Reflection of SPEAK program as a Mentor

For past 6 weeks, I spent 2 hours weekly with a group of delinquent female youths for a public speaking program - SPEAK, by Architects Of Life (AOL). Since being certified as a life coach, it was my goal to serve this community. I am very grateful to be given this opportunity
SPEAK is a structured program where selected participants learned about speech crafting and speech delivery, and gain clarity and confidence through the process.


True to Cottongrass #RAW mission, I want to share my reflection as a mentor, as authentic as possible.  
  1. Every individual is unique and beautiful 
What was briefed to me (and the hearsay from seasoned volunteers) beforehand did not prepare me for what was to come.
Week 1 - My heart was pounding. I remembered the long walk before meeting the youths in the classroom. Who would we be working with? In this heavily controlled environment and at this juncture of their lives, how could we ask them to write a speech about their hope and dreams?  
Then, seeing the youths for the first time. Each of them so different from each other, not just by color and size. Some were quiet; some playful; some apathetic. However, week after week, they turned up. They started sharing about their hopes for the future to us as the mentors guided them along to unravel their inspirations and motivations behind, as well as explore possible roadblocks that may get in their way.
We have youths who want to get into the police force, beauty industry, travel industry, entertainment industry and many more. Each with positive intentions to impact others in their own ways, each so unique and beautiful.  
  1. Trusting myself and the process. 
Week 6: The finale and graduation day was a speech competition, where the youths had 4 minutes to share about "My Dreams, My Future". It was a formal event with professional judges and evaluators from Toastmasters. In the crowd, there were also visiting parents, siblings, social workers.
I shared the nervousness with the youths. Just visualising them being in front of the crowd gave me butterflies in my stomach. In between our weekly face to face sessions, I constantly questioned what else I could have done more to help my mentee to better prepare for the D-Day - more advises, reminders, encouragement words perhaps?
The only thing I could do, was to trust. Trust the process, trust they will be fine on their own and it is up to them to do their work.
The youths realised the stakes were high, a few even broke into tears as there was a crowd waiting expectantly for them to deliver their speeches.
That night, the youths shone. It was nothing less than magical. Through stammering, shaking voices, every one of them completed their speeches!!
  1. The power of #vulnerability 
I didn't think I earned the right to hear your life stories, but shared you did. The mistakes in your past, the uncertainty of the present, and the hopes for your future. 
Especially Alex*, the last contestant of the night. Alex was so frightened she was in tears. What happened next was moving. Through cheers from the crowd and support of her best friend who stood right next to her on stage, Alex managed to read through her speech. It was so beautifully written, honest and #raw. Through Alex's vulnerability, Alex connected with the audience and won the "People's Choice" award. 
Our program coordinator  from AOL always reminded the contestants, "What was your purpose of sharing this speech?"
To this batch of SPEAK graduates, I do not think all of you even realised how your demonstration of courage inspired the whole room. It is through authenticity and vulnerability that it reminds us that we are all human with insecurities and fears, but you overcame them anyway. I felt deeply privileged and inspired to witness your growth. Thank you.  
Post event, I received many notes from the mentees. Particularly this one, "Hi Elle, Thanks for being there for me and cheering me on. You're the best! 🙂 I love you. " brought tears to my eyes. 
I may have many areas I could do better, however... trust the process. It was enough. I was enough.
  1. A reconciliation with my past
This last point is something I pondered for days whether I should share. If the youths could do it, so could I. 
They say what you see around you is your mirror, a reflection of your experiences. The youths were in a very challenging period and crossroad of their lives. I still could not make sense of what I was feeling until yesterday. 
I attended a book launch party of an old friend. What I did not expect was seeing many school mates from my Junior College. It was deeply uncomfortable for me as those were the 2 years (and effectively the few years beyond) that I wiped away from my memory. I was determined to forget those years. During that very evening, I had a wedding dinner of another Junior college friend, which of course, was another "Junior college mini gathering"! The universe was threwing signs at me, loud and clear. 
I was forced to confront this episode of my life which was hidden and buried in me.
I had been away from my family since I was 13 under the ASEAN secondary scholarship. I was at loss about my future and very concerned with my opportunity for higher education in Singapore, as my mother was a single parent raising 3 children on her own. Doing well in A'level was my only ticket to a university scholarship. I studied crazily hard, as much as my body and brain could take it. However, I struggled academically and emotionally.
I was extremely stressed and lonely, and felt like a misfit.  All I wanted was to belong.  At the same time, I was struggling to accept what was going on at home, a broken family.  No one asked about my dreams.  No one showed me there was any other alternative path for my future if I were to fail.
The inevitable happened. I got into Nanyang Technological University, but I lost my scholarship as my A' level results were not good enough. I was devastated. I resented myself greatly to have failed my dream. I was just not good enough.
The next years were occupied with part time jobs, such as doing night shifts as a cashier (overtime pay was more lucrative) while studying for my exams at night to earn enough for my expenses. This lasted well into 3 years post graduation, even when I had a full time entry level job, as the pay was not enough to pay for my university debt. It was unthinkable that I had 10 piano and tuition students at one point of time, while holding on to my first full time job! How could I have done it??  

What is beautiful in life, is that our future is not defined by our past. I could not change my past, but I can rewrite my story.

I now have a new found respect of my 17 year old self. Although my academic result was not good enough for a university scholarship, but I was enough. If anything, those difficult years made me stronger and an excellent multitasker with strong work discipline. Also, I have new dreams and constantly strive towards them. Being a life coach working with youths is one of them. 
Our program coordinator from AOL always reminded the participants, "What is your purpose of sharing this speech?"
I hope my reflections from this post inspire you to:
  • See the uniqueness and beauty in yourself. 
  • Trust youself and what you are going through.
  • The courage to be vulnerable, to share your story and inspire others.
  • Last but not least, reconcile with your past by rewriting your story. 
*All names were changed to protect identities of the youths.