Susan’s Mentoring Story

When I first joined the Global Give Back Circle as a mentor in 2010, I received an email saying that I would mentor a girl who was turning 15 on July 14. Coincidentally, that happened to be the day I received the assignment. It felt like a great omen, but I was a little nervous because I was not sure what to expect. Would this young woman from Kenya be able to share her feelings with an adult woman in New York? How would I be able to mentor someone whom I had never met?

Stellah Cheritoch Serem was in high school at Starehe Girls School when we began corresponding via email.  One of the first things that I discovered through our email exchanges was that Stellah is a wonderful writer. Her emails included inspirational quotes; some funny and some serious. She described her home, village, her family, and the nun who supported her in grammar school and encouraged her to reach higher. When at home, she would help her family, volunteer at the hospital and do gardening. With time, we started to share more personal stories and feelings. She opened up and shared some difficulties and fortunately worked through her challenges.  Building a strong mentor-mentee relationship through email was not as hard as it seemed because Stellah was able to convey her feelings and goals clearly through her writing. The bond grew stronger with each communication.

The high point of our relationship was a visit to Kenya in May 2014 when Stellah was in the ICT lab at Starehe. As I walked into the classroom that afternoon, we saw each other for the first time and both burst into happy tears. She introduced us to her classmates and took us on a tour of the school. I couldn’t believe we were actually there together. During our visit to Nairobi, Stellah’s parents and two of her brothers came from their village to spend the day with us. Even though her parents didn’t speak English, our time together was moving and unforgettable. After our visit to Nairobi, I could see that Stellah was maturing and her confidence growing. She set goals for herself and worked diligently. Her determination paid off when she was asked to interview for an internship with Standard Chartered Bank. How excited we both were when she was chosen for the program!

Stellah is now a studying business at the University of Nairobi and is preparing for her CPA exam in November. I am inspired by her motivation, intelligence, warmth, kindness, empathy, loyalty and humor. We share a desire to help others and she encourages me in my environmental work. I am incredibly fortunate to have built such a strong relationship with a person in a country so different from my own. I thank the Global Give Back Circle for enabling two women from opposite sides of the globe and from completely different backgrounds to connect in this unique way.

– Susan Van Dolsen

Susan is an Energy Activist in New York.