A mentorship project is helping teenagers, especially girls, from some of Cape Town’s poorer communities stay in school.
The Future Leaders Development Project, which started last year, is a collaboration between non-profit organisation Life Choices, which is based in Lansdowne; the Rotary Club of Claremont; and the Rotary Club Bamberg and Rotary District 1950 in Germany.
Alexander Sinton High School matric pupil Bertha Kapopo, 18, didn’t know what to expect when she met her mentor, Jo Hobson, for the first time last year.
“At the time, I didn’t have my life in order, and I didn’t specify my goals. Meeting Jo helped me specify my goals and helped me become the driver of my own life.
“At the beginning of the mentorship, I thought that the mentor would be the person to do the research I needed for my goal to study medicine, such as the research into university applications as well as bursaries and so on, but I learned through this mentorship that I need to take charge of my own life and not wait for opportunities to knock on my door. I need to make sure that the opportunity is available to me.”
Ms Hobson is the club president of the Rotary Club of Claremont. She said Bertha had given her a front-row seat to the experiences of a young person.
“I’m getting a fresh perspective from a young person, about the joys and stresses of having to navigate school and life in 2022.”
Bertha admits that while she may have had misgivings about the age gap between herself and her mentor, it became apparent at the outset that they had much in common.
“We have a huge age gap, but it doesn’t feel that way because she understands my point of view and the goals that I would like to achieve,” said Bertha. “She is understanding, outgoing, welcoming and open-minded. It feels like we are co-workers working towards the goal of achieving my dream for myself. I used to call her ma’am, but now I call her Jo. She doesn’t treat me like a child, she treats me like a young lady and as much as I respect her, she respects me. We come from different backgrounds, which I find really exciting because I get to learn about her culture and she learns about mine.”
Bertha believes her academic success is in large part due to Ms Hobson’s mentorship.
“I want to study after matric. I have always wanted to go into the medical field, but I kept listening to other people and what they had to say about my dream and I began to lose faith in myself to achieve that goal. For example, people would tell me that it’s too difficult to get into that field, and that instilled fear in me, and I decided that if it was meant to be it will be. But when I met Jo, she told me that you need to create opportunities for yourself, and that’s when I started putting more effort than ever before into getting my grades up because now I knew that I had to take charge of my life.
“I decided to do so well that I will create that opportunity for myself. I stopped getting average grades, and I got to be in the top-ten in academics at my school for all the Grade 11s. With my mentor’s guidance, I started doing research into university admission requirements and financing opportunities.”
The mentorship relationship has inevitably also become a personal one to an extent, with the families of the participants having met each other.
Bertha explained that along with some of her educational goals, Ms Hobson also helped her with some personal development.
“One of my goals was to overcome my fear of dogs, and Jo has introduced me to her dog, and she’s been very patient with that. As a result, I am becoming more comfortable with her dog. I had a bad experience with a dog when I was younger and got bitten by one, but now I am learning to love dogs again.”
Ms Hobson and Bertha meet regularly and also check-in by text messages and phone calls. They plan to visit places in Cape Town that Bertha has never been to before, and a meet-up has also included volunteering at a fund-raising event.
“I’m able to share my network, work experience and life skills with my mentee,” said Ms Hobson. “This is useful for her as she gets to benefit from what I have achieved, struggled with and experienced in my 50-plus years. She also gets a listening ear and emotional support from another adult who really wants the best for her, and is interested in her ambitions and dreams.
“On a practical level, I can help her access information and other resources that she may need. My mentee is also curious about Rotary, and it has been a lovely opportunity to talk about what we do as Rotarians and how she can get involved in and benefit from involvement in the Rotary family.”