In the course of a life and career, one can be influenced by any number of individuals who positively affect our development. From relatives to coaches to teachers to bosses, each has an impact on our learning and growth. If we are lucky, our relationship with one or more of these people will deepen to that of a mentorship.
There’s no denying the benefits of mentoring. According to The National Mentoring Project, “A mentor and mentee relationship can be transformational for the individuals themselves and the lives of others with whom they work and live.” Whether through a formalized program or just as a guiding presence in daily life, mentors can provide knowledge and perspective to mentees on both the personal and global level.
The Mentoring Project credits mentors as a “key, yet overlooked, factor” in furthering the success of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. “Mentors can help their mentees address and tackle personal and societal poverty, hunger, good health and well-being, gender equality, reduced inequality, sustainable cities and communities, peace and justice, etc.”
In ASEC’s Sisters Leadership Development Initiative (SLDI) program, mentoring is both a foundation and an outcome. Through SLDI, Catholic sisters in Africa receive leadership and technology training. Upon graduation from the program, sisters receive a laptop to assist them in continuing their work at home. Sisters are not only provided with mentorship during their time in the program, but also become mentors in their communities. Alumnae are expected to mentor at least three other sisters and are encouraged to invite their mentees to attend the annual alumnae workshops.
ASEC alumnae go on to have major impacts in the lives of others as leaders and advisors. Sisters from ASEC programs have mentored 35,000+ people, sharing the skills they've learned with other sisters and community members.
Mentoring For Economic Empowerment
SLDI alumna Sr. Veronica Chibuzor Iloh, SJGS, works in Ebonyin State, Nigeria where she educates the public on HIV/AIDS prevention through an economic empowerment program. Through her education and what she has seen in her community, she recognizes how addressing issues like poverty, gender inequality and social exclusion can help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. She has created a program to mentor women in her community and encourage economic empowerment. The program includes components like:
- Microfinance assistance for the vulnerable households to engage in economic activities
- Vocational training: providing young boys and girls with skills, opportunities and materials
- Life skills training
- Improving household food security by assisting them to secure farm inputs
- Assisting the vulnerable households secure property and inheritance rights
- Provision of educational support
- Constituting village savings and loan association (VSLA)
Sr. Veronica has mentored over 250 people and counting in her program, including a widow named Mrs. Agu Elizabeth. Mrs. Agu had started a business selling ogbono, a type of seed popular in Nigerian cooking, but was not able to fully support her family following her husband’s death. She received a small donation and financial literacy training through Sr. Veronica’s program and with Sr. Veronica as a mentor, Mrs. Agu was able to build her business to be the sole source of income for her family.
The confidence and training Sr. Veronica gained through SLDI has multiplied through those she mentors. She says,
“I cannot imagine anything else being as interesting, challenging, exhilarating and rewarding as some of the jobs I have had. Plus, every now and again, things go right, and you walk away feeling that, for some people, in some places, the world is a better place because of something you did.”
Sr. Josephine Mary Phillip Awino, FSJ, a Franciscan Sister of St. Joseph – Asumbi, is another SLDI graduate who is spreading her financial knowledge. After learning budget, bookkeeping and grant-writing through SLDI, Sr. Josephine is now school administrator and project coordinator at St. Peter Claver Integrated Education Complex. The complex provides food, shelter and safety to impoverished and disabled students in the Wikoten and Asumbi areas of Kenya. Sr. Josephine used her grant writing skills to secure funds for a kitchen, dining hall and dormitory, along with expanding the library space and travel accommodations for the rainy season.
But her financial education goes beyond her day job at the school: Sr. Josephine has also used her education to mentor three sisters in grant writing and financial management. She writes,
“I am happy that sisters I am mentoring can now write and keep financial records. One has [learned] how to write proposals.”
Sharing Computer and Technology Knowledge
Sr. Roselyne Wambani Wafula, FSP, is an SLDI program participant from Tanzania. She is amazed at how the technology training she received has helped her. She regularly uses programs like Microsoft Excel and Word and assuredly carries out basic computer troubleshooting and system maintenance, all of which allow her and her community to fulfill their missions better, faster and more confidently than ever.
And Sr. Roselyne is just as excited to share their knowledge with her community. She said,
“I find myself working in a more comfortable way and always excited to pass on this knowledge to my sisters who are interested in broadening their understanding and performance. ...You will never know how much good this program has done to me and I believe to all who have had the chance to participate in the ASEC program."
Encouraging Sisters To Write Their Way To Success
Sr. Bernardine Pemii, DC, a Daughter of Charity from Ghana, has had a passion for networking and mentoring since graduating from SLDI in 2007. She successfully secured a grant for the first project she proposed following graduation: a three-year strategic plan for the Religious Women Council of the Diocese of Navrongo/Bolgatanga. She's also implemented a child protection program, training over 15,000 stakeholders in child protection laws and identifying and serving victims of abuse.
More recently, she facilitated a workshop for 15 sisters in which they completed a proposal for a specific need or project in their community. While some of the sisters in the workshop were skeptical at the exercise, Sr. Bernardine mentored them through the proposal process and donors’ funding guidelines. She said,
“My aim was to mentor the group, not just facilitate the workshop, so I decided to make it very practical in order to pass on the … skills and knowledge I’ve acquired through the help of SLDI...”
At the conclusion of the workshop, Sr. Bernardine submitted the top three proposals – and two received positive responses from donors!
“The sisters couldn’t believe it when I called them up to inform them that two of the proposals received positive responses,” said Sr. Bernardine. “With this discovery, others who were not very keen to carry out the activities during the workshop started requesting that I visit their various communities to guide them individually.”
Mentoring: The Gift That Keeps On Giving
Perhaps one of the best examples of the on-going gift of mentorship through SLDI is the Ukweli Home of Hope in Nairobi, Kenya. The Home, which is run by the Little Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi, provides basic needs and education to homeless boys and runs on donations and income derived from the school’s projects. Ukweli Home has cared for over 200 orphaned boys who would have otherwise been among the estimated 300,000 children living on the streets in Nairobi.
Sr. Anisia Kitaka, LSOSF, a 2009 graduate of the SLDI Admin Track, mentored the Home’s current director, Sr. Catherine Wanza, LSOSF, almost daily for two years.
Through this mentorship, Sr. Catherine said she learned skills in management, reporting, project writing and curriculum development. This has led to boys from the Home learning sustainable farming methods and the creation of the Oasis Drinking Water Bottling Project, both of which provide income, employment opportunity and business experience.
Sr. Catherine said that as a result of Sr. Anisia's mentorship, she is able to take risks, has less stress and feels more organized. And Sr. Catherine has since shared her knowledge by mentoring other sisters and the over 200 boys she has cared for in Ukweli Home.
And now, some of the boys have become mentors for the Home. Graduates of the school have gone on to university, with some continuing on to become doctors. One of the very first boys who lived at the Home (circa 1996) is now one of the center's success stories. He now lives in the USA and has completed his Ph.D. in Urban Affairs and Public Policy.
Another Ukweli Home alumni grew up on the streets of Mombasa, cared for by older street children, until he came to the Ukweli home in 2011. Now he is studying for a degree in International Diplomacy and he hopes to be the U.N. Secretary General one day.
As you can see, Catholic sisters go far beyond providing basic needs and support by becoming mentors to sisters in their communities and those in need around them. The education, skills and confidence they gain through ASEC programs empower them to become mentors. In turn, the guidance, motivation and support provided through the mentorships of these sisters leave a deep and long-lasting impact in their communities and beyond.