Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Mentoring: A Lacking Tradition Among Bongolanders?

One of the keys to success in life, I believe, is to have a life "coach" or a mentor. A mentor is a person with certain experiences which the "learner" (mentee) is missing. Such experiences could vary, but they typically include educational and career experiences. The objective of mentoring is to ensure that the mentee will be in a position to succeed, without necessarily going through all the pitfalls of bad choices.

I am writing about mentoring today because of my own personal frustrations. See, I have this young man in Tanzania who just finished his A Level studies. Being a close relative, I have been trying to steer him towards the right direction based on my past experiences. Nonetheless, my efforts have been coming across some major snags. It appears the young man is not willing to listen. The problem, I have come to realize, is not that he is still young. The problem is that he has grown (just like I grew up) in an environment where mentoring is not a nurtured culture.

As such, almost all of us grew up trying to figure out the secrets of life on our own. We grew up fumbling through life, making wrong choices along the way. Most of us can agree to the fact that where we ended being in life - careerwise or otherwise - is almost accidental (This argument is ignoring God's devine plan for our life, but focusing on our personal choice within our control). There wasn't a deliberate design or plan to get here. We had a desire or goal, but we didn't know how to achieve our goals. But I believe that had we had mentors, for most of us life could have been much easier.

I want to place my blame on our parents and our culture as a whole. I know of many Bongoland fathers who never spend time with their sons or daughters, trying to mentor them and steer them in the right direction. I know how difficult it is to have a conversation with your father in the Bongoland context just to figure out life questions, because the response would almost always be: we mtoto toka hapa maswali yote ya nini, huoni nasoma gazeti? Nenda kacheze nje! ( A lifetime opportunity for someone to learn wasted) Or better yet, most of us would dare not ask for directions in Dar-es-Salaam, for you will almost get a look (if not verbally uttered) that speaks louder : we mshamba nini? So most people grow up being afraid to ask questions and identify a mentor to learn from. We end up learning from friends who are facing the same plight.

Lack of a mentor could cause someone to learn unnecessarily the hard way. I have seen a couple of my Bongolanders here in Columbus "suffer" because of lack of mentoring. For instance, I have observed a trend : Someone goes to Franklin University, graduates and then continue to pay a whole lot of dough to DeVry University for their graduate studies. Well, my convinction is that no one (especially those who have performed well in their undergraduate studies, with exception of "prestigious" programs such as Law or MBA) should pay for their graduate education. There are tons of Universities that do offer full or modified assistantship. All you have to do is position yourself right. The problem is that most of the Bongoland young men and women have no mentors to guide them through. They end up learning from friends who have taken similar wrong paths.

I am not claiming to know it all, but I have had my own share of frustrations in my career due to the fact that I didn't have a mentor. Imagine having to figure out the dos and don'ts at your workplace on your own. By the time you have figure out what not to do, most likely will be out of the door already - fired. Or worst, by the time you figure it out, you are too old to make amends.

For you who have most of your relatives in the vijiji vya ujamaa, you can relate to this. Just make a trip back to your village from the United States. Most of the people there would almost be interested in your few dollars than the most important thing: your mind. No one will ever ask you to take their son or daughter under your wing for mentoring, but they will surely ask you for financial assistance to solve a problem, whose source in reality, is just ignorance. And that is a typical story everywhere, even some of the washikaji you left hustling in Dar will almost always never ask you to mentor them, despite your exposure and experience.

I just wish that Bongolanders could embrace the power of mentoring...for some of our personal struggles are due to lack of a proper life coach.