By Elita Chamdimba from Little Big Prints
“Let’s hurry up! The minibus is here and we don’t want to be late!”
Friday mornings had taken on a new meaning for us. At Little Big Prints — a project that connects university mentors with girls in rural secondary schools in Zomba, Malawi — Fridays were Mentor Days. That meant putting our smiles on, no matter how stressful the week had been. Our focus and positive energy would be spent on a group of girls who’d probably had a stressful week of their own.
This mentor team was an assorted bunch of female university students from various study programs at Chancellor College. But Friday mornings brought us all together with one goal and one role: to mentor girls at a community secondary school in a rural part of Zomba called Jali.
“Is everybody on the minibus now?”
“Yes, we are all here. Let me do a quick head count and can someone double-check that we have packed all the materials for today.”
“I’ve double-checked twice already! I am looking at the clock; let’s go!”
And just like that, we were on the road onward to Jali. What seemed like a long drive was actually only 20 or 25 minutes from the Chancellor College campus. Upon arrival at Primiti School, we would be greeted by 40 or 50 girls. Our first task was always to get everyone’s energy levels up. After all, the girls we mentored were in 10th and 11th grades, and by the time we got to their school, they would have just gotten out of class. They hadn’t eaten any lunch, and after our session, they would have to walk a long way home. (Some walked as far as 45 minutes just to get to school.)
“Let’s get started by forming a big circle. Can we have a bold volunteer who will step into the middle and teach us an energizing game?”
When we first started our mentoring, the girls were very shy. No one would be brave enough to step into the middle of the circle. As mentors, our goal was to build trust with the girls so that we could engage them and help build their confidence levels through participatory approaches. By now, their confidence levels had improved: They would think of games and songs to teach and share with us before we even arrived. There was still room for growth, but we were happy that they participated more now.
“That was a fun game! Thank you for teaching it to us. Now it’s time to get into our small groups. Everybody identify your mentor and get into your groups.”
This was the most important part of our mentor sessions! We had developed a 1:5 mentor-to-student ratio in the small groups. This allowed the students to have closer connections and more personalized discussions with their assigned mentors. Although we worked in small groups, it was important for us to keep the mentoring in sync; so we pre-planned group activities. They varied week to week because when you’re working with young people you have to keep them engaged and interested — but even us mentors wanted to have fun and stay creative!
For this day’s group session, we facilitated discussion about obstacles to education for Malawian girls. The girls shared general and personal examples about challenges they faced in education. They spoke about how domestic expectations can sometimes limit the time that girls can give to school work; some talked about how peer pressure can be a distraction to their goals. Others mentioned challenges such as financial limitations, child marriage, and teen pregnancy as issues that some Malawian girls face.
“It’s time to wrap up! We have 15 more minutes.”
How does two hours fly so quickly? We used their final minutes with the girls to address specific questions and areas of help where needed. We also asked how classes was going, and the girls were able to flip through their books and notes to show us which subjects they were doing well in and which ones were not-so-good.
As one of my fellow mentors, Mtendere, has said, “What I enjoyed most was the passion the girls were showing towards learning from us, all the stories and experiences we shared, and our treasured fun moments.” I agree! Chancellor College is only a 20-minute drive from these girls’ school, yet these mentoring sessions were usually their first contact with young women who attended the university. By connecting with them, we hope their ambitions and interest in tertiary education continues to grow.
And it seems like it’s working! One of the girls, Thoko, even said, “The mentors really motivate me. I feel it has changed my life.”