Update from Project Lead, Ian Thomas:
I recall that when I first read about the concept of Launchpad, I was seated behind my computer, at my previous job, and not oblivious to the fact that I was at a crossroads in my career. Reading through the thoughtful elements of the Launchpad Initiative, I flashed back to my teenage days, recalling how troubled I was, and remembering how misguided I felt, with little support or guidance. Fast forward to 2015 and staring me straight in the face was the opportunity to re-live my teenage years (albeit through the hearts of 10 extremely eager & highly impressionable secondary school students) - only this time, I had quite a few supporters in my corner, a team of mentors and leaders who, over the coming months, helped me to pull together the critical elements of the program, namely: career guidance & mentorship, job shadowing & internship opportunities, independent living skills, in-house mentorship, progressive health training, and financial literacy.
Having had what most people would consider the hardest conversation with their Line Manager, I resigned from my job and immediately began mapping out what has since turned out to the most promising personal and professional development program that exists for teens in Nairobi: the Launchpad.
Designed to equip our secondary school students with independent living skills, one of the prerequisites was to find suitable accommodation in Nairobi where our students would reside over the month-long school holidays. Contrary to their initial hopes, they would not be spending their time in the house listening to hip hop music or engrossed in cable TV and watching reality shows (you should have seen their dismay). Instead, they would use this unique opportunity to learn the important yet elusive skill of personal and professional responsibility. Simply put, they would learn to be their own managers. They would learn to manage their own food budget and come up with a duty roster (I am quite certain that when finally employed, creating their own personal medium/long term work-plan would be a brisk walk in the park after that exercise.) They'd learn how to manage their own time, which would constitute waking up early, finishing their chores and leaving the house at just the right time to beat the ever-dramatic Nairobi traffic and arrive at their job-shadowing with precious seconds to spare, and in the process learn to work and co-exist as a team - every manager's dream!
At the core of Launchpad is the Live-in Mentor. My first goal was to find an individual who was well-versed with the dynamic needs and demands of young adults, and with a robust background in social work and mentorship. An individual who would dedicate a large chunk of his time for the unique opportunity to mentor a child; to share in the Launchpad journey with our students, bringing to the table experiences from his own past, all with the expectation of bringing a message of hope, that with hard work, discipline and determination, success is inevitable.
The Live-in Mentor is Launchpad's deliberate attempt to help the students nurture and build trusting relationships with an adult role model. We were lucky to find Edwin for the role. Edwin was trained in mentorship and career development through the NGO Spire International and he served as a thought-partner in both good and bad times: a helping hand when the students were feeling down, and a gentle reprimand during times of mischief. Experienced in personal and professional development, Edwin hosted daily mentoring sessions with the students, usually at the day's end, and talked through the important lessons learned and the challenges faced, and he offered insightful tips on how to face the next day. It is no wonder that the kids now refer to him as "Uncle Edu" (short for Edwin). He has earned the respect and admiration among staff and children alike.
As is to be expected among any group of teenagers, the topic of relationships is often overlooked or not given the attention it deserves. Instead, the emotional and physical health workshops of this initiative seeks to expose the students to different workshops designed to help them consider how to pursue meaningful relationships, educate them on the perils of teenage sex and all the while seeking to build their self esteem, teaching them to be proud of themselves and respectful their bodies with their thoughts and words as well as actions.
Hopes and dreams of financial independence that were there before Launchpad soon came to life with exciting and promising business ideas, courtesy of various financial literacy workshops. In line with our mission of setting our students on a trajectory of self-sufficiency, Launchpad seeks to empower our young and ambitious teens economically. Having learned how to save, there is now talk among some of our older students of starting joint businesses from money saved up from their pocket money. Though it will be hard at first, our kids can finally say ‘No’ to pricey roadside junk food, and ‘Yes’ to savings accounts!
Overall, the past few months have been incredibly rewarding for me. I am proud of our team, I am proud of our students, and I am grateful to our donors for making this program possible. I know that, like our students, this program will continue to grow by leaps and bounds, and I thank you for being part of our team as we meet the needs of our bright and eager teens at Flying Kites.