College is a challenging and exciting time for young adults as they venture out and prepare for their future. They will inevitably make mistakes, and they will be challenged intellectually. They’ll have to learn to manage the pressure of constant deadlines and exams. I don’t know about you, but I’m 37 years old, and I still have dreams about failing to turn in a big assignment or forgetting an exam in a college class.
This period of life is challenging for anyone, but for students in Haiti, it’s extra challenging. They usually still live at home where they are forced to inhabit cramped spaces with little privacy and no consistent electricity or running water. They might have a smartphone, but they probably don’t have a laptop, and even if they do, they almost certainly don’t have consistent high-speed internet in their home. In most cases, even their college has limited internet. As if that’s not enough, they are normally the first people in their family to attend college, so they don’t have many older adults in their life who can guide them from their personal experience.
This period of life is challenging for anyone, but for students in Haiti, it’s extra challenging.
We developed our university mentoring program in Jeremie to provide a support system that will help students to overcome these challenges. Each one of our Thrive Ansanm university students is matched with a personal mentor. These mentors are professionals with college degrees, and they develop one-on-one relationships with the students. They meet face-to-face and also communicate via WhatsApp. Our mentors don’t tell the students what to do or define their goals for them. Rather, they listen to the students and seek to understand their passions, talents, and interests. Through this process, they are able to provide practical advice from real experience to help students be successful and achieve their goals.
Not only do mentors meet individually with their students, but all of our mentors and students get together on a monthly basis to share how they are doing. These meetings give students the opportunity to gain support from this larger community, and it is a chance for the mentors to give advice to the students as a group.
Below are just a few examples of what mentors shared at one of our recent meetings.
Wanting to help the students balance their personal dreams with what is practically attainable, Dukenson, a mentor, shared about how he originally wanted to become an engineer, but he found that he lacked the aptitude for this field. Rather than becoming discouraged, he pivoted to pursue a degree in accounting, and this opened doors of opportunity for him. He advised the students that when an opportunity presents itself you must seize it, and make your own path, even if this opportunity wasn’t your first choice.
This may seem like questionable advice from a privileged American perspective where we tell our kids that they can be anything that they want to be, but he wasn’t advising these students to settle or give up on their dreams. Instead, he was helping them to be honest about the reality of the challenges they face in Haiti. You don’t always get the perfect career, but if you work hard and take advantage of the opportunities you are given, then you have a chance to create a better life.
Marie Catherine, who mentors one of our nursing students, shared a piece of practical advice for students struggling to focus on their studies. She explained that her habit is to turn off notifications for all of the apps on her phone while she’s working or studying. In this way, when she is working, she can focus on working, and when she is done, then she can catch up on her messages and social media. I’m guessing this is a piece of advice that many of us could benefit from.
Ilermont advised the students that they may have 1000+ friends on Facebook, but it is their 5 closest friends who are most important. By way of example, he said you may have a friend who loves research, another who loves languages, and another who loves technology. You may not love any of these things as much as your friends, but you still might catch a little bit of their passion in each of these areas, and this will make you a more well-rounded person.
“You may have more than 1000 friends on Facebook, but it is your 5 closest friends who are most important.”– Ilermont (Mentor)
Jubertha, a first-year nursing student, was quiet but attentive throughout the majority of the meeting. Yet when some of the other students said they were getting distracted from school because of pressure from friends on the street, she felt compelled to respond. She acknowledged that as a fellow student she understood the pressure they are facing, but she shared that, when she’s seeking motivation, she reminds herself of how badly she wants to achieve her goal of becoming a nurse. She assertively pronounced that nobody could de-motivate her. She knows that she is responsible for her motivation, and she will not allow herself to be defined by the desires of others. Instead, she will focus on her goals and choose her friends wisely.
“No one can de-motivate me. I am responsible for my own motivation.”– Jubertha (Student)
As I listened to this conversation, I was reminded of similar conversations I’d had as a young student, and I reflected on the community of people that surrounded me during my formative years, helping me to become the person that I am today. I do not know where I would be without my parents, mentors, and peers who encouraged me and supported me through life’s ups and downs and that is why I want to help these students experience that same sense of community that helped me.