler, mentoring is about the privilege of being with someone on their journey of life. Her view of the mentor’s role is to “look for strengths and insights that they bring and to be there for them,” she said.

Berabose’s expectations from the mentoring relationship were two-fold; to get to know IofC and its operations and be a part of its work; and to grow spiritually and professionally. Reflecting back on the three years of being mentored by Lawler, Berabose feels that the mentoring relationship has helped her achieve all this and more, “with the incredible help of Barbara.” She has attended conferences with Lawler both locally and internationally where she has been introduced to people, shown how things are done and given the opportunity to speak. It also indirectly led to Berabose having opportunity to undertake a UN fellowship in Geneva, designed to train and equip people with regard to human rights of people of African descent. Her application included a recommendation from Lawler that was so complimentary that Berabose joked, “Is this me that she is writing about!” Lawler’s recommendation and assurance of support for work to be done after the conference probably did help influence Berabose being chosen as a participant.

Over the years, the relationship has grown beyond a formal mentoring one to that of a close friendship and of team mates. “Barbara is more a friend, a person to go to and we have a strong relationship and a healthy one as well,” said Berabose. They know each other’s families and celebrated Christmas together last year.

Francine Berabose at the UN in Geneva, Switzerland.

 
Outcomes 

Coming from a culture that it many ways is different from mainstream Australian culture, Berabose felt that “having this connection with a person of a different culture helped to better understand and integrate and celebrate the differences.” She feels it is an essential requirement for those coming from other cultures and also for those here to have cross- cultural relationships such as this, as it is then that better integration and understanding happens.

On motivating others to take on mentoring, Lawler emphasised that one’s motive for doing so needs to be clear. “It is about listening to people, seeing their interests and where they would like to contribute,” she emphasised. She also highlighted that there needs to be flexibility in the relationship and that one should be prepared not to ‘know it all.’ In some situations one cannot rely solely on one’s own knowledge and experience, but should also be able to identify others who the mentee can turn to, she added.

Their mentoring relationship has led to them collaborating to introduce Creators of Peace Circles in Brisbane. It has also led to others from Berabose’s Congolese community to be involved with IofC and to begin their own mentored journey. Berabose is keen to initiate a project to continue to keep her community members involved with the work of IofC. The positive mentoring relationship she experienced has motivated her to be a mentor to others as well.

  • To find out more about opportunities to mentor and be mentored through Life Matters, contact Kirsty Argento.

Header pic: Francine Berabose (left) and Barbara Lawler (centre) with mutual friend Yarrie Bangura out on the Brisbane River. Pic courtesy of Barbara Lawler.