Mind & Spirit

How to help your children find mentors

By: Craig and Marc Kielburger

Author: Canadian Living

Mind & Spirit

How to help your children find mentors

By: Craig and Marc Kielburger
Travelling through Southern India during Craig's first trip to the region stood out for the incredibly long bus rides.

At 12-years-old, Craig had travelled to India hoping to learn about child labour firsthand in order to add more weight to his campaigns back home with Free The Children. But, as he wound along the gravel roads with Hindi music blaring overhead and chickens and goats crammed among dozing passengers, it seemed impossible to find the enlightenment most travel to India to find.

Luckily, Craig had his mentor – Alam Rahman.

Alam was a 25-year-old family friend who acted as a chaperon on Craig's trip. More than that, he was Craig's Yoda (or his Obi-Wan Kenobi, depending on your personal preference for best movie mentor).

Alam was a fascinating person with a minimalist style of living, an interest in Eastern philosophy and a passion for social justice. As he travelled with the then 12-year-old Craig – who had become interested in child-labour and human-rights issues – Alam used those long bus rides to hone his teaching skills.

Learning life lessons on a dusty bus
It was on one 13-hour trip that Alam put on his best Yoda and asked Craig "Why do you think I don't have a TV?"

As Craig pondered the question, he didn't expect the answer to have an impact beyond stifling his boredom. That's the mark of a great mentor: Not only are they people to look up to, but the lessons they teach usually last a lifetime. Whether it's the coach who presses a player through push-ups or a teacher who thinks beyond the textbook, they will undoubtedly be a positive influence.

Craig offered up dozens of guesses to Alam's question. Maybe Alam didn't have a TV because he didn't like the shows. Perhaps he couldn't afford it. But the answer came back "No" each time. As Craig's attention waned and his focus turned back to the lack of barriers along the steep road, Alam kept pushing Craig to think deeper.

"I don't have a TV because I don't need one," Alam finally revealed.

Page 1 of 2 – Learn how you can find the perfect mentor for your child, plus discover other sources of inspiration for your children on page 2.This exchange became representative of conversations that passed between them over their two months of travelling. On top of discussing material possessions and how they didn't really lead to happiness, the two talked about other things as well.

To outside observers, they probably seemed like an odd match: Alam would muse about marriage, while Craig thought about dating for the first time; as Alam voiced his concerns about returning to Canada to find a job after university, Craig expressed his nervousness about starting high school.

The two may have been at very different stages in their lives but this was essential to their mentor-protégé relationship. Alam came into his own as he learned to teach while Craig was provided with a window to life's upcoming questions. Despite their age difference, Craig and Alam developed a friendship.

Looking to family
Mentors will often come in the form of older siblings or cousins. But, as families get smaller and more spread out, there are fewer opportunities for young people to find them. This can be a lost opportunity for young people to have conversations they cannot have with parents.

As problems come up, moms and dads tend to see their little miracles through the overprotective lens of a parent. But, by signing your kids up for activities with would-be mentors, finding babysitters and tutors with great attitudes or contacting organizations that pair kids with adults, parents can seek out mentors to listen and understand from an unbiased perspective.

When Craig's two-month trip came to an end, he and Alam parted ways. It wasn't planned that way, but their firsthand experiences witnessing the realities of child labour had changed each of them. Alam decided to stay in Asia to work on the ground with child labourers, while Craig returned home to Canada to tell others about what he had seen.

They both continued to work in the same field, just doing it different ways. But, in true mentor-protégé fashion, the younger always grows and moves forward with their goals. Hopefully, protégés one day become mentors themselves, paying forward the wisdom imparted on them.

Oh, and Craig waited other 12 years to buy a TV. He swears it's just for the news.

Tips for parents

1. Look for help. You can help your children find mentors by looking to coaches, teachers, faith leaders, even a trusted teen or friend for support. Try signing them up for after-school activities or seeking out babysitters and tutors who are leaders in their schools and communities.

2. Say thank you. Go out of your way to thank the person your child looks up to for the difference they are making in their lives.

3. Become a mentor yourself. The best way to say thanks to a mentor in your life is the pay the advice forward to a child who needs some guidance. By joining an organization such as Big Brothers and Big Sisters or Scouts, or by reaching out to a young person who shows potential, you can act as a teacher and guide.

Page 2 of 2 – Read the compelling tale of a young man and his inspiring mentor on page 1.

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Mind & Spirit

How to help your children find mentors