“I believe that the children are the future, teach them well and let them lead the way”. These aren’t my own words but rather those of the great American “philosopher”, Whitney Houston. Jokes aside, she made a good point. For any nation to prosper, the young generation must be trained and guided in a manner that propels them into a competitive job market.
It isn’t enough to throw our youngsters in school and leave the rest to the Ministry of Education. We must partake in their education as well. I’m not merely talking about parents helping kids with their homework during the holidays; I’m talking about training these kids for a future in the workforce. Here is a question that I’d like parents to ask themselves, “Do my children have any idea of the value of money”? I hate to say this, but I think that we might be raising a generation of spoilt brats unable to understand that money doesn’t grow on trees. How often do you visit a family and find the kids sitting in front of the television all day, especially during the holidays? I think that’s disgusting.
As a youngster, I began EARNING money at around eight years of age. I worked in the media, as a lowly newspaper delivery boy. Come hail or high water, every Monday after school I had to sort over 180 copies, pack them my grimy satchel and deliver them to each and every house in the housing complex. To say that I hated the job would be an understatement. In the summer, while my friends played I had to lug around the bag. In winter, with temperatures at minus 10 degrees Celsius, and with my friends’ toasty warm at home, I had to deliver the paper. I wanted to quit countless times, but my dad wouldn’t let me. It is only now that I can fully appreciate what he was trying to teach me. He was teaching me perseverance. And when he let me use my pay check to buy new sneakers, he was teaching me the sweet fruit of a job well done. In North America, where I was raised, at an early age children are encouraged to involve themselves in the economy. This is either through activities such as basic gardening, washing cars or
making lemonade stands. In each of these rudimentary ‘jobs’ children are taught lessons that they use their entire lives. Lessons such as, ‘there is no such thing as a free lunch’.
I recently joined a mentoring programme in Kigali schools, which is a joint initiative of the Imbuto Foundation and the ALCP alumni organization.
I, along with the other mentors in my specific group, travel to Fawe Girls School once a month to meet and talk to a group of about 26 girls aged between 16-19. I found these girls absolutely brilliant. They are articulate, bright and interesting to boot. With dreams of becoming architects, neurosurgeons and lawyers, what I saw in front of me was the future of this great country.
These girls were the future of Rwanda but when I dug deeper, I found out that this great hope of ours would remain unfulfilled unless we did something about it. While all these girls knew the intricacies of the Pythagoras Theory, they didn’t know how to fill an application form for university, how to search for scholarships or how to make themselves as competitive as possible in the struggle for admissions in the best schools in the world.
Before we begun discussing all the possibilities, I asked them whether they’d ever talked to their parents or teachers about life after high school and I was not surprised when all of them answered “no”.
That’s when I realized how daunting the challenges they faced were. In other countries, each school has a career counselor who is able to help students map out their futures, but here we expect kids to figure it out themselves. We are being unfair to ourselves.
Right now, hundreds of young Rwandans work both in the private and public sector. They have a skill set that they should be sharing with their younger siblings but this isn’t happening in a systematic way. I urge the Ministries of Youth and Education to begin a national mentoring programme.
While it might cost a bit of money, the other option (of letting them blindly figure it out themselves) is untenable. And while we wait for a national programme, I urge everyone to take some time and talk to the young ones. It’s a truly rewarding experience.