“I never used to smile. I had nothing to smile about; now I can’t stop smiling.”
These are the words of Tramaine Wong, as she shared her experience participating in The MultiCare Youth Foundation (MYF) Mentorship programme. Paired with volunteer mentor, Jennifer Sharrier, they both agree they chose each other from the start.
“I knew I wanted her to be my mentor from the beginning,” admitted Wong. “She was the first person I met when I went to the workshop. Even when we went through the whole day and the ‘speed dating’ matching exercise, I wrote her name on the paper. She was my first choice,” she added. Luckily, Jennifer felt the same way.
“She was there for the workshop half an hour early – ready with her notebook, pen and a name tag. I thought, here is someone serious about this, and we spoke and I decided I wanted to work with her,” she said, adding, “When I decided to become a mentor, I didn’t know exactly what I would have to do, but meeting Tramaine made me know I wanted to do something.”
Now, a little over a year later, they agree they have impacted each other’s lives for the better. Entering the mentorship programme at 17, and in the fifth form at Clan Carthy High School, Wong admitted that she had low self-esteem, was unhappy and did not have a close-knit relationship with family – or anyone – whom she knew. Sad, lonely and without clear-cut goals, she wasn’t sure what the future had in store for her.
While attending an MYF session at her school, she received a flyer on the mentorship workshop and filled out the application form. She admitted she had no expectations, but, as she puts it, she ‘faas’ and wanted to know what it entailed. She now agrees it was one of the best decisions in her young life.
After agreeing on the terms of their relationship (a part of the requirements set by the MYF) and how often they would speak and meet, the relationship began on a very businesslike level.
“We met, and Ms Jennifer taught me how to plan for the next five years – to set out my goals and what I wanted to do and be,” she said. For Jennifer, it was important to guide Wong and help her to see her worth, and that she could get a job and start working towards her professional and financial independence. There was also an investment in assisting Tramaine to grow personally.
Jennifer recounts: “Tramaine wouldn’t smile when I met her. She would post photos, and I would tell her to take them down because she wasn’t smiling in the photo. I told her to think of something that makes her happy and to smile. She told me her face hurt for months! However, now she’s happier and more outgoing. We worked on her self-esteem; I told her always to try something before she decides she doesn’t like it.”
It did not take long for the two to learn each other’s ways and build a relationship. Over the course of a few months, and numerous face-to-face meetings and WhatsApp conversations, Tramaine’s defensive wall broke down. She began to share her personal life with Jennifer; and in turn, Jennifer was able to help her let go of past hurt, stand up for herself and believe in her capabilities despite lack of support.
“Tramaine would share something personal, and I was like, ‘where did that come from?’ and that helped me understand who she was, where she was coming from and why she behaved the way she did,” Jennifer admits. “She’s now a totally different person – more open, more talkative.”
Now, the two not only make plans for Wong’s future, but Jennifer has also included her mentee in trips around the island with her friends, taking her to places she had never been.
She said, “We’ve gone to the beach, Usain Bolt’s Tracks and Records and lots of other places. When I’m making plans with my friends, I’m cognisant of Tramaine, where she lives, if we can get her home on time. She needs to see other people from other demographics – not just from her school or her community. She needed to learn to not judge a person by the way they look or how she thinks they will treat her.”
Tramaine added, “I call some of Ms Jennifer’s friends ‘Aunty’, and they called me for my birthday last year and wished me merry Christmas. They were so nice to me and cared about my life and my future.
“I want to be an accountant. I’m good at math, and when it comes to money, I don’t miss!” With this dream, she and Jennifer have extended her five-year plan to make it possible.
Wong is job hunting with the hopes of soon saving towards her schooling, so that she can move on to tertiary education. In the interim, she and Jennifer have a year left in their mentorship ‘contract’ and plan to continue to work together to help Tramaine get as many experiences as possible – and take every opportunity made available to her.