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Mentoring Younger Women

I’ve thought of this many times before – how I’d love to teach younger women some of the things I have learnt while growing up. All of the mistakes I’ve made so far have been very painful; some I’d rather not acknowledge to anyone apart from God. However, I have learnt that my pain, when looked at through the eyes of wisdom, can easily be the stepping stone to someone else’s gain. In the ways in which I see my pain as gain, I see opportunities to edify another woman who needs to know that she doesn’t have to make all the mistakes I made. In fact, if I could really have my way, she wouldn’t make any mistakes at all. She would be perfect.

However, life does not always work that way. We do make mistakes often – some grievous, others less disastrous, but with consequences nonetheless. The hope we have is that we can influence a new generation by preparing them for later life. This will involve opening up our lives to let another woman look inside and learn what they need to learn.

Mentoring younger women needs to be a part of our Kenyan culture once again. My mother’s generation used to do it in their own way, especially when it came to preparation for marriage life. No wonder their marriages seemed to have less volatility. There was a lot of mutual understanding and cooperation between spouses such that even if they had major issues (which I’m sure they did) they dealt with them in a way that didn’t necessarily spell divorce. However, it’s not just marriage life that needs advance preparation. It’s everything else that encompasses a woman’s life from tips on career to choosing friends, dressing, self-expression, leadership, and a host of other things. Come to think of it, a lot of things that I consider to be my repertoire of life skills came from time I spent with other women e.g. older sisters, teachers, friends in college, and of course, my mother. That is not to say that this is the only channel of learning or wisdom for a girl but it is a vital one that will not only prepare her for adult life but will also communicate subtly that she is cared for.

I remember episodes of my childhood when I would spend time with my older sister (I have seven). I’d listen to her opinions of things in life and watch how she handled relationships with people, or how she made decisions about her education and career. She was always serious and practical, but also very compassionate and loved to help needy people. I learnt the value of helping others because she would always come to my rescue whenever I was in trouble, even if I did something very silly. She would often encourage me in my choice of career even when it seemed things wouldn’t work for me. As a result, I learnt to be strong and stable throughout life. I knew that someone always had my back.

If each of us could choose to ‘have someone’s back’ today, there would be a better experience of life, I’m sure of it! Could you do that?

Women’s Groups can be vehicles for mentoring

Women in Kenya are known to be adept at forming groups, organizations, chamas, clubs and all manner of gatherings for one cause or another. In fact, we are so good at it, we have managed to attract the attention of major financial institutions, donors and the government to either finance, support or provide input into our activities. Look at how banks like Equity, Co-operative and K-Rep have introduced and marketed products that specifically target women. These institutions seem to have noticed something significant about what women do when they come together and that we can no longer be ignored. It is said that whatever you do for a woman, whether she is a mother, sister, aunt, grandmother, or daughter, you have done for the whole family. Due to her nurturing and relationship attributes, she is more likely to draw everyone else into the loop of whatever benefit she is enjoying so that they are also blessed.

The reason why I’m saying all this is to remind us of our potential and opportunities as women, and to tie it in with mentoring. Take, for instance, the chamas we are so well-known for. How can we use these forums for mentoring? Is there a way we can devote some of our time to speak to girls in school and college concerning what we have learnt even within the chama? For instance, you could dedicate one of the monthly meetings to visit a school or children’s home and organize a talk, film, games, or other appropriate activity. You could choose to invite an expert in a certain field to guide the talk, e.g. a banker, an entrepreneur, a pastor, a career coach, etc. If it’s not a school or home, you could organize girls in a certain community or estate to gather at the nearest community center or hall and have your activities there. It may require some bit of financing but if you have a welfare kitty within the chama, you could dedicate a certain percentage towards mentoring activities and even have members contribute to it.

You could also invite your daughters and nieces for your meetings every once in a while. This is a great way for them to learn how to manage finances, understand some aspects of group leadership, learn new values and generally enjoy a special outing with mum or auntie.

Another good example is the self-help groups that are common in rural areas. Apart from the main goal of being a vehicle for raising the income of members and the community, it can also be a place where future business women are raised by transferring knowledge and skills to girls. This can be done during school holidays and can be a good strategy for keeping the girls away from idleness that leads to things like promiscuous behavior that causes early pregnancies.

For a long time we have pushed for women in this country to take leadership positions and yes, a lot of ground has been covered. We thank God for the women in parliament as well as the ones heading their own businesses and other organizations. However, I keep asking myself these questions: What about the next generation of women leaders? Have they been trained for leadership? Who is mentoring them to become great women who can be emulated in society?

The groups that we have formed as women are excellent existing structures that we can use to mentor the younger generation. Rather than re-inventing the wheel, let us use the resources that are already at our disposal to do something great. Let us move away from providing just for the present, to providing for the future, which is what makes us stand out as prudent.

Mentoring is not very far from us. It is right at the doorstep of our monthly gatherings. We just need to open our hearts to the idea, start where we are with what we have, and I’m sure we’ll be amazed at how much we can accomplish together.