The Truth About Mentoring

During my first week, Madam Jenepha (who is awesome, btw!!!) had us do mentoring sessions with the girls at Sisterhood for Change (SFC).
The SFC program at KMET offers vocational classes (Catering, Tailoring, and Hairdressing), counseling, remedial classes to prepare the girls for their KCPE, for vulnerable teenage girls living in the 5 informal settlements in Kisumu.
Of course when I heard the word mentoring, I had an image of me sitting at a table with a girl on the other end sharing personal stories with me chiming in at the right moment with comforting words, hands outstretched with a soft white tissue. Of course I now realize that was a very distorted image (I really shouldn’t watch too much TV!).
Madam Jenepha let us know beforehand that as mentors, we are responsible to set an atmosphere that is comfortable and safe for the girls to open up, especially about sensitive issues. And what better way to achieve this than to start with our stories!
Yes, you can already imagine my disbelief.
Now I’m going to be a bit honest. I am not really one to be open about my feelings and such. My philosophy had always been “my story, my business.” So I was taken aback when she suggested we talk about ourselves as well in order for the girls to be open and honest.
To show that she practices what she preaches, Madam Jenepha started with herself. In the meantime, I was having a mini battle with myself as I finally convinced my stubborn other half that she was right. By the time it was my turn, I was already in tears and found myself discussing things so personal with such ease. Madam Jenepha was right! Everyone was open and genuine and we all felt comfortable talking about our personal stuff in a safe and comfortable environment that we had created. As the session wrapped up, I was amazed at how easy it had been for me to open up with the girls. Despite the obvious differences in our lives, we were each able to find something in common with the other by hearing each other’s stories.
We’ve had a couple of sessions and they’ve all been great so far. I am really getting to know the girls on such a personal level, and I’ve enjoyed noticing how our comfort level continues to increase with each interaction.
I guess the moral of the story is that sometimes you have to start with yourself if you want to see the change in others. I know, it sounds very cliché and its pretty obvious but its so easy for us to assume that because we are out there “helping” (and I use that term very loosely) others, we don’t need any of the assistance that we are so willing to dish out when in fact we might need it the most.
Rashida Aluko-Roberts
Kisumu, Kenya