Building the capacity of Jesuit social centres and their collaborators in Africa, who intervene against HIV and AIDS and other health challenges, is right at the centre of the work of the African Jesuit AIDS Network. In this regard, to augment formation of young people, a new approach called coaching has been introduced to directors and program coordinators. Two day-long training sessions have been administered virtually to over 80 participants drawn from various countries in Africa.
The first session was conducted on April 27th, 2021 and involved participants in English-speaking countries. In attendance were 33 participants. The second one happened on 3rd May 2021 where francophone Africa was represented by 51 people. Participants on both sessions joined in from Kenya, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Togo, Benin, Burkina Faso, Madagascar, Central Africa Republic, and Democratic Republic of Congo. Unfortunately, AJAN members in South Sudan and Liberia missed out owing to internet connection problems.
Wanjugu Gichuru, a coach, leader, mentor, and author, facilitated the sessions. Based in Kenya, she runs a program called W.I.R.E.D which reaches women of over 23. She seeks to help them thrive in their purpose in life, have an impact in the society by bringing out the best from each one of them. In the first session, Wanjugu was assisted by Samantha Mueni, another trainer who was involved in AJAN’s assembly and training held earlier this year in Nairobi where the approach of coaching was briefly introduced.
According to the International Coaching Federation (ICF), an organization which boasts the membership of professional coaches across the world, coaching is “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking process that helps them maximize their personal and professional potential”.
“Coaching helps a coachee to clarify their desires and dreams and taking ownership of the process of getting to their goals. A coach should offer encouragement and accountability.”, offered Wanjugu. She disclosed that she has been informally coaching groups of people for over four years now, albeit she started doing it professionally and engaging in one-on-one sessions about one and half years ago. She says that her motivation to delve into coaching was after realizing that many people do not normally reach their highest potential in life because of limiting mindsets. Therefore, she endeavors to collaborate with the coachee to understand their mindset and help them to break free to become the best version of themselves and reach their great potential.
The training started with prayer which director of AJAN Fr. Ismael Matambura led followed by an introduction segment. Coaching was then defined, and the trainer went on to talk about the approaches of coaching; ‘directive’ and ‘less-directive’. Members gathered that less-directive coaching is most appropriate approach because it involves enquiry, learning and action. it enables a coachee to create own ideas to move their situation forward. However, directive coaching assumes that the coach has better ideas, and hence is suitable where a basic skill is to be transferred so that there will be less collaboration between the coach and coachee.
The principles of coaching such as ethics, boundaries, adaptability in terms of logistics, and best coaching practices were then dissected. Wanjugu allowed members to ask questions after every brief presentation was made making it a lively undertaking. She went on to explain the uniqueness of coaching as compared to mentoring, counseling, and other practices which can sometimes be confused with it. “Coaches work with clients in a collaborative process. The agenda for each conversation is developed by both parties. Typically, a coach will have expertise in the client’s desired area of growth. However, a coach is not expected to have all the answers, their expertise could be diverse. Rather than giving advice, coaches gather information in the co-created process of change. A coach’s job is to ask questions from a curious stance that will provoke thought in a growth-oriented direction. Coaches see their clients as a whole and having the answers inside of them. Together, pathways to new ways of being in the world are developed. Mentors give advice based on their personal and professional expertise. Meeting agendas are typically mentee generated, as well as development-based questions. The mentee will benefit from the relationship by choosing to follow the mentor’s path toward development”, she explained.
According to the trainer, Coaching is learnt by practicing the techniques of active listening, powerful questioning and excellent communication, you can apply coaching in almost all teams whether with youths, at work etc.
The members were then introduced to another topic “core knowledge of youths and adolescents” which gave them a richer understanding of youth behavior, brain changes and mind-brain connection. “Scientists have proven that people can change their brains with their minds”, Wanjugu offered and explained further citing the work of Eric Kandel who won a Nobel prize for his work about the human memory.
Exercises that involved the team breaking into teams on zoom happened towards end of sessions and members came back to make presentations. Earlier on members had undertaken a ‘mindset quiz’ which enabled them to understand their mindsets.
AJAN communications further prodded the trainer about her experience with the social center representatives.
“I was impressed by how they would engage and ask questions, which showed interest in the learning material and how they wanted to apply it practically in their spaces. I also think they are enthusiastic learners and very relational.”
We asked her about the most significant challenges she has encountered working with young people. “The biggest challenge is getting youths to commit in the process of mentoring long-term, but I realized forming a relationship first was better because then they would listen more when there was a relationship formed instead of one from a teacher- student perspective. I originally would struggle to connect with some and earn their attention, but when I began to also share my journey, they began to connect with me on an emotional and real level. I also learnt how to use fun and practical illustrations to transfer a concept to them and their response would be great.”
However, Wanjugu believes that members of the AJAN Network need further specialized training on coaching to empower them to raise coaches within their ranks and establish the practice. “I believe specialized ones are in need because different groups reach different youths with different cultures. The customized sessions can help the youth leaders know how to apply their tools in their context. Virtual meetings can also work if they are more focused and with adequate time reserved for them”.