As a mentor, I got to know myself much better

Petru is one of the more than 130 high school mentors in Bacău who use part of their spare time supporting those colleagues who need a bit of help with high school integration

Luise Vuiu (text); Adrian Câtu (photo)
„Ca mentor, m-am cunoscut mai mult și pe mine”
UNICEF/Adrian Câtu
17 October 2021

When we met him back in the spring, Petru had turned 17 and was an 11th grade student at the “Anghel Saligny” Technical College in Bacău, studying to become an aviation technician. This field of study did not attract him too much at first. Moreover, the idea of ​​going to school in a big city, far from home, caused him some concern.

"At first, I felt scared of high school because I didn't know anyone there. My parents were the ones who supported me. However, I managed to fit in very quickly as I am pretty communicative, I did not stay isolated, I tried to take initiatives and I think that this attitude helped me to integrate faster", he told us.

His father was the first in their family who moved to Bacău, in 2015, to work for an aeronautics company. This decision had a considerable influence on the other members of the family – Petru has chosen that specific area of study because the practice classes took place within that same company, but also his mother and older brother have been working for the last two years in the same place with the father. 

 

In the summer of 2020, while spending his vacation in the countryside, Petru received a message via the online group used for school, to which he didn’t give too much thought at the time. It came from a colleague who invited him to fill in a questionnaire for becoming a mentor. ‘Hmm… interesting’, he thought. But he had no clue what the mentor role meant.

Curiosity pushed him to fill in that questionnaire and, in the autumn of that year, he joined the mentoring program within the "Together for the Future" programme, run by UNICEF and its partners, the Ministry of Education, the "Together" Agency, the ​​School of Values and the Holtis Association. 

Because of the pandemic, he met his ninth-grade mentee only in January this year, and then they reconnected virtually whenever it was the need to do so.

"At first, it was harder for me to get close to him, to communicate openly, but along the way we managed to create a bond. He lives far away in the countryside, he is probably spending a lot of his time involved in the specific rural work, and the Internet connection didn’t help him either. At first, it was a struggle to get in touch with him, but I managed to speak to his mother as well", Petru told us.

He hopes to be able to provide his colleague with the help he needs to get through this challenging period more easily. If there is something he doesn’t know in order to help, he usually asks for advice. He is happy that he has the opportunity to do something, anything, to support a colleague to integrate in high school. "I did not have this kind of support", he said.

If he felt that his mentee would like to drop out of school, he would definitely not let him do this. He would search for solutions to encourage him. “I know what it's like to live in the rural area; in a way it's hard, pretty hard actually, and I do understand him”, Petru said with empathy. He wants to continue being part of this mentoring program and provide support to other students as well, as much as he is capable of. He is happy that he filled in that questionnaire during holidays in his favourite rural universe.

"Through this program, I also got to know myself better. I was faced with certain situations I didn't know I could deal with. It really helped me on a personal level, to be much more sociable and communicative”.

To be a mentor, you must first care about your peers

In his high school there were many students in vulnerable situations, so the need for mentors was high. And the pandemic made it more difficult to find students who could provide support to their colleagues. Even though 14 of the high school students responded positively to the mentoring initiative, including Petru. This is voluntary work for mentors. Only the mentees receive scholarships.

In his small studio, which Petru shares happily with his older brother, the desk is very tidy. Petru is pleased that he has all the resources and the conditions he needs for proper online schooling, but he hopes that at least the practical stage can be carried out within the aeronautical company. "How could you do practice online as a technician?", he wonders. 

 

 

Although he is now more relaxed about online schooling, it was not easy at all when he first had to deal with it. He didn’t know how to access the platform and join the classes, it was difficult to keep up with his teachers, and the homework seemed endless.

Above all, he also had to provide support for online schooling to his two younger brothers (one in the third grade and another in the first grade), who live with their parents in the same block of studios made available by the company to its employees.

"It was very difficult because I had to deal with my online schooling but also to assist my two little brothers to join their virtual classes. Mom and dad were at work. How could they help by the time they came home? Just do homework with my siblings. However, I had to then take pictures to their homework and post it on the dedicated school platform. And that’s because my parents don't know how to work with the computer", Petru told us.

Grievous memories

The heart breaking experience of losing one of their children, when Petru was in high school, impacted considerably the whole family. ‘His death made me more mature’, said Petru.

He remembered with gratitude that his school headmistress helped him get through this trauma more easily and focus on the high school. He respects her enormously and continues to be grateful to her. His great desire is to be able to help children with cancer, just as his brother was helped by the community, even though he lost the battle with the disease.

It may be that due to this painful experience he fulfils his mentoring role with a real vocation, as the coordinator of the school program told us. "I think the mentor role touched something there that is inherent. It matches him perfectly. I said, <<Petru, we don't have enough mentors in our high school. How about you take on two or three extra mentees? >>. Sure, why not?! I would love it!” was Petru’s answer.

If he would have supernatural powers to change anything around him, he would make vanity disappear, because of which "you can miss opportunities to get to know better the one next to you," said Petru, who looks positively into the future, trying to project his career: should he became a pilot, a doctor or an aeronautical engineer?