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Mentoring can be much more rewarding - to both mentor and protege - than a fortune spent on courses, writes Margaret Harris
'Our nation's tomorrow depends on what we do for young people today," says Buhle Dlamini, the managing director of Young and Able, a personal and business development consultancy.
But without help and support, the future will not be very bright for many of our young people - and that does not bode well for the country.
Young South Africans used to grow up surrounded by caring adults who were willing to pass on the skills that would help them become responsible adults. But today, families and communities are under enormous strain, meaning that many children grow up without this vital support and care.
The combination of a population of mostly under 18-year-olds and the growing challenges of HIV/Aids, drug and alcohol abuse, depression and crime make for a deadly mix.
But Young and Able and Heartlines, a joint initiative that aims to help people live good lives with good values, has decided to try and make a difference by launching the Heartlines Mentors forgood Initiative.
It encourages every South African to mentor a young person already in their lives - someone they know from their community, church or even their extended family.
Says Buhle: "Most of us already know a young person ... who would benefit from some guidance and caring. The reality is that there are many young people out there who are growing up in really tough circumstances and have no one to help them make positive choices.
"If nobody intervenes, they will not reach their inherent potential. And neither will South Africa," says Buhle.
The process of mentoring helps to build trust, understanding and shared values, as well as teaching young people life and business skills.
With more people having to become self-employed because there are not enough jobs in the formal sector, these skills can make all the difference for a budding entrepreneur.
The minister of finance, Pravin Gordhan, has proposed wage subsidies to encourage companies to hire inexperienced young people to give them the chance to acquire skills and knowledge.
But Heartlines believes it is not just the government that can make a difference: every adult has the opportunity to become a mentor and role model for a young person in their lives, thus changing society for the better.
Buhle says: "Ours is an organic mentoring initiative and we believe anyone can be a mentor because all that is required is a desire to walk alongside a younger person."
Heartlines provides regular events for the more than 6000 mentors who have signed up with the organisation. And the thousands more would-be mentors who are not formally linked to Heartlines can receive information via MXit.
"We support the mentors with ongoing mentor messages twice a week as well as SMS support lines, he says.
Buhle says mentors will find they also reap rewards from mentoring itself.
"The mentor process is beneficial to both parties.
"Mentoring also changes the mentor: you become more aware of your own actions and attitudes, which begin to change, as you walk your talk."
He says there is no set time line for mentoring; rather, it can continue for as long as it remains useful. "The time depends on the needs of the individuals concerned. It can be a minimum of a year or can go on for years. Most mentoring relationships last for years."
However, in the case of corporate programmes, there is often a set period. For example, Investec and Absa Capital provide members of staff for the Student Sponsorship Programme, which lasts for the five years of high school.
Buhle suggests that those seeking a mentor approach someone they already know and respect or "we have the Everyday Giants on MXit, where anyone can nominate someone they know to become their mentor and we contact them on their behalf".
There is no doubt that the programme can make a big difference in the lives of young people, but the initiative is in danger due to a lack of sponsorship.
"We rely on sponsorship," says Buhle.
"Until recently, the National Youth Development Agency (formerly the Umsobomvu Youth Fund) had been our main sponsor, but this ended due to a lack of funds.
"Other sponsors have included Lombard Insurance and FirstRand, but the initiative is in danger due to a lack of sponsorship."
But the Heartlines mentoring programme will try to reach out to young people for as long as it can.