Growing up in Nigeria and discovering my flair for writing, there were so many things I wish I had. Most significantly, beyond the walls of the literature classes and teachers in schools and friends who read my poems out of empathy, I wish I had a mentor or a coach. I also wished I had access to books that I would like and sufficient resources such as airtime to contact friends like the co-founder of SLM, Kanyinsola Olorunnisola to discuss endlessly about poetry, our writing pursuit or themes we are both passionate about such as feminism which significantly influences our work. All the things I wished for as a writer while living in Nigeria didn’t happen until I got out of Nigeria. While I wished sufficient opportunity and resources that I desired were available at home – a familiar environment, the opportunity to take myself out of Nigerian allowed me to see the problem more objectively and become a solution to it.
When the SLM Mentorship Programme began in January 2018 with 9 mentees, it was a big leap. We tried to guess as much about what the mentors and mentees will need, providing what was within our capacity. Upon the programme conclusion, we depended heavily on feedback from mentors and mentees to know how to improve the programme for the next cohort. August 2018, we took a stab at serving a larger cohort of 20 mentees, extending the programme period and providing a more in-depth manual. The fame of the programme rose quickly as we received 121 applications for the August cohort compared to the 21 applications we received in January 2018. Again, based on the feedback we received, we decided to try again and try better. Last-minute into the start of the June 2019 mentorship cohort while reflecting on the kind of resources I wish I had as writer living in Nigeria and seeking mentorship, a very costly idea popped up – provide weekly N200 airtimes, paid access for a month to books through an app (BamBooks) and weekly contest with N2,500 for 1 or 2 winners per week. I consulted with the SLM team and some of the mentors who affirmed this was a great idea that would remove learning barriers during the mentorship.
Out of 136 applicants for the third cohort of the SLM Mentorship Programme, 30 were selected to become mentees in June 2019, receiving the resources mentioned above in addition to a detailed programme manual. 80% of the programme participants completed the requirements and received their certification.
From the final programme report, all mentees and mentors agreed that enough thought was put into planning the programme. A mentee, Adeyemo Oluwatosin said:
The SLM Mentorship Programme was well planned from the mentor-mentee pairing to the end, and everything was superb. It helped me to nitpick errors in my previous poems and improve on them. The weekly contest made me realize that I was not very good in other genres of writing, and I'll like to improve in those aspects under the guidance of an SLM mentor.
Significantly, the SLM Team was praised for keenly ensuring a mentor-mentee fit which allows a sustainable and productive relationship between the programme participants. From the words of mentees such as Oluwagbemileke Takuro, you would see how the mentorship connection led to an enthusiasm to learn. She said:
In less than a week of knowing my mentor - Lawretta Egba, she made me very comfortable in sharing my articles with her without being worried that they weren't good enough. She was very thorough with correcting, willing to explain, readily available to answer my questions and encouraging me to read more. She taught me many things about writing in such little time. Every correction she made was tailored to my improvement. Her feedback on my write-ups was accompanied by a word of encouragement, and this made me more enthusiastic about writing. I barely had any dream for my future self as a writer, and when Lawretta noticed this, she changed my focus and inspired me to dream bigger.
While it was a group opportunity using similar resources, all mentees had unique experiences. There is the case of Iyanu Adebiyi who simultaneously served as a mentor to Blessing Enejo while also being a mentee under Pamilerin Jacob, an alumni from the first mentorship cohort, now mentor with several literary achievements on his shoulders. There is also the case of Mbanefo Chibuike who had the opportunity to work with 3 different mentors during the programme. His experience was even more unique because he was an already developed writer seeking to expand his knowledge, and he had the opportunity to learn things off the programme manual that challenged him. In his feedback, he said:
I improved in many ways. I learned how to beat my deadlines, find my muse in little things, and write effortlessly when called upon. There was also the part of learning different styles and ways of writing that I had not explored before, such as shadow writing, picture writing, blackout poetry, narrative, descriptive, converting stories into poems and vice versa. I was also pushed to leave my comfort zone to also try out prose poetry and short stories. The programme was indeed packed with experiences and learning outcomes.
Getting into the programme alone made me feel I wasn't wasting my time with writing. In the course of the program, I wrote more and began seeking more validation through submissions. I am confident of acceptances already.
The mentors helped a lot of the mentees to develop a sense of self, a direction in their creative writing pursuits and have improved self-esteem. Okunlola Omolola, Ebukun Ogunyemi’s mentee said:
The first time Ebukun reviewed my work, I pumped my fists into the air and did a little happy dance. She was very encouraging as a mentor. When we had a chat about growth as an individual - its process and effects, she told me not to rush the process. To paraphrase, she said, as difficult and anxiety-inducing it may be to watch other people make it, you have to know that you're growing at your own pace. When she said that, I felt calmer than before and I breathed. It was something I knew but wanted someone to tell me at that moment.
Tomi Adesina’s mentee, Adewusi David while comparing his before and after with the programme said: Before the programme, I had some works I was too scared to send out, but after the program, I did. It meant a lot that I was able to confidently defend my work.
My mentor, Tomi Adesina is wonderful. Till I die, I will hold on to every bit of lessons she gave me. She told me writing was all about honesty – “to write in truth; write consistently.” When I do this, I am surely going to create masterpieces.
Towards the end of the programme, Tomi instructed me to write an “In-5-Years-Time” bio. That alone cemented in me a sense of direction about my creative writing pursuits.
For another mentee like Adepeju Adenuga, a component of the new programme support system influenced her confidence. She said:
Winning one of the weekly contests during the mentorship period helped secure my writing ability and boost my confidence. Now, I understand that there is an audience interested in my writing, whereas before, I had imagined my audience to be limited to close friends and family.
While the programme reputation is notable from the insights of the mentees, none of this would have happened without the support of the dedicated mentors who contributed their time, resources, self and energy towards the programme’s success. In addition to exhibiting professionalism, I saw how many of them showed empathy, care, and patience towards their mentee, proving that formal mentorship and creative learning is not independent of the most vulnerable and humane qualities. Adewusi David in his feedback highlighted an unfortunate occurrence that happened during the programme. He said:
The mentorship period was hard for me. I lost a brother, but Tomi Adesina (his mentor) was there all the way. She even made me channel all energy, including the negative energy from mourning into writing. She taught me to try and try again when everything looks like it is going south.
Dawodu Oluwaseyifumi describes how she is learning to love what she does in the eyes of her mentor, Kolade Pelumi, who she says, he loves what he does, which made the mentoring experience easy.
Nnayelugo Michelle describes her mentor, Abimbola as someone who expended himself. She continues, saying that he groomed her to become a better writer. He might not know it, but he was just like a mirror and keenly seeing every loophole in my writings.
To Okunlola Omolola, her mentor Ebukun Ogunyemi is beautiful, smart, kind, and articulate. She continues, I hope to work with her someday. She has affected my life positively in ways I did not think were possible. On a scale of 1-10, Blessing is infinity.
Going forward, we will be utilizing all feedback received to improve and expand the mentorship for the next cohort. We will maintain the added resources such as the airtime and weekly contests, possibly investing more money into them. The programme mentorship period will remain at 4-6 weeks, providing the mentors and mentees freedom to work at their pace, ending the programme when it’s most appropriate. The programme might be conducted two-three times a year, allowing mentees to apply at a season-appropriate-period for them when they won’t be limited by academic, personal or professional responsibilities. Mentees will be provided book vouchers through other means as the Bambooks app utilized during this cohort wasn’t as effective or user-friendly as expected. The SLM team will consider providing mentees book vouchers to shop at Roving Heights or Okadabooks for the programme’s purpose. Finally, to round up the year, for the third cohort, we will be publishing an anthology including mentees writings that were submitted during the programme. The SLM team is as passionate about the mentees’ post-programme creative writing pursuits and experiences and will also consider bringing some mentees back to serve as columnists on the platform when the opportunity arises.
By implementing the strategies above and continuing the excellent work we have started, without a doubt, the SLM team is bound to positively impact the literary scene in Nigeria. All the programme mentors and mentees really appreciate the SLM’s team effort especially through this opportunity. Significantly, I want to thank team members such as Abdulsalam Abdul Dante, who not only assisted with outreach, funds management, and distribution, social media demands but also volunteered to serve as a mentor when the need arose. A big thank you to Joseph Wodo, our airtime-person for ensuring that all mentees received their airtimes on time and appropriately. Thanks to Jesudamilare Adesegun for his thoughtfulness in resolving conflicts and promoting a positive spirit among the mentees. Thanks to Ifeoluwa Shoola for evaluating the mentorship ideas and providing insight into how the new opportunities were implemented. Thanks to Allionu Collins for responding to the applications and contest submissions via email. Thanks and cheers to all other team members – Wuraola Salawu, Chinedu Ubah, Kehinde Badiru, Michael Ezeh, Uduak Akpan, and Kanyinsola Olorunnisola who also contributed to holding the fort down in one way or another.
Note: You can read all the feedback and biographies of the cohort 3 mentees on the SLM Website: https://www.sprinng.org/2019-mentees.html
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