What is Refugee Mentoring?

Refugee Mentoring (also known as be-friending) is where a trained community volunteer is linked with a refugee or a refugee family. The intention is to develop a close personal relationship and at its best a loyal and long-term friendship. It is an embodied and relational process with an emphasis on a reciprocal relationship. Typically mentors are asked to make an initial six-month commitment and are supported by the mentoring organization for between six months and a year. After this the relationship may form into a long-term friendship or it may end.  Mentoring can be for a specific purpose, for a set period of time or a long-term ongoing friendship.

Everyday activities mentors and mentees engage with include practicing spoken and written English, learning how to catch public transport, navigating the local area and identifying relevant community services. Depending on the program the sites of these activities vary and can include homes of the mentor or mentee, public spaces such as libraries or school yards or higher learning spaces.

Refugee mentoring differs from the traditional volunteer relationship in that it can have an intimacy that volunteering or paid community work rarely encourages. I am interested in the everyday nature of the relationship and how it might assist ontological security (the ability to be yourself). Often refugee settlement is measured by concrete outcomes, particularly employment, language acquisition and housing. Intangibles such as friendships, feeling welcomed and “at ease” are less explored and yet these are central to a sense of belonging and an ability to be yourself.

Refugee Mentoring Typology

My Masters of Research thesis was on the Tibetan Mentoring Program based on the northern beaches of Sydney. The research revealed a multitude of ways that mentoring can assist refugees in everyday tasks. The research also highlghted that relationships varied considerably and I proposed a typology of mentoring to broadly reflect the types of mentoring relationships (see diagram below).

In order to further test the typology and develop a more nuanced approach to refugee mentoring I have extended the focus of my PhD research to encompass three case study refugee mentoring programs run by small, medium and large non-government and faith-based organisations.

Diagram 1: Refugee Mentoring Typology (Bellemore, 2014)

Bellemore, P. (2014). Shaking Shangri-La: The Tibetan Mentoring Case Study, MRes Thesis, Macquarie University, Sydney.

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