Three times a year, I mentor high school girls under the Precious Sisters (PS) charity programme. They have a rather interesting slogan: Giving bright girls the chance to shine!
A bit of background. PS is a charity that gives girls from disadvantaged backgrounds the opportunity to receive a secondary school education – a chance to shine. PS was founded by Gerald Maithya in 2005, in memory of his sister who died when she was four years old. The idea was to honour his sister and give girls from poor backgrounds the opportunity that his sister never had.
At the start of every term – mostly the weekend before schools open, I join several mentors (mainly female) for a full-day mentoring session with high school girls from four national schools. Since the girls are on scholarship, the mentoring sessions are meant to help them navigate the wobbly teenage years and transit them to university. Those who do very well get scholarships to Ivy League universities in the United States.
I have attended the sessions for about four years now and each time I learn something new. During the sessions, we focus on one theme under ABC (Attitude, self-Belief, Commitment). We talk to the girls about attitude for instance and pick their brains about a specific area to do with attitude. The girls seem to have really understood the value of the three themes. Many give really good examples of how the themes guide and help them. It reminds me in summary that the power to succeed is in my own hands.
By working with the teenagers, I learnt something very profound. All their lives, children at talked AT and not talked to. The mentorship sessions give me a chance to listen more and talk less.
“The weekend is very helpful because first it gives you energy to start a new term. The ABC themes have made a big difference to my life. I get encouraged – it brings me back on track. I have learned so many things over the four years from mentors and other students,” said one girl.
Teenagers grow up receiving orders from parents, teachers, religious leaders and guardians – with authority over them. Sadly, we do not allow them to talk or express what they feel.
When asked about the one on one sessions, one girl said, “Each time is a new experience. It helps you widen the scope of your ideas. It makes me more willing to share honestly the difficulties that I go through and I gain from their experience. I was able to air my innermost ideas and get appropriate assistance. The mentor’s motivation through their life’s experiences is really helpful. I look forward to meeting different people and get diverse experiences and inspiration.”
A typical Kenyan teenager (forget their background) has many struggles. Serious ones that we must begin addressing if we want to have a generation that is focused and hardworking.
- They care about the situation at home. Believe it or not, all teenagers spoke about their homes and the relationships they have with their parents and/or guardians. What happens at home, affects their studies!
- Making friends is hard. It is not easy when you are a teenager and do not have a friend you can hang out with or confide in. Friends make a really big difference.
- They know bad company ruins good morals! Ask every teenager about their friends and they will tell you if the girl or boy is a good influence on them. They know they hang out with friends who make noise in class or do not like studying. They know it is wrong.
- Struggle with making commitments – Some girls find these difficult to fill out commitment forms at the start of the term but admit that they find it really helpful because it makes them think about what they want to achieve in the next term. Most of the girls say that what they have committed to affects what they do in the following term.
- Teachers define their attitude towards a subject. As I mentor students of a particular national school, I realised they all struggled with Chemistry. The pattern was the same. They felt the teacher was not patient with them. The girls in the higher classes were worried as it would influence their KCSE score.
If you have a teenager in the house, I encourage you to be proactive in parenting. It is not easy being a teenager in Kenya.