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Casting off prejudices


For Maysun from Iraq and Rita from Denmark, their mentoring relationship was a battle against pre-held views and ideas. For both, it was a meeting with the unknown. Today, they are more enlightened towards others and in relation to themselves. Focus on differences has been replaced by focus on the things they have in common.

Maysun is 40. She is from Iraq and came to Denmark as a refugee in 2000. She is married and has three children. She holds a degree from Iraq and is currently studying at teaching college. In January she was paired up with Rita. Rita is 41. She is half Danish and half Greenlandic and has grown up in Fredericia (DK). Today she lives in Århus together with her husband and their 21-year-old daughter. Rita trained as a primary shool teacher and then later took a degree in journalism.

Maysun needed someone to help her understand how things work in Denmark. She was keen to work and become a fully fledged member of society so she contacted KVINFO’s Mentor Network. Rita had just done the same – she had herself lived in Brazil for a number of years. During her stay, she experienced how friendly people had helped her to find her footing. She was interested in doing the same and when matched with Maysun she was able to do so.

It would prove to be the start of an educational and rewarding mentoring relationship – on several fronts. First of all, Rita helped Maysun to navigate her way through Danish society. Today Maysun has started a teacher training course at Jysk Pædagog-Seminarium. “Rita has become a sort of human GPS for me – like the ones you get in taxis that show the right way to reach your destination,” tells Maysun. And she is quick to point out that the mentor relationship has not just been a door-opener for herself – it has even made her a better role model for her children. So much so that her 19-year-old daughter has now joined the Mentor Network.

Perhaps most important for both women is that they have been able to cast off their own prejudices. Despite openness and good intentions from both sides at the beginning, Rita had her prejudices about Muslims and Maysun had her prejudices about Danes. “When I came to Denmark in 2000, I thought that Danish women had so much freedom that they could just leave their husband and children whenever they felt like it”, explains Maysun.

Today, it seems unimaginable to her that she could have thought that. Rita tells of how she thought that “Muslim women have nothing like the freedom Danish women have.” Today she is wiser: “that certainly doesn’t apply to Maysun. Her husband places no constraints upon her. She is free and strong.”

All prejudices and differences have today been brushed aside. The relationship Rita and Maysun have with each other is based in the things they have in common. “We talk with each other about the things we’d like to talk to other women about. It doesn’t take too long to find out that whether it comes to studying, work, family, our lives are in many ways the same”, they say in agreement.

The benefits of being a mentor are crystal clear to Rita: “By being a mentor, I’ve gained a good insight into the lives of refugee and ethnic minority women – both here in Denmark and in their home countries. And my view that, as women, we all have more or less the same cares, joys and worries has been reiterated. It doesn’t matter what skin colour you have – we’re all people with the same dreams and the same hopes!”


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Background, case stories and more in KVINFO's
Theme: Mentoring

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