Last Saturday I was privileged to be part of the Mentoring Walk organized by Roots of Health/Ugat ng Kalusugan for our wonderful Youth Advocates. This is a yearly activity which pairs one of Ugat’s women staff members with one or two younger women who may be students, workers, mothers. It was a very social morning, with the group walk (we were in lovely Dang Maria’s!) and much laughter – but for an hour or so, the group broke off into pairs and triplets and talked privately, under the trees, sitting on steps and benches. One pair sat on the steps going up to the bridge.

And this is the real focus of the morning – an effort to help people ease into a relationship of mentoring. We all need people to talk to! That’s a pretty obvious statement in this culture and at this time, but it is good to remember that especially for women, this has not always been the case. Silence has long been the rule especially in matters of sexual health and relationships: there are women who have suffered all kinds of abuse from husbands and boyfriends and told no one! There are women who have doubted their own sexual normality for years because they somehow feel more attracted to other women than they do men. There are women who have been body shamed all their lives, told they were fat or ugly or too dark. They need the sympathetic support of someone like a mentor, another young woman who will truly understand. If the mentor is a few years older, that adds a layer of experience-based wisdom.

(So often during the rise of the “Me too” movement, during which women stood up to tell stories of rape and abuse that were 20 or 30 years old, particularly men raised their eyebrows and said “Why only now? Why so late?” This is simply because during the times in which women were silenced – times which are still with us in many instances – it was shameful to speak of being raped, or abused, or worse, it was treated as if it were the victim’s fault, as in “and what were you wearing at the time?”. If  the victim was unlucky enough to be abused by someone from a much higher social status, she was simply not believed.)

Roots of Health started out working with community women, who had also grown up under the culture of silence and who had never been fully appreciated. Our first year we brought the women of one community a single red rose each, and we told them how we appreciated them and how wonderful they were. Another year we hired a couple of manicurists and a hair styler, and offered free beauty treatments: they could choose between having their hair cut or having a manicure or pedicure, in their own communities. This was wonderful for these women who so rarely did anything to celebrate themselves!

We still work with and appreciate our community women, but we work with an amazing set of younger women as well, and they in turn have their own networks of younger women. So we mentor them for their own strengthening and in the hopes that they themselves will mentor teens who are younger still.

And when they are older, hopefully they will have good friends, other women, with whom they can meet for wine Friday afternoons or other early evenings! Or coffee, or meriendas.

And when they are older still, perhaps they will move into Ladies Lunches, especially good for senior women like myself who do not feel confident driving at night! I myself would just as soon make it a late afternoon drink, except for the night driving, but most of my friends are so busy and social during the day that they don’t want to go out at night. One is diabetic. (Actually I have two friends who have the perfect temperament for late afternoon wine – they like to talk and need to unwind — but they truly don’t like anything alcoholic. I am the only one who can do her part with a bottle of wine!)

But lunches are fine too. It is the time with friends, time for telling stories, being sympathetic, giving support – an outgrowth of the mentoring relationships which most senior women simply never had that is important!

Happy Women’s Day to all!