Honduras is not an easy country to grow up in. Widespread poverty, coupled with social and political issues and corruption, makes for a harsh environment in which children are being forgotten, writes Steve Poulson.
Mentoring changes lives and is one way to remember these children. I don’t think it’s the answer but it’s certainly an answer with a proven high impact.
Based on evidence
Our mentoring programme is based on a landmark study conducted in the 1990s, the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study). The ACE Study identified nine different experiences that have a significant bearing on a child’s future, including different forms of abuse and neglect, a parent’s absence, mental health problems, drug use or incarceration.
Four or more of these experiences mean a child is 4,600 per cent more likely to take drugs and twice as likely to have cancer.
Caring and consistent
This same study revealed the only thing that changes the lives of those children: an adult who is caring and consistent, and that’s what we hope a mentor can be.
I mentor a boy called Cristofer. He’s now 13 years old and I’ve been mentoring him since January 2018. His birth was never registered, so he doesn’t have a birth certificate, which in turn means he’s never had access to healthcare or education.
Cristofer’s mother and father are still alive, but aren’t really parents as we would understand the term. His mum wants nothing to do with him and his dad just isn’t capable. Cristofer lives with his grandma who suffers from bipolar disorder, his uncle who’s an alcoholic and his two aunties who earn some money so the family are able to eat.
It’s a very tumultuous life. Because he has had five of the nine experiences identified by the study and he spends a lot of time on the streets associating with people who could be a bad influence, he was offered a place on the mentoring programme.
Catching up, breaking free
We hope that mentoring will help children to break out of generational cycles of abuse and make a different future for themselves.
For example, the Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring programme – which has run for over 100 years in the USA – reports that children and young people who have been mentored for at least a year have a 52 per cent lower school dropout rate, are 46 per cent less likely to start using alcohol and drugs and are 33 per cent less likely to be violent. And one thing that’s especially valuable is that mentoring significantly improves a child’s relationship with their family.
With a mentor, a child is likely not only to catch up with a typical child, but surpass the typical child’s progress in terms of their relationship with their family.
Since mentoring Cristofer we’ve managed to get him into school for the first time and, through a very long and arduous process, we’ve also almost got his birth certificate. The moment he showed me his first set of school results, with an average of 99 per cent(!), was so powerful. He even invited me to his Father’s Day celebration at school. It’s such an honour to be invited in the first place, and then to see him within his school context with his uniform on, pretending to behave because I’m there, was amazing.
What has been wonderful to see over the past few months that I’ve been mentoring him is not just his average exam results of 99 per cent, but seeing him grow in confidence and really come out of his shell.
Previously he would be terrified to talk to new people, whereas now (albeit with some caution still) he will greet the visitors that I bring along with me, have conversations with them and ask if they want to go and play PlayStation in the local arcade.
Just being part of his life, seeing him change and become who God has made him to be is incredible.
This story first appeared in The Call newspaper: subscribe now to get your free copy