Lukáš and Peter or what the Online-Mentoring can do

Letter L, scissors, letter D. All black on a white background. Such is the logo of the Lukáš Dunka’s brand.

Twenty-three-year-old tailor Lukáš not only sews clothes, he also designs women’s, men’s and children’s garments, gowns for proms and balls, casual pajamas and comfortable slippers as well as accessories, necklaces, earrings and bracelets. Less than a year ago his online mentor, computer scientist and businessman, Peter from Central Slovakia, persuaded Lukáš to organize his first fashion show. After the success of the show, the manager of the Children’s Leisure Center in Stará Ľubovňa offered him a job leading an afterschool tailor’s club for children. Lukáš likes to do that. He had led a group of children in the ETP community centre before. Together, they were sewing mostly textile dolls and doll clothing. The club in the Leisure Center meets only once a week so his job is also cleaning. But he is grateful for that.

Lukáš comes from the Roma settlement in Stará Ľubovňa-Podsadek. He lives with his mother and seven siblings.  In high school he learned practical skills and knowledge needed to work as a highly-skilled tailor but he was unable to find a job. Once any potential employer found out that Lukáš is a Roma, they always lost interest in hiring him. Hence, to fill his time, he sews new clothes and mends second-hand clothes for his friends and neighbours. No local family or community event will happen without someone ordering a new dress from Lukáš. The people in the settlement are poor and do not have enough money to buy the finest fabrics, so Lukáš only sews with donated ones. Sometimes he gets several meters of fabric, but on other occasions people give him only very small pieces. Then it almost feels like a miracle when he manages to turn the bits and pieces into a true article of clothing. He keeps working until the new dress is a good fit and people like it. „I believe that one day I will have my own fashion store,“ he said. „Maybe in the beginning some business will take over my models. I’ll buy a mannequin for a shop-window and I will dress her up,“ he explained, regarding his plans for ​​the near future. He hopes that people will get to see his work at an upcoming fashion show in his city this May. Lukáš is planning to display there a variety of garments from his summer collection. All of them will be sewn only from donated fabrics.

The fashion show, though prepared under the most spartan of conditions by amateur enthusiasts, cannot happen without suitable funding. Lukáš needs a laptop and a printer to work on new designs and cuts, and he could also use a camera in order to promote his work. He does not have any of these and cannot afford to buy them. This is where the online mentor Peter helped him. They jointly wrote a request for support from the community of individual donors on the web portal People to People. Four years ago, thanks to the generosity of donors from the same web portal, Lukáš received sufficient funds to buy a sewing machine and other tailoring equipment. The gifts from those who contributed proved mutually beneficial. Lukáš helps people through his sewing and he plans to continue supporting people from his community. He will donate the models from the upcoming fashion show to poor people from the settlement who can otherwise only dream about modern clothes.

“I would like to accomplish more in my life than what is typical for the residents of our settlement. I sit for hours and hours behind the sewing machine, working hard, improving my skills in sewing and design, and I always make sure to do a good job,“ he said, adding that, „I have bold dreams and big plans, but without the support of my online mentor, I would not dare to organize my own fashion show.  But it was easy with his online mentor’s support. “It’s good when you know someone stands behind you”, he said. Peter is now into his second year supporting Lukáš in his chosen career of tailoring. They are in contact every day, their friendship has been growing, and they have also managed to meet in person twice.

For a young person from a Roma settlement who has only experienced life based on the hidden rules of poverty, a mentor is a hugely positive intervention in his existence and future prospects. Mentoring is the process of informal learning, building human and social capital, and it serves as a psychosocial support in the area of education, work, career, and professional growth. It is rightly said that mentoring is a gift given from the heart and that the mentor helps the mentee to develop the mindset necessary to succeed.

ETP Slovakia started its Mentoring Program in 2009 and since then three hundred children have completed it. Since 2016, an inevitable part of the ETP Mentoring Program is the online mentoring scheme Competent Children. Data shows that the ETP Mentoring Program’s results are sound: every fourth high school graduate who has been mentored currently has a job. By contrast, only one in fourteen of those who graduated from high schools without access to mentoring are currently in paid employment.

Currently, when the real employment of the Roma from segregated settlements is very close to zero, and when employers feel they have to look for employees outside of Slovakia, it is very important to note that there actually are many potential workers living within our homeland.

A research report published by McKinsey & Company in November 2017 states that student mindsets have more influence on outcomes than their socioeconomic background. By analysing the PISA 2015 data, McKinsey found that in Europe, mindset-related factors explain a greater proportion of a student’s PISA score (29 percent) than even the home environment (18 percent).

If every child who grows up in a Roma settlement had a good mentor from the middle class, all of them could be studying and working today. Each of these children experiences their variant of Lukáš’s story: If they feel the support of a person from the middle class, they can develop the courage and skills necessary to realize their ambitions in life.