Mentoring from the other side of the world

2011-10-08 15:33

Twenty-two-year-old Abednego Khulele is flourishing as an internet fundi and graphic designer at non-governmental organisation Nkosi’s Haven in Joburg.

He owes his new-found joy, in part, to the support of someone he’s never met who lives on the other side of the world.

Khulele is always on the internet looking for jobs, cool effects to add to his designs, and to video-chat with his mentor of four years who lives in New York.

This is thanks to one American’s idea of connecting young South Africans affected by poverty, HIV and Aids with adult mentors from 10 countries via online video chats.

Through her organisation, Infinite Family, Amy Stokes’s concept has earned her a spot on this year’s Top 10 CNN Heroes – an award that honours people who help improve the lives of others.

“Five years ago it was not possible for individual adults to be a direct and weekly part of an adolescent’s life 8 000 miles (12 875km) away. Now it is,” said Stokes (44).

“We’ve established five mentoring labs and taught 500 children new communication, technology and life skills. Children receive homework help they would not otherwise have.

“They’re researching and learning about jobs they didn’t know exist and they’re setting long-term life goals that our mentors help them work towards over multiple years.”

Teenagers, referred to as “net buddies”, are matched with adults based on hobbies and career interests. The mentors are screened and have to undergo training to learn about South African history and culture, while the teenagers are given computer training.

Khulele was introduced to his mentor in 2006 and chats to him via video conferencing every Saturday for 30 minutes.

“I find it cool and fun to meet and talk to Victor (Cooper), who’s from another country, about life’s problems, girls and about his life too,” said Khulele.

“It was difficult talking to him the first time because I didn’t know him, but we talked and I found he was a very understanding person, and we’re good friends now. Talking to him has really boosted my self-esteem.”

For a long time Khulele was shy and couldn’t be himself because he was being bullied.

But he makes “more friends now, I’m a different person”.

After matric he completed a two-year graphic design course because he loved drawing.

Nkosi’s Haven, Tsogang Sechaba community project, Noah’s Ark and the Alexandra child care and support centre are net buddy feeders.

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