Career advice, insights & tips for HR professionals
Mentoring - how it feeds the soul 01/05/2012
Ever thought about mentoring? According to Andy Coxall, who carried out a year-long mentoring placement with Chance UK, a charity that works with 5-11 year old children who have behavioural problems, it gives you ‘soul food’.
Click to jump to section
- Why did you decide to mentor?
- Making a difference
- Learning insights
- Mentoring advice
- Andy's story - cultural values
- Unfairness in the world
- Cultural baggage
- Sit in someone else’s bubble
Why did you decide to mentor?
So why did Andy offer to spend a year mentoring an eight year old boy who had been emotionally abused, suffered mental as well as health issues and had mood swings that descended into red mists?
Andy wanted to feel he could make a real difference and while looking for a volunteering opportunity outside of work, a friend suggested he sign up with Chance UK. He says: “I felt by mentoring a young boy who lacked a positive male role model for a year would have a much more long lasting impact on his life. I also believe that by providing early intervention can help to create change.”
Making a difference
What difference do you think your mentoring placement has had on this young person’s life?
What did you learn about yourself through mentoring?
What advice would you give to other people thinking about mentoring?
Andy's story - cultural values
Andy Coxall, 30, was born in Japan. His father is British, and his mother, Japanese. At the age of three he was brought over to England and his family settled in a small town in Oxfordshire. “I grew up with British/Japanese influences. My parents bridged two cultures but I didn’t quite fit into either. When you’re a kid, everyone wants to feel normal, it wasn’t a big deal but I was always aware I was different from everyone else,” says Andy.
From the age of eight, Andy was sent to Japan to stay with his cousins during his summer holidays and attended summer school with them. “The days were long,” he recalls. “We had to be at school for 7am so we could clean it before lessons started. We also took it in turns to prepare, cook and serve lunch to our class. Then in the evening my cousins were sent off for private tutoring.”
Unfairness in the world
Andy admits that it was a culture shock. It provided him with his first insight that the lens in which he viewed the world was limited and what you see is only a slice that is determined by your own upbringing. However, the defining moment in his life was when aged 14, his dad, who practiced as a professor for the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, took him to Indonesia on a visit. He remembers stark images of a dead woman lying on the side of the street and no-one paying any attention to the body as if it didn’t exist. “I had never seen real poverty before. I was shocked and horrified,” he says. “It was an eye-opener and I suddenly became aware that there is unfairness in the world – it hit me hard.”
He went on to study social anthropology at Edinburgh University in 2001. Andy argues: “There is this sense of superiority over other people at times, in some ways we can even be inherently racist where we cast or make a value judgment about the way other people lead their lives without even knowing it." He refers to this as ‘cultural baggage’ as the notion that everyone carries pre-conceptions about how we expect others to live their lives according to our own collective rules of society – but it’s not explicit. “Looking at other cultures and belief systems forces you to unpick the way you see the world and gives you the ability to see the bigger picture and make sense of all the sides so you can respect and appreciate other peoples’ views and beliefs – there is no clear cut answer of what is right or wrong, it’s about finding understanding,” he continues.
After graduating, Andy took a year out to travel South America in October 2006 and spent two months volunteering on a street kid programme (Awaiting Angels) in Cusco, Peru, where he found it hard to reconcile that the children he came into contact with would never be able to follow their ambition or hopes and they were caught up in a poverty trap.
It comes as no surprise then that Andy’s moral code includes a burning passion to foster a fairer and equal society. Following his travels, Andy joined Common Purpose, a not-for-profit leadership development organisation where he is now curriculum director for Common Purpose and so we get back to the heart of this story – changing lives.
Sit in someone else’s bubble
Andy challenges: “We become better informed by sitting in someone else’s bubble, rather than our own, to see what real issues are faced by others on the ground. We need to pull together to create a more equal society. We can only get to understand different realities of other lives by gaining direct insight ourselves – who are we to judge.”
This article has been taken from the Changeboard blog, and you can comment here:
Natalie Cooper, editor, Changeboard
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