While you may know her as Celestine, many young women, including myself, who were once mentored by her, affectionately referred to her as Miss Celestine. When I first met her, many years ago, my 10-year old self didn’t realize that what she was doing was mentoring. It was always so much fun! Games, camps and hikes, and Saturdays spent doing homework, getting formational talks, cooking classes, all culminating in interactive outdoor activities. Throughout all those experiences, there was Miss Celestine; listening and laughing, singing and dancing, caring and correcting. Now that I had the chance to sit with her as a colleague, I had many questions about her journey as a mentor.
Celestine is a Certified Public Accountant
“I first interacted with Strathmore University when I was in high school in Western Kenya a long time ago. Back in those days, when the time came to choose a University, you had to fill forms manually. During this process, a friend of mine told me that she knew a good college where I could study accounting. I was certain about my desire to study accounting because my teachers had told me I was very good at mathematics. So when I returned home, I told my dad I wanted to study CPA at Strathmore, and come January the next year, I started my studies at SU, and it was very exciting”.
This was her first interaction with mentoring
“In those days, they (mentors) were called tutors, and they would call you out of class for the sessions. I found the idea of having a mentor very exciting and interesting because it was two-ways – she would tell me about her life as I told her about mine. When my first mentor left, I got a new one, and it made my experience really good. I remember one time when my tutor organized an excursion for her mentees to Paradise Lost. I had never been to Paradise Lost before so I was very excited. We all contributed 200 shillings, and on the D-Day, we convened in town and took a matatu. Although we weren’t well acquainted with one another at the beginning, we became good friends as mentees in that group”.
As she continued with her schooling, her professional life began to flourish.
“By the time I was finishing my section 3 or 4 of CPA, I started helping the lecturers mark the assignments for section 1 of CPA. It was very exciting to earn money, because we were paid per paper. And then, before I could complete section 3, I got a job, and switched to evening classes. I practiced my accounting for about five or so years, until 2005”.
A mentor with a love for mathematics, her career eventually brought her to a crossroad.
“I enjoyed working with numbers then, and that hasn’t changed. But I think I didn’t get the same joy as I did in mentoring. In fact, I had a crisis when I transitioned from accounting to mentoring. Right as the shift was happening, I was invited for an interview with an NGO that I used to admire, and I knew that if I joined the organization, I’d make a killing. But I also received a call from the Kianda Foundation to help run some programs in Faida, which is a center for mentoring and formation for young girls in primary and secondary. I thought that was a real professional crisis, but I prayed and told God to show me the right way; whether to shift my focus entirely to mentoring fully or stay the course in accounting”.
At the time that she began her new role at Faida, she was in the middle of a degree in BCOM, with a speciality in Human Resources.
“It was a big change. I remember I spoke to a friend of mine who told me that sometimes we don’t need to practice what we learned in school. I wanted to make an impact. All my work life, even when I was an accountant, I worked with young people, but I wanted to be fully involved in their lives to shape their future; to participate in making them useful beings. My father was not very happy with me. He couldn’t help but wonder, ‘you are a very good accountant, what’s the problem with you? Why are you changing?”
Her time at Faida, where she worked with numerous young people but also got the chance to work with numbers, was confirmation that she had made the right choice.
“When I joined Faida, I encountered many young people with a multitude of ideas. I got to learn from those who were part of the center. There was also the financial aspect, ensuring that the programs were financially viable and the club could sustain itself. Witnessing the genuine happiness of the young people being happy, influencing their lives, their choices, and the traveling and the activities we did, made it clear to me that I was in the right place”.
That was many years ago, and now those young girls are grown ups, and the results of that season of mentoring are proof of the process.
“When I reflect, I think whatever we did is bearing fruit, especially in today’s demanding economy . The perspective on marriage and family has evolved significantly, but these girls are determined, focused, and committed to upholding the values we instilled in them when they were younger. It’s truly heartwarming. We’re in touch, and you can see that they are making positive life choices. I can’t think of anyone that has gone off tangent. They are settling down and prioritizing what is important for the human person.
We are still good friends, even with their parents. When we meet, we share stories, and some of them still feel obliged to come back and update us on their progress. Some have gone on to become great mentors themselves”.
Through the seasons of professional life, her personal life evolved in parallel. When the demands of both aspects reached a critical point, it became necessary to pause and re-evaluate.
“Working with young people can be quite demanding. I had gotten married and had two consecutive miscarriages. I considered taking a break, thinking that perhaps the nature of my work was contributing, but it turned out not to be the case. Instead, I started a program called ‘Stepping Out’ for the girls. I conducted many sessions, and I incorporated a few boys along the way, mostly on request from the parents. It all started at my home, where they would come over the holidays to talk about their experiences in high school and how to make the most out of it. To my surprise, the program took off, and we even went on to have conferences in Mombasa. It was very interesting”.
And then, in 2019, she came back to Strathmore University.
“Actually, in 2017 or 2018, I came to SU to take a course on Empowered Entrepreneurship at the Strathmore Energy Research Centre (SERC). I really liked it because it was about people. Empowerment is more or less about getting the person to delve deeper and bring out the best in themselves. If you think about it, it’s directly linked to mentoring – it’s a self-evaluation where I look at who I am, where I am coming from and heading to, what my limiting beliefs are, how I rise above them, and how to foster leadership skills. And then in 2019, I joined SU as a member of staff in the Mentoring Office”.
The age of young people she was working with changed drastically and she realized, mentoring University students was a whole other ball game.
“In primary and high school, when you call the students, they come. You tell them to jump, they ask how high? You tell them you’re not doing the right thing, they say ‘okay, what should I do and which direction should I go? Then I came to campus, mamma mia! I remember during one of the sessions I was conducting , the student asked me ‘are you judging me’? I was shocked. I learned the hard way that I would have to change my mentorship style, to listen more, and to put myself in the shoes of my mentees. I had to adjust because unlike high schoolers,these were young adults who were making their own decisions”.
This is likely a lesson that many mentors have learned through experience. But, working in the mentoring office gives Celestine insight into the back end of mentoring in the University… How does it happen?
“So when the admissions office has finished their process, and the semester is beginning, we go to the AMS, extract the list, and then start the process of assigning the new students mentors. We allocate each student a mentor, and then we hope they will meet. However, sometimes the mentors get overwhelmed, so from time to time I try to meet them one on one just to get the gist of it; how is it going, how they are managing, and their workload. During orientation, we talk to the students about mentoring and emphasize that they should reach out to their mentors. We also organize etiquette sessions with the mentors before they begin their sessions. And then a few weeks later, maybe after a month, we go back to the AMS and check. Are there new students that we didn’t allocate mentors to? From there, we manage requests, complaints, and compliments as the mentor-mentee relationship develops”.
Mentoring as we know it, is a two-way street. While the mentor aims to grow their mentee, their mentee ends up growing them too. Celestine has discovered that the role of a mentor has changed in ways she could never have anticipated.
“You have to exemplify many things. You have to constantly examine yourself and check how you’re living this and that aspect, because many young people learn through what they see. Because of that challenge, I’ve had to work on trying to be a better person, a better me.”
The influence her experiences as a mentor have on her bleed into every aspect of her life…
“I’m being a bit more intentional in my parenting. I keep saying I have to be present. My newest slogan is ‘I need to look after my mentees very well so that someone can look after my child later’. If my son has a mentor who is intentional in his life, I know he’s being looked after”.
…even her continuing education.
“When I started writing the abstract for my master’s thesis, the first people I asked for help were my mentees. Some didn’t manage to read, they just said, ah, ‘I received, I looked, it was too much work’. But they felt honored that I asked them. And now they keep asking me: what’s the progress, have you defended? They have vested interest the same way I have interest in their studies.”
A full circle
As times change, the needs of young people change a lot. Those who have been mentors for a long time have to learn to listen to these changing needs of their mentees. This concept was repeatedly highlighted during the inaugural Mentor’s Summit that took place in SU in September. The summit was a passion project for Celestine and the entire mentoring team. They brought together mentors, tutors, and school counselors from institutions of higher learning to discuss how to promote a mentoring culture in their universities. The two days, flawlessly planned and executed, sought to understand the current generation of mentees and how mentors could adapt their style to better meet their mentee’s needs.
“Young people today are seeking a listening ear. They have solutions to their problems, but they need someone to listen to them and help them, and guide them to come up with the solutions to the challenges they’re going through. And then there’s affection, because I think the world is a bit harsh. Sometimes my mentees come to me just for a hug. And I give them that hug, it doesn’t cost”.
Due to the rising concern over young people’s mental wellbeing, Celestine has chosen to undertake a Masters in Counseling Psychology.
“My thesis topic is on the relationship between mentoring and mental health. I’m interrogating if there is a connection between the two. I’m really looking forward to collecting data, hoping that it can shed light on whether mentoring contributes to addressing mental health issues”.
If you don’t know Celestine, you likely haven’t interacted too much with the Mentoring Office. Her warm and cheery demeanor is a constant invitation for a chat. Underneath her infectious personality lies a deep and caring heart that has been guiding young people through the intricacies of growing up for many years now.
“Just the thought that I’m going to hang out with young people still excites me. The style of mentoring might change as the years go by, but I see myself remaining a mentor for a very long time to come”.
This article was written by Celia Kinuthia.
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