A rewarding experience as a mentor!

By Hasanka Wijesinghe

One of the initiatives of the John Keells Foundation under the focus area of Education is the vocational training programme for Ordinary Level students awaiting results  and school leavers, of the ‘neighbourhood schools’.  I have always had an interest in helping others less fortunate than myself and this opportunity enabled me to share my knowledge and skills with children who desperately needed training and guidance.

I became deeply invested in the programme as I began to care for the trainees like they were my own children. When the children first joined the programme, it was definitely a challenge trying to establish rules and ensure that they were disciplined.  I understood that these children were just excited as they had never been exposed to such a luxurious environment and did not know how to behave appropriately. I realized the things we take for granted such as warm water to shower, food to eat and a nice place to stay was not a privilege they had.  I really wanted to see them succeed so that they could enjoy the benefits of a better life.

I took it upon myself to have morning meetings with them daily, advise them on the importance of discipline, check their attendance sheets and constantly monitor their performance and give them feedback.  The trainees were exposed to different departments such as engineering, housekeeping and culinary arts. They were taught basic skills in each area and were involved in carrying out several duties including working in our 14 kitchens, handling our back office services, cleaning of public and private areas, a variety of different technical, engineering and housekeeping tasks.

It gave me great pride to see the transformation of our trainees from energetic, unruly and unfocused children to determined, hard-working and passionate adults.  The trainees have grown leaps and bounds since their induction. This progress was highlighted during their practical test when I was pleasantly surprised by the initiative and creativity of our trainees. Between the four of them, they created a variety of dishes from different cuisines including Tuna Tataki (a Japanese salad), Outside maki (Japenese rice rolls), Pan Seared stuffed chicken served with seasonal vegetables and red wine jus, and Milk peda (an Indian dessert).

When it was time for the training programme to end, I knew that these trainees had potential to work in the hospitality industry, however, as the trainees they were still underage to work full time and there was still technical knowledge that they had to acquire. I realized that enrolling them in a reputed Hotel School would be the best option to ensure that they did not go back to their disruptive and aimless behaviour.  With the support of John Keells, I was able to get full scholarships for two trainees and I am happy to see them enjoying the course. It was truly a great experience mentoring the trainees and I hope this programme continues as it is an extraordinary opportunity for underprivileged children to gain work experience and find a job they are passionate about. As I reflect on my experience of mentoring the Vocational Trainees, I feel a great sense of satisfaction and pride.