The LubutoMentoring sessions are now in full swing, and the whole experience continues to be an education for me (and not only in terms of learning the differences between the way that Zambians and Brits organise such events!). Reading the Mentoring Manual taught me a huge amount about the method behind the programme – positive thinking and reinforcement, reprogramming the mind to avoid negativity, encouraging participation and empowering vulnerable youth – but seeing the sessions in action has been amazing (even though I don’t understand most of it, as it takes place in the vernacular language!).
The impact of seeing 40 teenagers, some of whom are regular library visitors but many who are coming for the first time to join the programme, crowding into the Reading Room and sitting in the talking circle discussing an issue such as ‘love’ with their mentors, is difficult to describe. Traditional and book based stories are used to illustrate the point of each session and the boys from the LubutoArts programme have created artworks as visual aids for each story. The mentors manage to maintain a relationship with the kids that is informal and trusting, but respectful at the same time – I’m not sure how many teachers I know in the UK who could hold a class of 40 mixed ability kids rapt for an hour and a half!
Group 3 at Fountain of Hope Lubuto Library is made up almost entirely of kids from the street and is mentored by Vasco and Salome. In the session on Wednesday, while the other staff members were taking down names and collecting our evaluation data, Vasco began by discussing the ground rules with the kids – rules such as “no sticka” (solvent drug found on the street) and “no stealing books” were proposed and voted on in a lively session. This group was rowdy to say the least – many of them have limited experience of participating in such a group before, having dropped out of school and spent all their time on the street for many years. However they really enjoyed it and had a constructive session. Bearing in mind that there are few rules on the street, I was struck by how Vasco managed to convey that there would be rules for participation in the group, but without being threatening or confrontational. Then followed a recap on last week’s session, where kids were vying to stand up in the middle and say what they had learnt, and an equally lively mentoring session proper. Every contribution was celebrated with a ‘kilo’ (a sequence of claps which is traditional in Zambia to show your appreciation – kilos here involve saying something as well and they range from “wonderful kilo” – 3 claps, another 3 claps, and saying “wonderful”; to “bosses kilo” – 3 claps, 3 claps, then simulating bowing down to the person and saying “bosses are bosses are bosses are bosses”; to “fireworks kilo” which involves a sequence of whistles and hand movements that I can’t quite manage!).
I feel privileged to attend the LubutoMentoring sessions, but this one in particular made me feel very lucky. To see how at ease the mentors, especially Vasco, are with the kids from the street, and to see how they work with them to help them, was an honour. These young people are the most vulnerable and most marginalised in their society, and their situation is very complex, but through programmes such as this there is some hope for them.