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Extraordinary idea — The mentoring programme
Several super speeches were made at the launch of the national mentorship programme, but one statement proved to be a very potent analysis of the needs of children. And guess what? It came from Alma Powell, wife of General Colin Powell, former US Secretary of State. She described the five basic things required for integrated development of children: a caring adult, a healthy start, safe places to learn after school, a marketable skill with effective education, and an opportunity to give back. The general presented a huge challenge to nations around the globe who have to grapple with the multiplicity of crises plaguing the youth sector. He stated that “we have to find ways to keep our eyes on every single child who needs it, whether it is the US or T&T you name it, throughout the world, because there is a horrible alternative to it.”
Every single child. Therefore, the choice of mentors must be very critical to the success of this programme. Mentorship involves modelling and the transmission of positive values, guiding youth to make effective choices, empowering them to shape a possibility future, teaching them to be resilient, being there for them, defending them. But it also involves giving them room to make choices and to accept the consequences of those choices. The Powells concluded that looking after children can reduce crime and, of course, this would enhance national security. Within the past few weeks the mantra that it takes a village to raise a child has been used on several occasions. But let us be practical and factual; we have allowed the gang leaders to control the village.
The question remains: Who in the village is raising the child? Solid citizens with values? Gang leaders and recruiters? Drug lords? Gambling aficionados? Perhaps the question should be who is allowed in the village to raise the child? It is clear that some parents have sold out their children. Worse than that, they benefit from their children’s illegal activities. This is a tragedy and must not be ignored as we perform an analysis of the paralysis. It has been noted that there should be an effective screening programme so that those who would exploit vulnerable children will not be selected. It is to be expected that there will be security background checks, to preserve the ethos of the programme.
But let us return to the concept called “presence” and let us remember that there are parents, particularly single parents, who are doing their best to mentor their children. But they have two jobs. Families are collapsing and these noble souls who make every effort to give spiritual guidance face ridicule and pressure in troubled environments. In many “hot spots” we have to play “catch-up.” We are not the first; in fact we are running a poor second but better late than never. The gang leaders have a tight, threatening hold on many youth, but we have to make a gallant effort. As I said on 98.1FM last Wednesday night, young people have the capacity to analyse the motives of adults. They have the ability to spot the genuine and they rebel against the pseudomentors. So be warned, this is no easy ride and the opportunists will ultimately have to face the anger and rejection of the children.
In the book The Externally Focused Church written by Rusaw and Swanson, there is an interesting story about Pastor John Bruce. You may find this story very relevant as we seek to support the National Mentorship Programme: “A few years ago, John Bruce, pastor of Creekside Community church of San Leandro, California, met with the principal of an elementary school in Oakland. He asked what the church could do to help the school. At the time, violence in this school was so bad that sometimes half the kids were absent simply because they didn’t want to get beaten up. The church responded by providing men to be present on the playgrounds during recess and during the lunch hour.
School attendance rose, so the church began looking for other opportunities to serve. They determined that they could have the greatest impact by working with the bottom 10 per cent of elementary school students. By working with this group, they hope to raise the level of education for the entire school system. By working one-on-one with students in the classroom and with groups of students after class—assisting them with homework, playing with them, and providing learning games—members of this church are creating an atmosphere in which students can learn and thrive. Beyond helping students, the volunteers from Creekside support and serve the teachers by providing breakfast, recognition ceremonies, gift bags, praise, and appreciation. The principal was quick to point out that “these activities went a long way toward maintaining teacher morale during the difficult times of this past school year.
When they feel appreciated and valued, teachers provide a higher level of service to our students.”
Clearly, Pastor Bruce and his team understand not just the concept of mentoring and what is required to make it a success, but what it takes to produce a mentoring culture. Because no mentoring programme will succeed unless we sacrificially develop a mentoring culture in our schools, churches, sporting organisations, Pathfinder Clubs, Crusaders, Cadets, Master Guide Clubs. Religious groups must return to the Good Samaritan model. We must not wait for people to appeal to us, and sit in our comfortable air-conditioned churches. We must be proactive and search for individuals, families and opportunities so we can make a difference. With all the hostile debate going on in the community about ethnic imbalance, a National Mentorship Programme can provide a perfect platform for groups to interact and eventually unite the society. Why? Simple!
A fractured society cannot create a balanced, mature, mentoring programme. We have to look at motivating a culture of volunteers. Pastor Bruce displayed his giftedness in this area, and got his volunteers to think strategically, and move into a gang-infested school. But they formulated a sequential intervention. They produced a homework centre in the school and they looked at the empowerment of the most vulnerable youth. There are groups involved in a similar pro-cess such as the Loveuntil Foundation, the St James Police Youth Club, the Boy Scout Movement, New Hope Prison Ministries.
Some groups benefit significantly from state resources, while some are applauded but ignored. The time has come to level the playing field. It is not fair to support some and neglect others. God is counting on us. The Powells and the Prime Minister demonstrated that we have to rebuild the institution of the family to ensure true national development.
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