Giving back to our communities

The same way we find and feel that mentors are important to us just like Munira discussed in her August blog, I believe that we should do the same for others. Like I also mentioned in my August blog about the importance of finding a support system that will motivate and support us, I also said that after we have found that support system, we should go out there and be someone else’s support system.

I didn’t realize how much of a difference I could make to young kids’ lives until this year when I was more involved in community work. All the previous years I always dedicated some of my time to volunteer work in terms of mentorship programs or open days for high school learners but none of these ever required me to interact with these learners after that one event. This year I made a conscious decision to participate in the efforts of Nka’Thuto EduPropeller, and was actively involved in some of their expos.

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Nka’Thuto is a non-profit organization that was established in 2016 with the objective to spark interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) careers amongst learners. There is a 7 tier process that is followed that the learners are involved in, the first process is the Activation stage. During this stage, the organization goes to various schools and encourage learners to find problems in their communities. The second process in the programme is the workshop stage. This stage teaches the learners about how to go about conducting research and finding solutions to the problems they have identified in their community. The third is the consultation stage, the learners are giving an opportunity to consult with mentors about their ideas. Thereafter, the internal school level Innovation Expo happens where learners compete amongst their peers. A computer skills workshop is also offered to the learners. The winners of the school level expo then compete in the final innovation expo with other learners from different schools and provinces. The winners from the final expo then proceed to the Entrepreneurship expo pitching competition.

I was involved in the internal school level and the final innovation expos. The feeling that comes with being part of such initiatives is beyond satisfying. Getting the opportunity to interact with the learners, not only about their science projects but also their future plans are just remarkable. Leading up to the final expo round, they invited me to a mentorship session to help the learners prepare for the finals. I was happy to see a whole lot of familiar faces from the previous expos. I was especially ecstatic to have two learners who insisted on having a consultation with me since I was their judge during their school level expo. They were happy to show me that they have implemented my suggestions and wanted to know if there was more I could suggest from what they have done. On the day of the final expo, I made it a point of mine to go have a look at their board and I was truly impressed with the effort they made in improving from their last expo. This was clearly an indication that they were there to learn.

What I am trying to say is that I really believe it is important that us as postgraduate students should be the mentors that we would like for ourselves. The same way we would like mentors to guide and support us, we should also pass this on to others younger than us. Not everyone has the opportunity to meet people who are in the same career path they would like to follow. Take me for example, I did not know that one can have a career in Physics when I was still in High School. So now I make it a point to let the younger learners know that it is possible to have a career apart from the typical careers that they are aware of. During the expo sessions I judged in, I asked most of them what they wanted to do when they finished school. It was interesting because I got a variety of answers ranging from software engineering to being doctors. What gave them hope was that I would even tell them that I knew a couple of people who were in the same career field as their interests.

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We have a whole generation of young people who are smart that just need mentors to guide them in the right direction. We are part of this generation that needs mentors but let us not forget those younger than us.  We are the mentors that they need, want and should have. We should give more of our time to encourage, motivate and mentor these learners. Let us be their role models, someone for them to look up to and aspire to become.

I am not saying that everyone should start a foundation or organization that helps learners from our communities, from what I have heard, it’s a lot of work. What I am however saying is that if you do come across a foundation or organization that is looking for volunteers, volunteer your time. There is more to giving back to the community than volunteering at a soup kitchen or visiting old age homes and orphanages. Sometimes sharing our knowledge and skills can go a long way in making a difference in someone else’s life. The learners are really looking for someone to inspire and give them hope, be that light at the end of their High School tunnel.

Expectations meet reality…

So in preparation for my data collection which I hope will start soon. I have been having practice shoots or mock situations with friends who have been so generous to pose as farmers and extension officers. Allowing me to take videos while they demonstrate how the farmer and extension officer will most likely interact when working together in establishing home gardens. The mock shoots were suggested by my supervisor since I have never worked with a camera before. He made me understand that it would be beneficial for me to get used to working with the camera before meeting the actual participants of the study. Having this experience has in many ways prepared me for some of the realities I can expect when I begin my actual data collection.

People prepare in various ways for various situations. For example, some people meditate, some go to the venue where they will be presenting or writing exams to familiarize themselves with the environment and some have mock presentations or situations to help keep themselves calm. In my situation having mock situations was the best way for me to prepare. Being prepared either for exams, presentations, an interview or a meeting puts one at a competitive advantage, enhances strategic thinking, self-discipline and builds confidence.  

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From regular clothes to a work suit…

My expectation about wearing the “right clothes” for the work I will be doing was “of course I will get dirty, I mean I will be working in gardens with smallholder farmers after all, but surely I will not get that dirty besides, I will be the girl operating the camera most of the time”. Consequently, on the first day of shooting the mock videos, I put on jeans, sneakers and a cute jersey what a miscalculation. The wind blew so drastically by the time we were finished my black sneakers looked pale from dust, my blue jeans were literally brown I do not even want to talk about the cute jersey I had on it was not so cute anymore. At that moment it hit me, my dress style has to change from everyday clothes to a work-suit and a doek. The doek is for protecting my hair from dust. On the bright side of things, this does mean less laundry for me… hehehe.

Unexpected challenges

I thought that the challenges I would encounter would be internal more than they would be external. For example, I anticipated having challenges with operating my camera while engaging with the person I am interviewing and choosing the appropriate software for editing videos. I was intimidated by working with editing software’s but now that I have been experimenting with them I have gained confidence.  However, I really did not expect to be confronted by social challenges like livestock roaming around and destroying my hard work. We used a friend’s backyard to prepare the soil, plant the seedlings and eventually got the video done.  The content of the video was about the “best methods of planting that are available to smallholder farmers when starting a home garden”. My friend lives in a commune and a day after we planted our seedlings one of the tenants left the gate open and a cow came in and ate all the seedlings… I died.  So we had to start from the beginning because we cannot monitor the crops inside the stomach of a cow we do not know. I did not see the cow coming…literally.  Seriously caught me off guard.

 

Having the opportunity to prepare for my actual data collection made realize that there is probably a lot of work, shock and plan B’s waiting to be executed. It has also taught me that no two days are the same. Just because one day of data collection has gone well does not mean that the next day will be just as good. Preparation even just a little goes a long way I can attest.