Jostine is a new GEF scholar. In late March this year, after 2 visits to her school, we learnt that she had been missing in school; she was sick, or so the Principal told us. Another young girl, Edna, also one of our scholars and a final year student went missing from her school. We eventually found them, and both are back in school, but their stories are sad, touching and keep reminding us that just paying school fees is not enough.
The above scenario is what makes the mentorship component in GEF Kenya's Young Leaders program so critical. Some of the backgrounds our scholars come from are so bad, that just enabling them to access secondary education is not enough. For Jostine for example, her home environment is not one of the best. She cannot study well at home. Living in a tiny 'mabati' (Iron sheet) house in Kayole slums of Soweto, everything happening in the neighborhood can be heard as if it is right inside their shack. She cannot concentrate on her school work. To add to her troubles, her father is a loud drunk who makes life at home rather difficult. In her own words, she shared that her home situation is so bad that she cannot concentrate in class, and felt it is all useless; hence dropping out and pretending to be 'sick'. I spoke to her for one hour, counseling her, listening to her, encouraging her, and developing a 'sister-shoulder-to-lean-on' relationship. She agreed to go back to school. We called her Principal from our office and reported that she would be in class the following week. Jostine is an intelligent girl; in the last semester of school in 2012, Jostine scored a mean grade of B+.
Clearly, there is a great need amongst our girls for a listening ear, a mentor, someone to keep urging them on. In our monthly forums, we let them play, joke around, have lots of fun, as we teach them important aspects of life. We're also trying out a 'buddy' system. In our February monthly meeting, we paired up the scholars. The main task being each scholar keeps tabs on his or her buddy; sort of being your brother's keeper. Hopefully this will help the kids share their issues; or if the scholar having a problem for some reason cannot open up, the buddy can seek help on his/her behalf.
In March, we got the scholars together again, this time we had invited campus students from the African Nazarene University (ANU). They had a fun-filled learning afternoon, talking about mentorship and developing mentor-mentee relationships. We split the scholars into 7 groups, each group with 2 mentors from ANU, and gave them half an hour to interact in small group discussions. Time flew, and we had to do several calls to come back to plenary; the thirst for a listening ear evident. Some shared their fears, others shared their dreams, and yet others shared their difficulties at home and in school. The mentors were patient, and attempted to respond and provide some help in each situation. Being in a group also encouraged fellow scholars to provide possible solutions to one another's concerns.
Having more comprehensive forums especially with the girls is critical, and GEF Kenya has risen to the challenge. We are equipping our girls with personal adjustment skills that will enable them remain level headed despite the harsh lives they live in. Their mothers want them to be better, live better lives; and GEF Kenya wants the same and even more for our girls. At the end of the year, we will have all final year girls completing high school!
Watch this space!
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