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I am a believer in pursuing one's passion and enabling others to realize their potential. Working with women and girls is my passion.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

BIG SISTER, BIG BROTHER- INSPRING TOMORROW’S MENTOR

“The mediocre mentor tells. The good mentor explains. The superior mentor demonstrates. The great mentor inspires, encourages and takes you into the trenches.” Navtaj Chandhoke

Last weekend was a momentous moment for the Dare to Dream mentors as we met with the parents of the pupils we have been inspiring and mentoring for the last two years. Dare to Dream (D2D) is an initiative that I had been toying with in my mind for several years but only thought of that name after the initiative commenced. A little background would help understand why this. I was born to village folks in Mang’u village of now Kiambu County, less than 15 Kilometers from Thika Town. As I grew up, my environment was the normal life of a rural Kenya in the 80’s; the role models outside of the home were the teachers. There was no much interaction with other professionals apart from the doctors and considering how dreaded visits to the Igegania Sub-District Hospital which was the nearest public hospital or the missionary hospital a few kilometers from my home, there was no much motivation to the medical profession.

I was lucky to have a big sister who was a teacher (RIP) and a brother who was a student at the university (he must have influenced my love for reading and especially novels as he was holding a novel every day of his college holiday). I was lucky to have older siblings who I could look up to. I remember getting a glimpse of secondary school (the good and the ugly) through my older brother and sister who were at Chania High School then. I could not wait to join high school as I admired my sisters sky blue well ironed skirts, white tops and maroon sweater and tie to match. For me visiting my sister in school was one of the events I look forward to! I was a regular visitor in her dormitory and had a very good idea of what high school life was all about, and yes I looked forward to being a high school student. With my older sister who was a teacher, I got to practice my Kiswahili as she was very keen in learning new words (or so I thought as I bragged on the new words I had learnt in school). My sister Jane was very good at massaging my ego and encouraging me to learn more. Being a primary school teacher herself, she taught me quite a lot and I remember most when she was in teaching practice and watching her do her lesson preparations when on holiday. I got glimpse of her books which I was very curious to read and stole in her absence, curious to see what teachers read!

My older brother George was by then at the university and one of the roles I had was picking his bag from the bus stop when he came for holiday or in most cases when the universities went on strike, for a fee of course! I still recall vividly when I went for his graduation while in class seven. Those were the days when a whole delegation (-clan- as the university students refer to them) went to get their son (I had not known of any girl at university by then) on his graduation. That must have been one of the greatest days as I got to attend the graduation. I was very keen to check the program and see my brother’s name among his engineering colleagues. I had no idea what engineering was but for sure sounded ‘nice’. I remember looking at the program and thinking it would be nice to also see my name printed there. However the highlight for me on that day was when I noted ladies graduating, young ladies! That was when I knew I would go to university, after all there were young women at the university graduating too. Before then my picture of university was mostly men and older persons. That was the background I grew up in, I had big sisters and big brothers to look up to, and this made a lot of impact in my life. What of the young boys and girls who do not have anyone to look up to? What of children growing up in abusive homes or with drunkard parents? Do the have any hope?

That was part of the motivation for the Dare to Dream mentors initiative. Having schooled at Mang’u primary school I had passion for this school and what it represents in my life ‘herstory’. I had this desire to go back and see how I can contribute to making a difference in the school. My greatest motivation was the poor performance of the school in the recent years. When I sat for my Kenya Certificate of Primary Education exams, four of us managed to go to two top performing girls’ schools in Kenya, Alliance Girls and Loreto Limuru Girls and I strongly felt that the boys and girls in my village could do the same, why not? I wondered. That was a thing of the past with very minimal transition. We started visiting the school and addressing various life skills topics. I felt that one of the things that had shaped my life was the mentorship / guidance and counseling sessions we had in High school. Alliance Girls had a practice of dedicating three full days to guidance and counseling sessions. We looked forward to the last week for second term in school where for three days we had a different kind of learning. This was a valuable practice where we interacted with various mentors on different topics and the evenings were spent watching relevant movies. Apart from the every student desire to be in school without having to read…the forums were very crucial. We asked questions about life, relationships, leadership, career, sexual violence and all other topics that we would not learn in class. I felt that these and other impromptu sessions very much shaped my life and lives of many ‘Busherians’ hence the desire to replicate this among other boys and girls. Several friends have been a pillar of support in this, including my two sisters. They sacrifice their time and money once every one –two months to be with the pupils. Most of the friends, are from different localities altogether, but keen to make a difference in the lives of younger ones for a better tomorrow.

I believe that one of the challenges that we all face is that we fear to dream big. I felt that if the young boys and girls could dare to dream big, they can achieve great things, hence ‘Dare to Dream’. The mentorship forums in the school have been regular while we also get opportunities to mentor other young people in different schools and other forums. However, Mang’u primary is our pilot project and we have been seeing some changes in the school over time. One of the memories I have of primary school life, is having prizes awarded to us for best performance. I looked forward to collecting a prizes and this was a great motivation for me. As D2D, we introduced this and held prize giving day in August 2010 and continued with the same in 2011. One of the amazing lessons and aha moment was the impact that prizes for the most improved pupils had on the pupils. It led to remarkable improvement from the pupils to out amazement and that of the teachers. Two years later, we saw a remarkable improvement in the transition to secondary school which we can partly attribute to the mentorship forums. The idea is to have big sisters and big brothers that they can look up. We share on issues that otherwise look insurmountable to teenagers. We share our challenges and life lessons and they get to know that it is human to struggle, fail and rise up. They get to understand that we were not born with silver spoons but have struggled to where we are, and that they too have what it takes to make it in life. With time the pupils have relaxed more and they have accepted the mentors as part of their lives. The teachers are also realizing the contribution of mentorship hence offering more support and often request for more of our time.

In March 2012, we had the opportunity to interact with parents of the pupils in upper primary in a joint meeting. We have interacted with a few of the parents during prize giving days but we had not had the opportunity to share with them. This meeting therefore presented an opportunity for the parents to understand more of what we do and for us to hear from them. It turned out that the parents were eager for the opportunity and shared among themselves on what they feel need to be their role in the lives of the pupils. Some parents shared how they had seen improvement in grades from their sons and daughters owing the encouragement. They challenged each other and committed to do more. This was a key highlight for the D2D as we were able to interact with very critical stakeholders in the lives of the pupils. The enthusiasm of the parents was remarkable and we were assured of their support as we continued playing the big brother big sister role to the boys and girls. I believe that this addresses a gap that is missing in the lives of many young people.

Anyone can be a big sister or a big brother, all it takes is the desire and dedicating some time to make a difference in another person’s life. As John Crosby said “mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction”.