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Sandra Kasonso is a valued member of the Vital Voices network. We were first introduced to Sandra in 2007, when she attended Vital Voices of Africa: A Leadership Summit for Women and Girls, a summit hosted by Vital Voices in Cape Town, South Africa. Sandra most recently participated in a Vital Voices Women’s Artisan Product & Business Development Program training held in Nairobi, Kenya. The following is a blog post written by Sandra about her experience organizing a Mentoring Walk in Zambia.

My name is Sandra Ndona Kasonso. I first heard about Vital Voices from the American Center in Zambia when a staff member, Betty Nalungwe, nominated me to attend the leadership summit in Cape Town in 2007. The article I am writing is about the mentoring walk I organized with five friends in Zambia.

Sandra Kasonso of Zambia

I can’t remember when I first saw the mentoring walk email from Vital Voices requesting interested people to participate. I took an interest but wasn’t sure I could commit and so I ignored it. Months later I was telling Melysa Sperber, Vital Voices’ Global Grants Manager, about my girls club and how I wanted to help the girls achieve their dreams. I was looking for ideas when Melysa suggested the mentoring walk. I thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get involved and requested more information, which Global Programs Assistant Nicole Hauspurg sent. After going through the mentoring walk tool kit and overview I thought it was a great idea and passed the overview to friends for comments and support.

I mainly had to fight my self-doubt. First, I asked myself where would I start? Did I have what it took to lead this? So I hung back.

After looking at the mentoring walk best practice document, I thought I would never have sufficient time to organise the event. I never fully committed myself until I went to Kenya for an artisan workshop. There, I got more information from Celena Green, Program Officer for Africa, who stressed the importance of having a good team that would make the burden lighter. I also spoke to Kenyans who had participated in the first mentoring walk. When I shared my fears of having little time, they encouraged me and told me that I could still pull it off. That was all the motivation I needed.

When I got home after the artisan workshop, one of the first things I did was set up a meeting with a couple of people I thought I could work with. It was difficult to find the right people, and I had to carefully select new team members after having trouble at first. Our team had its first meeting four weeks before November 21, the day that the mentoring walk was planned to take place. Naturally, most of my team members were skeptical, and said that the time frame was way too short to seek sponsors, partners and speakers. I totally understood where they were coming from and they were probably right.

Something in me refused to give up and postpone the walk to next year.

I had given my word to Vital Voices, and how could I give up without first giving it a try? However, I felt that if I was the only one who believed it could still be done, then organizing it would be hard. But when one of the team members also supported me, it was all the encouragement I needed to convince the others!

Our challenges were many. Time was not on our side, expecting sponsorship from companies within such a short time frame was a pipe dream, as was getting speakers, mentors and mentees.

I guess facing these challenges from the beginning helped us, because our task was how we were going to overcome those challenges. We settled on approaching friends, family and colleagues to make donations for us to organize the event. We decided to recruit mentors and mentees from our own network of friends and colleagues. Our ideal budget for the mentoring walk was considerable. Two days before the event, we had only managed to raise about half of what we needed. I was stressed and wished I had listened to my team when they said it couldn’t be done.

I needed a miracle. But God surely works in mysterious ways, and one of our volunteers and mentors linked us to the Zambian Government’s Gender in Development Division (GIDD) program. Since what we were promoting through the mentoring walk was in line with the GIDD program we got 90% sponsorship two days before the event!

For close to three weeks we had no response from the First Lady, who we were trying to have as a speaker at the mentoring walk, and we sort of lost hope. But one of my team members had the opportunity to have a face-to-face conversation with her, and after explaining the whole concept, she left with the confirmation we needed! Even though the First Lady had other commitments on the day of the walk, to our great delight she stayed on and interacted with the girls and took pictures, too.


First Lady of Zambia Thandiwe Banda addresses participants on the day of the mentoring walk

For speakers we had the First Lady Thandiwe Banda, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Country Director Viola Morgan, the Acting Permanent Secretary Ministry of Gender and Women in Development Christine Kalamwina, Diakonia Country Director Dorcas Mbozi, US Ambassador’s wife Anita Booth, Betty Chellah Nalungwe UNICEF Communications Officer and Vital Voices alumnae. We also had two rising young women speaking, Dr. Bupe Musonda and Badero Yerokun.

The night before the walk, I was a bundle of nerves and could not sleep.

It rained throughout the whole night and I was worrying myself sick, but then I told myself to stop wasting my precious time worrying over something I could not change and decided to use that time to prepare for my TV interview first thing in the morning at 7am. The rain eventually stopped, and even though it still looked threatening, thankfully it never rained, and the day was cloudy and cool, a nice day for a walk!

The event was the first one we held, and obviously had its own challenges, which will be improved upon next time. A lot of lessons were learned. Due to limited funds, we held the event at a not so prestigious place but we are grateful for all the people that still managed to come and be with us on that day. The response was good and we are being encouraged to come up with concept papers that could be supported.


Anita Booth, wife of U.S. Ambassador to Zambia Donald Booth, with Sandra Kasonso

In the initial program I meant to speak first but with last minute confirmations we had too many speakers so I spoke very briefly at the end to give my vote of thanks to everyone, especially our sponsors. I said that the intention was not to end at having a one off event but to hold a series of follow up events to promote the mentoring relationships that have been developed. I also said next year we aimed to hold a bigger and better walk targeting at least 200 women and girls and hopefully expand it to other towns. I encouraged mentors and mentees to stay in touch with each other and through the contact details submitted to us, we too would stay in touch.

After the walk, what touched me the most was when one of my women from Magic Hands of Africa, Modesta Nachobwe, told me how much she was encouraged by the First Lady Thandiwe Banda’s story.

Thandiwe Banda shared a story of how she grew up in the village, drew water from a well, lived in a house without electricity until one day she asked herself if she wanted to spend the rest of her life living like that. Her answer was no and she took herself to school because she felt education was the key to the good life she desired. This is why to this day, despite being the First Lady, she continues to study as she feels she won’t be First Lady for life, that will be gone one day, but her education will stay with her.

Modesta was encouraged because she comes from a similar background, she never finished high school, draws water from a well, lives in a little house without electricity, but she is a determined woman who has single handedly raised and educates her five children through making beaded products during the day and selling roasted maize at the market at night.

She told me that if Thandiwe Banda could use education to get a better life for herself and get out of that poverty then so could she. Modesta now wants to go back to school to learn how to read and write.