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A tribute to those who take time to mentor others
From:
Patrick Asare -- Author of 'The Boy from Boadua' Patrick Asare -- Author of 'The Boy from Boadua'
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Wyomissing, PA
Thursday, April 18, 2024

 

I first learned about guidance counselors when I was hired as a teacher in a K-12 public school district in New York in the fall of 1992. The schools I attended in my childhood in Ghana had nothing other than the bare classrooms and the teachers who taught us. If any of the vast majority of Ghanaian children living in villages in those days tried to navigate the educational path, they did so in complete darkness. That is how my life began.

Fortunately for me, I was blessed with two extraordinarily amazing parents who taught me some critically important values at that young age. Because they were both illiterate, they were not equipped to offer guidance on education. But the ethics of hard work, discipline, and optimism that I learned from them, combined with my childhood curiosity, became a potent force that propelled me to some unimaginable places. Sadly, none of the children I grew up with in my village had that parentage luck. Most of them remain trapped in destitution there.

My real awareness of the crucial importance of the home environment on a child’s development and ultimate life success occurred relatively recently. When I started teaching, I was initially baffled by the endless problems with student discipline that I encountered in my classrooms. The schools had state-of-the-art facilities but little learning occurred in them. Through conversations with my teacher colleagues, readings, and debates I listened to on radio and television, I gradually understood why. Even though the children in the school district were surrounded by all kinds of educational resources, they couldn’t take advantage of them due to parental absenteeism and resulting lack of guidance at home. They were in the dark as much as my friends and I had been in my Ghanaian village.

Because of that realization, few things break my heart more these days than seeing children without parental love and support. My parents were extremely poor and they constantly struggled to feed me and my thirteen siblings. I frequently went to school on an empty stomach. All in all, I had a really difficult childhood. But, being sheltered under the umbrella that my parents so selflessly held up for us made all the difference in my life. They both passed away many years ago, but I will never stop thanking them.

I came across many children in my classrooms who, although clearly brilliant, squandered their potential because of this absence of direction. Many of such children eventually end up in prison, or become homeless drug addicts. As a society, we judge these people harshly. I am a firm believer in the notion that individuals should take charge of their own lives, but I also find myself constantly wrestling with this question about how much responsibility these luckless people actually bear for their predicaments. I am often haunted by the fact that had I not been blessed with the kind of parents and the home environment I had, my own life could very well have taken the wrong turn.

Even with all the luck that I had, I made a lot of mistakes along the way. Lacking the sort of advice that teachers and guidance counselors routinely provide to students here in America, I had no way of knowing that one could make a career out of studying subjects like literature or history, for example. Knowing what I know now, I strongly feel that one of those might have been a better fit for me. It is quite likely therefore that I made some sub-optimal academic choices early in life. Those types of errors are not easily reversible and often have life-changing implications.

Just as young children need guidance counselors in schools, adults need mentors in the workplace. In many ways, the professional world is much more difficult to traverse and therefore mentoring is crucially important. I parachuted into America thirty-two years ago with little more than the shirt on my back. With no family here and having to navigate a new, complex culture, I was once again in the dark on a multitude of things. It was back to fumbling my way through life. Harnessing the same intrinsic resources that I relied on in my youth to escape the village, I have managed to make some progress, but not without the inevitable mistakes.

Native-born Americans who don’t have the family structures or other connections to help them chart a path in the professional world face the same problems. That inability to recognize and take advantage of opportunities in the workplace is one of the main causes of economic inequality. Entire generations within families get trapped in poverty as a result of it.

From my personal experiences, I know how daunting it is trying to navigate this complex world without a guide. That is why it is especially gratifying for me to know that there are tens of thousands of kind-hearted Americans who spend their time and energies to provide the love and direction that so many children and adults in this country lack at home and in the workplace. These angels who help steer less fortunate people onto the right paths deserve so much gratitude from us. They do a tremendous service to humanity.

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