Kanchana’s father walked out on her family when she was eight months old. Her mother, Valli, brought her up with help from Kanchana’s grandmother. Tragedy struck again—Valli was diagnosed with cancer and underwent chemo and radiation treatments. The grandmother became the single breadwinner for the family, working as a gardener. Kanchana studied hard, won a scholarship to a prestigious government engineering college. The scholarship includes a laptop which she couldn’t have afforded otherwise.
I feel fortunate to have Kanchana from my undergraduate alma mater in India as my mentee. She wants to improve her English communication and joined our alumni-run program. Kanchana’s curiosity, enthusiasm, punctuality, and cheerfulness impressed me tremendously from my first conversation. We have our weekly coaching session during my evening hours, which is quite early in the morning for her, at her request. She completes her homework of learning vocabulary by collecting new words she comes across and forming sentences, going way above the required number of words I set. She reads her sentences to me on WhatsApp, listening and correcting the usage and pronunciation. Kanchana is learning to use Google docs which will help us do a lot of the sharing and refining of the lessons without waiting for the weekly sessions. We are quickly progressing to advanced topics.
I ask her about her day, and she tells me about learning to use applications that will help her understand her subjects better, such as simulation of metal characteristics. She tells me she is very confident about all her classes, except for English, and we talk about how we will rectify that.
In the course of this open conversation, she tells me that she might lose her home in a month. The family lives near an airport that is expanding. The authorities are taking away her house and will compensate Kanchana’s family and others like hers at an assessment done 12 years ago – much less than today’s worth. I can’t imagine the tremendous amount of stress the family must be under, but Kanchana’s demeanor is anything but stressful.
Kanchana wants to know about me. She says she would like to talk like me one day and asks me what languages I speak. I tell her I used to speak Hindi and Telugu, but not much anymore, though I understand them. She says she is learning Telugu from her roommate in the hostel. She says something in Telugu and wants me to tell her what it means. She is delighted when I comply and is thrilled I do understand, and for my part, I am pleased with her curiosity and boldness.
I have great hopes for this young girl. She has all the attributes of someone who will succeed in whatever she decides to do in her life, and I feel fortunate that I will have a small part to play in it. I have a suspicion that I will get far more from this coaching engagement than Kanchana. That will propel me to do my best for those who are not like her and need a little nudging.
Mentoring/coaching is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have. Try it.
Note: Names used here are not real.