Why I Mentor An Unaccompanied Minor Refugee and What You Should Consider Before You Do It Too

This month, I signed up for a program in Zurich that matches volunteers with unaccompanied minor refugees. It is a 9 months program with the aim to facilitate the integration of this at-risk target group into society. Having a “mentor” outside the refugee hostel who is a local Swiss, not only helps these teenagers to learn German, it also opens a new world to them which can lead to inspiration, new perspectives and potential professional opportunities.

Most people think it is nice to help someone, especially if this person is “weak”, which is the common perception of refugees in general. Of course, this mentor program has been implemented to make refugees benefit, but if you only do it for altruistic reasons without questioning your own motivation, it can create an imbalance in the whole relationship from the beginning.

A refugee usually doesn’t need help from you and definitely not from someone who is looking down on him or who is even taking advantage of him. He needs somebody who is taking him seriously and connects with him on an eye-to-eye level in a relationship which is in balance and leads to great outcomes for both of you. To ensure this, there are two questions you should ask yourself before you become a mentor for an unaccompanied minor refugee:

  1. “Why do I want to become a mentor for this target group?”
  2. “How can I benefit from this relationship?”

Once you have clear and honest answers to these questions, you should read them again and check the following:

  1. Make sure your personal motivation is not conflicting with the refugee’s interests and ensure that he will benefit at least the same way like you do. Otherwise, it would be considered as “taking advantage” for your own interests and this can even happen subconsciously without any intention.
  2. Make sure your personal motivation allows the refugee to create value for you as well. It is important that the relationship will be on an eye-to-eye level to give the refugee the feeling of being a reasonable personality who is capable of “helping” the mentor too. 

For myself, I came up with the following answers and conclusions:

  • It is my inborn passion to tackle the challenge of unlocking young people’s potential, especially when this person is disadvantaged within his new environment. (The refugee can benefit from me living my passion) 
  • My belief in justice and equality makes me feel responsible to take action, especially because I know that I am capable of achieving a great outcome for a refugee. (My feeling of obligation can lead to a positive outcome for the refugee)
  • It opens a new world to me, which allows me to look at my society from a different angle by learning about the challenges a refugee has to face in my home country. (The refugee himself is the only person who can answer some of my most burning questions, which will put him in the shoes of an expert creating value for another person in his new home country. This might improve his self-esteem.)
  • I can learn more about a new culture, attitudes and a different mindset. (Same answer as number 3)
  • I have the opportunity to make a new friend who has a different background than the rest of my friends. (The same counts for him, in case a friendship will be developed.)

Read more: How to Connect on an Eye-to-Eye Level with Challenging Youth