Last year, EVE and and the Africa ELTA ran a very successful mentoring programme aimed at empowering women teaching English in Africa to become presenters and share their experiences. In this interview, Fiona and Sue, the two EVE minds behind the creation and the development of the mentoring programme, give more details about this enriching experience.
- How did the idea of the project come up?
Sue: I had a discussion on Twitter with Harry Kuchah of Africa ELTA . We talked about the representation of women in Africa ELTA conferences. He suggested that I talk to Amira Salama, the Vice President of Africa ELTA, as she had done a lot of work on mentoring women ELT practitioners. After finding that our two organisations had a lot in common, a mentoring project between EVE and Africa ELTA was suggested. Along with Fiona, we then discussed how to organise the programme and started the selection and mentor-mentee matching process. The project fits very well with our overall mission. EVE is committed to enabling the voices of marginalised groups in our profession to be heard, and we believed that this programme had the potential to make a meaningful and lasting contribution to that aim.
Fiona: As Sue said, she had had a chat with Harry Kucha about doing something with ELTA Africa (or Africa TESOL, as it was then) and he suggested contacting Amira Salama. Sue and I discussed the idea, got in touch with Amira, and the rest, as they say, is history. Although it’s worth adding that Amira already had a fairly clear idea of what was needed, and how she envisaged the project working in terms of what the mentors should bring to the table and how to select the mentees.
- What does the project consist of?
Sue: The project is about mentoring women teachers in Africa to become conference speakers. The selected participants received mentoring offered by EVE mentors for three months. The aim was to equip the participants with the necessary skills to present at international conferences, as well as online and local professional development events. Upon their successful completion of the mentoring programme, the participants would be added to the Africa ELTA list of webinar speakers where they can share and showcase the knowledge and experience gained from the mentoring programme. Each mentee was matched with an EVE mentor. The idea was for each mentor to offer mentoring for 6-9 hours spread over three months: September, October and November 2020. In reality, we are sure that mentors spent more time than this with mentees, as they became more and more invested in their success.
Fiona: The short answer is ‘of mentoring women from various African countries to give presentations at both online and face-to-face ELT events’. The longer answer is ‘of mentoring women from Africa in ELT who want to not only give presentations at online and face-to-face events but to really make a difference and bring about change in their communities, through various passion projects like libraries and empowering local women, and although they could probably have done this without mentoring, because they are incredible individuals with unimaginable drive and tenacity, everyone needs a voice to say ‘You can do this’, from time to time. That voice is called ‘mentor’, in our little project.’
- Who are the people involved in the project? How did they get involved?
For Mentors: Among EVE supporters, there were a number of women who had volunteered to be mentors for Women in ELT and The Fair List. Of course, we knew these women, as they are well-known ELT professionals. We contacted them, inviting them to take part and 90% of the women we contacted said ‘yes’ immediately. We then meticulously matched them up with the mentees, based on profile and the mentees’ objectives. The mentors were: Charlotte Giller, Amanda McLoughlin, Grazzia Maria Mendoza, Sarah Mercer, Sarah Mount, Deirdre Nicholas, Briana Rogers and Marjorie Rosenberg. For Mentees: Africa ELTA ran a competition for female teachers throughout Africa. They were told about the mentoring, and given the task of writing why they thought they would be a good candidate. The Africa ELTA board then selected eight teachers from various countries in Africa.
Fiona: From ELTA Africa, Wonder Woman herself, Amira Salama – one of the most inspiring people I’ve had the pleasure to work alongside. Pure respect. From EVE, Sue and me.
The mentees: eight women from six countries in Africa (Tanzania, Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Sénégal, Cameroon). They were selected from over 130 applicants, all of whom had to give details of their context, hopes, needs, projects etc. They were selected based on merit, and before we started to look for mentors, to ensure that their needs were the driving force. The mentors: eight women who, as Sue mentioned, had previously volunteered to be mentors when I was drawing up a list for Women in ELT and The Fairlist, a couple of years previously, and whose experience and professional interests matched the mentees’. We had initially intended to have five mentors and mentees, but when potential mentors were contacted, although a couple were unavailable, the enthusiasm from those who were available meant we could open up the number of places. The mentors were in Honduras, Spain, Austria, the UK, and Laos. Add to that the six countries the mentees hailed from, plus Egypt and Canada (and the UK again) where the organisers were, and Alex Popovski (EVE committee) in North Macedonia, who provided the Zoom room for our meetings, and we covered fourteen countries. A ‘small, global, regional’ programme. A programme for the now and for the future.
- What were the main challenges and how did you overcome them?
Sue: The main challenges were logistics: time and technology, but everyone involved was generous and flexible, and the meetings went ahead without a hitch.
Fiona: I think we, the organisers, were lucky once the programme was up and running. Our greatest challenge was finding a time that suited (nearly) everyone for the monthly check-in meetings. But the mentees and mentors did have some communication issues, thanks to tech limitations, but by using various platforms and using a busy whatsapp group to share resources, pretty much all challenges were overcome and then some. Rather than just working as eight pairs, there was a genuine team spirit and sense of Sisters are doing it for themselves/We are family, I’ve got all my sisters with me. Apologies to any gents reading, but girl power really is a thing. Call it determination and cooperation.
- What are the next steps?
Sue: We’d like to run the programme again with Africa ELTA as they are such good partners. We also hope to be able to replicate the programme in other regions. We are actively looking for partners to do this, as we feel that the project works best when there is an effective partnership. We will also be looking for suitable mentors.
Fiona: For the ELTA Africa mentees, some are already going international. Also, one of our mentees has set up and runs a community library, so a next step for anyone reading is to send books (initially contact Prof. Sarah Mercer, who is curating the books). For EVE, as Sue explained. more programmes. We’re hoping to continue working with ELTA Africa and to expand to other regions. The tentative plan at the moment is two programmes this year, one run by Sue and one partner association, one run by me and another partner association. So watch this space.
If anyone reading would like to be a mentor, or If you think your organisation members may benefit from this programme, contact us via the EVE website https://evecalendar.wordpress.com/contact/ or at email@example.com. We really appreciate all offers, and kindly ask you to bear in mind that selection will be rigorous and will depend on mentees’ needs and objectives.