A Little Help from my Friends
I see her standing in front of a class filled elbow to elbow with Scholars, a smile on her face. The Scholars keenly listen to their Mentor, excited at having a chance to share their ideas. She has a strong, enthusiastic voice and she maintains eye contact with her Scholars. She is skilled at facilitating the class, keeping it moving along in an energetic way.
Who could have imagined that just a few months ago, this Mentor was very nervous and that she had no confidence standing in front of audiences and presenting topics? This transformation is thanks to the feedback and encouragement that are the key components of AfricAid’s Peer Mentoring program.
Peer Mentoring is a staff development program that was established by the organization in June, 2018. The objective is to improve Mentors’ communication and group facilitation skills by getting input from fellow Mentors and sharing helpful ideas. The feedback from Peer Mentoring creates Mentors who do not train their Scholars by force or using harsh words. Instead, they direct their Scholars in an engaging way, which also helps a Mentor to discover the particular strengths and talents of each Scholar. The program develops Mentors professionally as we learn how to manage time and classrooms properly – in short, how we can maximize the potential from each individual Scholar.
At AfricAid, we value professionalism, innovation, and learning from each other as we reflect on our practice. It is in this context that Peer Mentoring is another of many supports and trainings that Mentors receive, starting from before they set foot in a classroom. (Read more about this thorough training.) Both Kisa Project and Binti Shupavu Mentors have the opportunity for this type of constructive criticism. New staff are paired with more experienced Mentors. According to Binti Shupavu Project Manager Asimwe Suedi, the Mentor sits in the corner or at the back of the room and quietly observes the class making notes about presentation, class arrangement, interactions, creativity, and lesson content delivery. On the following day, the two sit somewhere privately for a feedback session.
My name is Felister Mndasha. I am a Binti Shupavu Mentor at AfricAid’s Kilimanjaro Office and also a Captain of the Peer Mentoring program. The main responsibilities I have in this role are tracking who has visited classes of fellow Mentors and how many times (we aim for monthly visits). I make sure that the follow up feedback sessions happen and keep the related records.
Peer Mentoring feedback helps Mentors not only in working with their Scholars, but also more broadly, in other areas of their lives. Esther, a Binti Shupavu Mentor, said, “Peer Mentoring opens my eyes to improvements I can make in different areas. It also motivates me to add to my abilities, allowing me to create new ways of doing things in the classroom, at work, and in my life in general.”
Through Peer Mentoring, Mentors improve the way they interact with their Scholars. Flora, another Binti Shupavu Mentor, remarked “Peer Mentoring feedback benefits me in different ways, including my facilitation skills, class management, and the way I interact with my audiences. It has helped me realize where I should make more effort, and hence I have successfully improved in all areas.”
Peer Mentoring has become part of our workplace culture and a platform for Mentors to be encouraged in their strengths, while finding creative ways to identify and work through areas of weakness. We all recognize that weaknesses are not permanent. Binti Shupavu Mentor Agnes mentioned, “The support I receive from my peers helps me learn more and identify my strengths and weaknesses, and to increase creativity and innovation in mentoring skills.”
As Mentors give feedback to other Mentors, they have a chance to reflect on themselves as well. Binti Shupavu Assistant Project Manager Mary Maika said, “While giving others feedback, I had a chance to think about how I could have done it differently. It’s a learning session for myself and also makes room for the facilitator to learn and grow. I love honest feedback. No hard feelings attached, it is the best!”