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Fiona: Mentoring Teenage Girls To Value Themselves

Fiona: Mentoring Teenage Girls To Value Themselves

Seeing a concerning trend amongst the young girls in her home of Jamaica, Fiona Burke decided to do something about it. Equipped with compassion, support of positive role models and a desire to positively influence the upbringing of the youth, Fiona set about to start a mentorship program. She is an admirable example of how one person can make a difference and can in fact provide a significant impact in the direction a young girls future will take. Fiona is no doubt a hero to many young lives! She shares her story...
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I was very perturbed by what was happening in the Jamaican society at the time concerning our youth. Several videos were circulating on social media showing school girls carrying out various forms of sexual acts; many stories had also emerged in the media at that time, about young girls in intimate relationships with much older men who were abusing and/or killing them. There were also several complaints being made by adults about their behavior of school children - particularly girls - at bus stops and while walking on the roads in the mornings and after school. In addition, I observed that it had become the norm for them to be scantily or inappropriately dressed in public and to conduct themselves in a crude, unladylike manner.

It weighed heavily on my heart. I realized that this generation of girls did not know their value, were not aware of the power that lies within them and were obviously not being properly guided by the people responsible for their upbringing. It is while thinking about the severity of the situation, that I decided that rather than lamenting about what was happening, I could actually do something about it, by collaborating with other women who had successfully passed through their volatile teenage years and were willing to share their experiences and the valuable lessons learnt along our journey, with as many girls as possible, with the hopes of steering them in the right direction. This is how Flourish Mentorship Program for teenage girls came to be.

What wayward girls need is love. What they need is someone to pay attention to them, to listen as they share their hearts, to affirm them and to properly guide them. That is what mentoring is all about. It is about helping young people, not just young women, to understand the world around them and to teach them how to navigate life’s inevitable obstacles.

If more of us as adults were to take the time out to nurture them, it would make a huge difference, not only in their individual lives, but in the wider society. There would be less teen gangs, less teen mothers, less high school drop outs and less teen suicides. One of the answers to these societal ills is more of us becoming directly involved in shaping the youth. All it takes is a few hours each week or each month to make a huge difference!

I have experienced many proud moments. Flourish started in 2015. Just last year, some of the girls who were part of the very first cohort, graduated from high school. It was great to see the pictures they posted of themselves and their families celebrating their accomplishments. They looked so happy and proud! It was a wonderful feeling, knowing that Flourish helped to keep them on the right track and to push them in the direction of their dreams. Another extremely proud moment was hearing the news that the young lady, who received the first ever Flourish scholarship in 2016, was awarded the 4th highest grade in the entire Caribbean in Social Studies, after sitting the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) in 2017. Passing this exam is a requirement for entry into colleges and universities in and outside of Jamaica.

In addition to having a deep desire for Flourish to spread to every parish in Jamaica, I hope to also touch the lives of young women (and young men) in the rest of the Caribbean and the wider world, and welcome opportunities to address and inspire them in formal or informal settings. I truly believe that every single one of us was created to flourish and that each of us has a special purpose, and was born with the gifts and skills we need to fulfill it. I also wish to equip and empower others with a passion for mentoring to start their own Flourish chapter in their community and/or country, wherever they are in the world.

Several people have had a major impact on my life. One of them is my cousin, Dr. Renee Rattray, a well known Jamaican educator. I am in awe of her innovativeness which is reflected heavily in her ability to come up with, and execute, the coolest, yet most effective educational initiatives, which benefit not only students, but the teachers, school leadership and supporting staff in various schools. I am inspired by her and I’m motivated to pattern the way she boldly steps out of the box and unapologetically does the sometimes seemingly crazy things she does to successfully achieve her intended goal. I strive to have even half the positive effect she has had on schools across Jamaica, through the work I do with the young women I nurture through the Flourish program.
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