THERE is a Kinyarwanda word that means a lot of things depending on the context. That word is itorero. For a Kinyarwanda 101 student like me, I always knew that it meant church.
That was until recently, when I got to know that it also meant the traditional school of yore. I stand to be corrected.
Throughout Africa, and perhaps much of the world, the traditional school was used to pass on vital life skills to the young ones of the community.
Whether it was the traditional schools of the Akan in Ghana or elsewhere, children were equipped with the basics of agriculture, the history of the tribe and the particular trade of the father.
However, there was also something else in which the traditional school excelled over our modern educational school.
It was the whole concept of mentoring. In addition to the basic necessities, and love, a child needs a mentor.
A mentor can be described as a significantly older person who takes an interest in a learner, and is ever ready to pass on his life’s experiences to the learner.
In the traditional schools of Africa, the mentors were ever present. In the village set-up, a child could easily learn from a wide array of same-sex relatives including his father or mother, grandparents, uncles and aunties.
Owing to the changes wrought on the African continent over the last half a century, this system of mentoring has widely collapsed, especially in the urban areas.
Due to distance and time constraints many children are growing up without an effective mentoring program. At best it tends to be haphazard, with a little coming from parents, teachers, the clergy and others.
Yet, for all the subjects learnt in the classroom, there is need for the passing on of other life’s experiences be it in the family, work and the community.
The modern young African is left in a canyon. It is unlikely that he would be able to go back to the days of ancient Africa. It is a world that he would not fit in much less understand.
Neither is he completely in the post-Enlightenment reality that characterizes Western thought. So what is a young African going to do?
It is in this area that the opportunity lies. Thanks to mass communication today’s young person has access to millions of people from around the world, each with their own unique experience. Human endeavour has opened up so many fields of learning.
The world today is like a supermarket of ideas and experiences. It is from this rich resource that a young person can find suitable mentors. You need not restrict yourself to just one.
It is often possible to find an array of them, each with something different that can point you in the right direction.
Unlike our forbearers who hardly ventured out of the village, we are a generation that is bound to be highly mobile. We will have a wider range of experiences and a higher number of options.
To successfully navigate through all these options, we will need access to a greater range of mentors, who have specialized in one area or another. So how will we do it?
We will have to read as many autobiographies as possible. It is not always that an autobiographical narrative is honest. It is human to want to embellish our lives.
However, occasionally one comes across honest accounts in which authors share with readers their highs and lows. These are the books to read.
We will have to look for role models on whom we can shape our values. Some of these role models will not always be the leading lights, but it could be people who by their drive, competence or common touch inspire others to be better human beings.
One would also be careful on what to pick from whichever mentor you choose.
It becomes necessary to do so since your mentor may not always be a role model in every area of life.
So as you study, look out for people that you would like to become. That will help frame whatever it is that you would like to become. Learn from their successes and their failures, and keep moving on the road of life.
Words by John Weru,
Principal, Virunga Communication Centre, email@example.com