The Power of Others

Why we should make a conscious effort to mentor others

Bella in a Girl Lead Hub Network mentoring session with girls of Government Girls Secodary School, Dutse. Photo credit: Tolu Cole

“A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself” Oprah Winfrey.

A couple of days ago, I caught a bit of a Channels TV documentary report on the situation in IDP camps in Northern Nigeria. In the video, a reporter asked a group of children, who appeared to be under the age of 14, what they will like to be when you grow up. The responses were telling and the top three were: MoPol (Mobile Police), Police and Soldier.

In Nigeria when you meet a child for the first time “what do you want to be when you grow up” is usually one of the most frequently asked questions. The response to this question usually forms the bases for the conversation with the child. The top five responses are typically: 1. Doctor 2. Lawyer 3. Engineer 4. Accountant 5. Politician, in that order. Occasionally, you will hear a child who is fascinated by watching an aircraft in motion say they will like to be a pilot, or another child who thinks that every journalist gets to travel the world and uncover breaking news like Christian Amanpour say they will like to be a journalist, but not nearly as often as the top five career choices

A few factors influence the choice of careers for children. When you probe further you will find that the three biggest factors are parents, teachers and popular culture, and at the core of these factors is role-modelling. Some children pick their careers because their parents are in those careers. It is also very common to hear a child say that their career pick was their parent’s decision. There are also others who decide on a career because their favorite teacher told them they will be good at it, and there are the ones who want to become a musician because they like Beyonce, or a writer because they want to tow the path of their favorite writer-Chimamanda. Essentially, a child’s options for career — one of the biggest decisions of their lives — is limited to the influence of the people around them, whom they trust, and information at their disposal.

It is no wonder that a group of children in an IDP camp, whose lives have been dealt a blow by the Boko Haram insurgency, will highly rank a career in the military. For them, the soldiers in the Nigerian Military have been the source of their hope for the future. They are their heroes. If not for the men and women in uniform, fighting at the forefront of the insurgency, their lives will not be guaranteed, neither will their security in the camps where they now call home. If and when they do go back to their homes, it will be because of the military who will be drafted to maintain security in the recovered territories.

Mentoring, formal or informal, like a bridge, connects individuals to opportunities. Mentors have the ability to change the course of a child’s future by modelling a positive behavior and exposing them to a world outside of their own. We are a product of our environment and our actions are shaped by our experiences. I run a leadership program for more than 60 adolescent girls in a public school under the Girl Lead Hub Network platform. During my first interaction with the girls, I asked them what university they will like to attend after high school. All the girls named popular universities in their regions, simply because that was the height of their imagination. But today, as a direct result of my interaction with them, they have set new goals. Their worldview has been expanded and they can imagine a university experience outside the boundaries of their state, of Nigeria. What changed?

It is infinitely empowering to have individuals in your life who believe in you and push you to dream more and to become more. For mentors, the feeling is mutual-heartwarming to know that something you said or did resulted in a total transformation of someone else’s life. Make a commitment to empower yourself today, become a mentor.