Maisha

I was about 10 or 11, we moved to a new neighbourhood. It was an awkward time for me. My confidence wasn’t that high. I was nervous about fitting in and getting to know people at my new school.
 
My parents were really protective so I couldn't just meet people on my own. My mom heard about the Safe Sisters program through one of her friends, so she brought me here and I’ve never really left! This is like my second home. 

Coming here, I met a lot of girls who go to my school and we became closer because this environment just supports that. You don't have the pressure like at school where only certain people are supposed to talk to certain people. 
 
Sometimes there are clubs, but if you’re not good at those things you don't feel like you can fit in. Once I joined the basketball club even though I was horrible at basketball. All the girls in my grade were in that club, but I felt really horrible because I was always sitting on the bench. One of the good things about this girls’ program was that everyone went at their own speed. That was a huge thing. I didn't feel, “I have to be great at this.” I just felt I could fit in.
 
Back then I had a lot of body image issues, and it was so great to be somewhere where they helped us to understand why body image is so important. I think its unavoidable to have these issues, considering how the world is. So it’s nice to get the help to work through it. Now I don't see media the same way that other girls do, because I’ve been educated. I know the media portrays girls in a way that’s not possible to achieve. I’ve kept that with me throughout my life and its really helped me a lot and helped me with my confidence. I know I don't need to strive for that unattainable image. 
 
In the program, they didn't just create a bunch of rules—they helped us to understand why they mattered. So if girls are being rude to someone, they understand that it’s actually hurting them. It’s an open and supportive environment. 
 
Having mentors totally changed the person I am today. A lot of my peers from when I was younger never had mentors to look up to, so they looked up to people on TV and those kind of idols. A lot of them struggle now but don’t have anyone to go to. Of course you have your friends, but sometimes you just need someone who’s older or more mature. It can really help. That’s why I decided to become a mentor.
 
I remember all of my mentors, and I still work closely with some of them. But even the ones I don't see any more really made a huge impact on my life. They really put themselves on my level. I hope that’s what I’m doing now. I wanted to help ease girls’ anxiety, like what was done for me. 
 
My mentees look up to me and expect certain things from me, so it sort of forces me to think about my actions. You learn to grow in order to help your mentee. When I help someone else deal with their issues, it helps me get through mine. A lot of the time the girls give me advice too. I was telling them I was going to try and eat healthy, so they help me keep on track. I’d feel hypocritical if I didn't take my own advice. 
 
There are some girls you don’t realize have problems socializing—in here, they’re fine and they talk to everyone—but then their parents tell you how at school they don't have many friends.  
 
One day a girl came in and she was quite shy—she reminded me of myself when I was younger. She didn't have too many friends. We kind of bonded, and it was really something to watch her grow and then take on a leadership role. That was really an amazing  moment for me. It feels so good – I can’t really put it into words. It’s so great, because it creates a cycle in the community where there is positive change. 
 
Usually I don't like talking about myself, but I’ve shared a lot of personal things because I hope it affects other people. I’m not just volunteering to put in time, or even because it’s good for the girls, or because it’s a good thing to be seen doing. It actually helps me too. You get a different perspective. Younger people keep you current, there are so many things you can learn from them. 
 
Being a mentor has been really rewarding not only because I can help the girls out but because helping them through their issues makes me feel better as a person. Because I received the same help when I was younger, it’s really important to me. 
 
Maisha attended the Ms. Media and Safe Sisters programs, which are delivered by YWCA Toronto and funded in part by the Canadian Women’s Foundation. She is currently studying at York University.