“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
It was her very first week of college. One day, Caitlyn Meadows sat awaiting the beginning of class at Brigham Young University – Idaho. Before the professor could dive into that day’s material, however, an announcement was made, with a sign-up sheet being circulated among the students. The call was for volunteer tutors willing to donate some of their precious time to Invictus Institute, a start-up nonprofit dedicated to helping needy children across the globe to receive a better education. Though she did not understand what would actually be asked of her, as she recalls, “I just knew that I liked to teach and this sounded like it would be a great opportunity.”
She signed up. A few days later, Invictus Institute’s founder, Kasey, emailed her explaining the mission, and where her efforts would be concentrated. She was assigned to a small group of “about six girls,” in Bangladesh (though occasionally, more will join out of curiosity). Currently, Invictus Institute pairs mentors with students in Uganda, Bangladesh, and India, and expects to expand to several other nations in the next few months: Ethiopia, Ghana, Solomon Islands, South Africa, and Vanuatu.
Caitlyn describes a typical tutoring session as follows: “Kasey emailed me a picture dictionary and I find three pages that I want to go over with the girls. I spend about 15 minutes talking with each girl about the pictures and asking them what is happening. The girls that are more advanced with their English skills will tell me stories from their own lives that relate to the pictures we are viewing.” Kasey (who himself mentors students in Bangladesh and India) follows a similar pattern of English instruction, as well as fostering trust by asking them what is going on in their lives, and sharing what is happening in his. They also review the material each student learns in school as a way of solidifying those lessons in their minds.
Though college can be an overwhelmingly hectic time for many, Caitlyn’s commitment to Invictus Institute is quite manageable. “I spend about an hour and a half to two hours every other Friday night talking with the girls,” she informs. This is typical of Invictus Institute, who asks for a mere 1-3 hours per week from its volunteers, making it an ideal, flexible endeavor for even the most stressed out college student.
Despite the short amounts of time, the benefits have proven to be substantial. As Caitlyn fondly reflects, “I have loved my experience so far, I have only been able to do it a few times but I love being able to help them. They are beautiful girls and they have touched my life with their kindness.” It has also brought the contrasts in day-to-day life between countries front and center – a handful of times, she has logged on, ready to see her girls, only to discover that they are unavailable due to blackouts throughout Bangladesh. This enlightenment “has made me want to expand my influence and do more for others,” she confides.
Kasey can also attest to the blessings of mentoring. “Since I’ve been tutoring,” he shares, “I’ve grown quite attached to the kids I’m tutoring. They’re my friends, I love seeing them progress.” For those who have recently enrolled as a mentor, or are considering it, he offers a few pieces of advice: “Talk slowly, especially the first several lessons. Talk about the things you’re up to, the kids love hearing it. Talk about what they want to do in life and how education will help them accomplish it. Try to help them see the bigger picture.”