After graduating with a BSc in Pharmacology, I landed a series of jobs in the corporate sector. I wanted to branch out of the scientific world, and so I worked in conference management and marketing and public relations in London based companies. I feared that my job was not making an impact on communities, and that I also wasn’t contributing to making the world a better place. I came to the realization that this career path was not fulfilling or rewarding for me, and set out to make changes in my life so that I was where I wanted to be.
Growing up in London, I visited Sudan frequently on family vacations. As I got older, I realized I was distant and disconnected from my culture and country. I felt that a part of my identity had been lost; this made me more determined to go back to my roots, and discover the land I came from. I wanted to effectively utilize the skills gained outside Sudan, to contribute to a better Sudan. Professionally, I knew I wanted to delve deeper into public health and build credible experience learning from field work. I felt that this career path would put me in a position to devise, develop and implement public health strategies that will have substantial positive impact on people’s lives.
Captivated by this interest in public health systems and services, I started my journey of exploration with a deep sense of responsibility to give back, and learn about what Sudan can offer. I naively assumed that people would welcome my presence and optimism to change the world. However, I encountered challenges that I grappled with in my personal and professional life both as a woman, and as a returning member of the diaspora.
I worked in different places, including various ministries, and local and international non-governmental organizations. I was shocked that colleagues were more concerned with their tea breaks, my tribe, family and imperfect Arabic accent, than with my skills and capabilities for work. It was difficult to adjust to this environment. However, at my final public health placement, I was heavily involved in an HIV/AIDS project, and was able to travel and explore different localities in Sudan. I met phenomenal individuals doing truly exceptional things in Sudan; such as the fantastic Miracles Sudan Riding Centre. The Centre offers disabled children hippotherapy and play therapy. While volunteering at the Centre, I met like-minded individuals who wished to make a positive impact in their own way.
Through volunteering at the Centre, a friend nominated me for the MILEAD Fellowship programme run by the Moremi Initiative. This transformational leadership development programme aims to empower and develop pioneering young African future women leaders, by assisting them to develop and implement life changing projects in their countries of origin. I was selected to be a MILEAD fellow in the summer of 2013, and spent 3 weeks in Ghana, harnessing the skills needed to implement my project.
Hence, Al Sudaniya Mentoring was born.
Mai during the Fellowship
Al Sudaniya Mentoring
Whilst I worked, lived and socialized in Sudan, I observed certain phenomena that inspired the creation of Al Sudaniya Mentoring. I noticed that the economic and social conditions of the country inhibited people from maximum growth and development to thrive and become active citizens of their society, as well as move up the career ladder to reach self-fulfillment. In my view, Sudanese society is particularly stifling for women. Society makes women feel their opportunities are limited; thus they are unable to broaden their understanding of the power within themselves, and what they are potentially capable of achieving.
I pondered how things could be different if girls were mentored to plan their academic path to pursue their dreams and then translate those to professional achievements, and how this programme could instill the confidence in these young girls to follow their hearts. I returned to Sudan after the Fellowship, and started working on the personal and professional training curriculum for Al Sudaniya Mentoring. The programme was developed to connect Sudanese female role models, accomplished in their academic or professional careers, to young girls living in Sudan. The program aspires to empower young girls with choices, inspire them through role models and give them the courage to pursue their goals.
Shaping the Programme
The first year of the programme involved mentees aged 14-18 years. I was advised to start with younger girls, to enable them to gain insight into personal development early on in their academic career- which could have a profound impact on their future. However, the majority of the feedback I received pointed towards targeting university students, prompting slight changes in the programme.
I set out to develop topics suitable for the university age group, recruit mentors, and launch the programme for 2014. We have also improved the experience by increasing the number and range of topics covered, and adding a tracking sheet to get feedback for continued enhancement of the Fellowship. I learned about the unfamiliarity of the mentoring concept in Sudan, and emphasized the concept in all communication, distinguishing that it was a holistic discussion style approach, rather than a formal teaching session.
image credit: Al Sudaniya Mentoring
The Journey Continues
In Sudan, I got accustomed to hearing people complain of the multitude of obstacles that cannot be fixed. While this may be true, and one can be overwhelmed by the various issues with the potential for improvement, I believe that when each person focuses on one piece of the puzzle, “together we can accomplish anything” as the Al Sudaniya Mentoring Organization motto goes.
I plan to challenge preconceived notions, by taking Al Sudaniya Mentoring outside of Khartoum, to government schools and universities where we can help girls learn English (the chosen language of the fellowship), which will allow them to be involved as mentees in the fellowship and make the most out of the experience. I’m keen on having more outreach on the ground so we can increase our pool of mentees as well as mentors in and outside of Sudan.
Al Sudaniya Mentoring continues its journey, and the second year of the programme launches in March 2015. A spoiler for the coming year is the launch of a newsletter featuring insights into the experiences of inspirational mentors and mentees of the programme, and other accomplished Sudanese women.
We believe everyone has something unique to offer, and with mentorship from an exceptional role model, training and support, young girls can realize their potential and achieve phenomenal things in Sudan.
Stay updated with Al Sudaniya Mentoring through the Facebook and Twitter pages. If you’re interested to apply as a mentor or mentee, email the organization on firstname.lastname@example.org