Meyoker Mckeith (24) and Desmaree Levendall (22) are more than just your average pair of cousins from Ocean View. Apart from being known as the girls who participate in all the extreme activities we have on offer, both of them have also come a long way within the LifeXchange mentoring process. According to them, Tammy Mewes (who started mentoring them both two years ago) has changed their lives for the better simply by being involved. Curious to know more, we sat down last week to talk about these experiences. They weren’t shy to share about their journey and we fell into conversation easily.
First of all, you guys have been through the whole mentoring process with LifeXchange. Given this background, what do you think a mentor is?
Des: It’s definitely someone who guides you and helps you to reach your goals. Someone who’s just there for you. Like with Tammy who stuck around even when I got pregnant. It’s just about the knowledge that you’re not alone.
Meyoker: I agree, a mentor is someone who motivates you, believes in you. They say, ‘yes, you can do it’. Tammy had a lot of faith in me in this way. She was always there. She helped me do things I’d never have done on my own.
That seems like a very special role for someone to play in your life. Tammy, what did you learn from your mentees and how have you seen them grow in your journey together?
Tammy: They have very different personalities and so it was a different journey for me with both of them. I just love the sense of humour Des has, even the times she’s got that mischievous grin on and she’s pushing Meyoker over the edge! She’s so charming and she can make people love and like her. When she got pregnant, it was just part of our relationship and I loved hearing her talk about Koosie (her son). In terms of growth, her focus has changed so much. She now gets excited about herself and her future and wants to make things happen for herself! I really enjoy how she’s embraced being a mother and how much she really loves her son. She doesn’t fret about him too much and just lets him do his own thing.
(Almost on que, Kosie accidentally walks into the table and bangs his head. He actually does this a couple of times during the interview. Des, though naturally concerned, isn’t too fussed about him exploring and we all have a fit of giggles as he nonchalantly just carries on)
Tammy continues: With Meyoker, I saw so much potential in her when we went on a 5 day camping trip in the Cederberg. She has a lot of courage and isn’t shy to stick up for herself and others. I’ve really seen her develop her leadership qualities and it makes me so proud. For example, she made the effort to get herself to the fire fighter training and she also took her own initiative to teach the newbees on her fishing crew the ropes. From what I’ve heard and seen from her, it’s clear how much the other guys respect her. She has a big heart for people, even though she hides it by looking tough. *laughs*
They seem like two very special young ladies. Knowing them must’ve changed your approach to mentoring as well?
Tammy: Yes, I think I learned to give up on this idea that I had to be a perfect mentor and not see them as my ‘project’. It taught me to open up a lot more and be vulnerable. It’s also just a lot more fun when you’re real and just being yourself.
Was it hard for you guys to trust Tammy in the beginning?
Meyoker: I only started trusting her after 2-3 months of seeing her. I was very scared she would gossip about me behind my back and I was very secretive at first. It took time for me.
Des: Yes, me too. But when Tammy herself started opening up and sharing her experiences, it became easier for me also.
It sounds like there may have been a few challenges along the way. Were there moments you found having a mentor hard to deal with?
Meyoker: Yes! When I first started the fire fighter training, I had a difficult time with Tammy. There was a point where I didn’t want to do it anymore and she just kept pushing me. She never gave up. I’m now grateful that she didn’t because it taught me a lot.
Des: For me, it was hard when Tammy couldn’t make it to one of our planned outings. I had to prepare myself in order not to show how disappointed I was, because I didn’t want her to know how much I was looking forward to the drive.
Wow! I bet a lot of mentors don’t know their mentees feel like that.
Tammy: *laughs* yeah! I wished she’d told me she felt that way!
Ok, but do you guys think being mentored by Tammy has changed you? What I mean is, would you have been a different person if she hadn’t showed up?
Meyoker: Well before Tammy I just kept my problems to myself and I couldn’t trust people. But she has always been there for me and she never hesitates to help.
Des: It’s the same for me. If it wasn’t for Tammy I’d be stealing, doing drugs and rude as ever. Because of her I believe I can be different. My granny even said that she can see I have an effect on my family, because they’re also changing for the better.
Meyoker: I also used to be very rude because I didn’t have a start in life. Now they say I’m different because I can be very respectful and don’t always get into fights. I know how to walk away.
Des: Exactly. I feel stronger because she’s in my life. Whenever I’m stranded somewhere, I know she’s there for me, even if it’s just to talk.
She evidently had a huge positive impact on both of you. Is there anything you’d like to say to her?
Meyoker: I just want to say thanks to Tammy because we appreciate and respect her so much. Keep up the good work!
We finished off the interview and Tammy gave her mentees a ride home. They are currently in the process of redefining their relationship, having to discuss where they see their relationships going – will they continue to meet as regularly and frequently, or will they relax into just remaining friends. Whatever the future brings, it’ll be another chapter for all involved and we’d certainly like to read. We wish you guys all the best!
by Esther Hamman