By Raquel Armendariz Sucunza, Global Schools Project Lead (Communications)
Passionate, committed, and hard-working are some of the words we could use to describe the Mentors from the Global Schools Program (GSP) Advocacy Program. Before becoming Mentors, they were also once advocates, so they know better than anyone what it takes to be working towards the promotion and implementation of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD).
With the goal of recognizing them, every month, we are appointing the Mentors of the month, honoring them for the good work they’ve done in supporting and giving advice to their mentees. One of these recognized Mentors is Lawrence Peter, who, during his mentorship, he was able to come together with advocates to brainstorm solutions to each advocate's challenges by using a peer review model of evaluation and feedback.
Interview with Lawrence Peter
Lawrence is an Educational Development Practitioner with a background in Economics and currently studying Humanitarian Action as a Graduate student at University College Dublin (UCD) in Ireland. He has research and practice interests in the transition between the delivery of humanitarian assistance and the provision of long-term development assistance in peri-urban communities and areas affected by emergencies such as conflicts, disasters, and diseases. His childhood experiences involving living among poverty-stricken people in peri-urban communities and witnessing the massive violation of basic human rights in those communities motivated him to pursue a career in Humanitarian Action.
He has built over 3 years of experience mobilizing resources for disadvantaged learners in marginalized settings, and over those 3 years, he has represented Zimbabwe as an advocate and mentor advocate of the Global Schools Program. As an advocate, he mobilized nine schools to join the Global Schools Program and has worked with some of those schools in implementing several SDG-related activities. As a mentor advocate, he has worked with twenty advocates from several countries across Sub-Saharan Africa, including Zambia, Malawi, Namibia, South Sudan, and Zimbabwe. Together, they have led the implementation of SDG-related activities that have not only raised awareness for Sustainable Development but have addressed several social and environmental issues in different African communities.
Tell us more about your mentoring role and what it means to you.
During the past two years, as part of the mentorship program, I have worked with educators from different countries, and most of them have gone on to represent their countries on different international platforms. Some have successfully implemented projects that have addressed challenges of poverty, gender inequality, hunger, and environmental degradation, among other social and environmental concerns of the people. These success stories, which I am proud to be part of, inspire my continued involvement in the Global Schools Program. I have established life-long relationships with some of my mentees, and this presents opportunities for collaboration and continued knowledge sharing. Interacting with these educators has improved my understanding of the SDGs and their important implications. Because of such meaningful exploits, I intend to continue working with my mentees (or, as I prefer calling them, my peers) even after my term as a mentor and their terms as advocates.
I have provided mentorship to twenty Global Schools advocates within three groups over a period of two years. Each group was unique in its own way, with interesting ideas for Sustainable Development interventions. From each group, I have learned important lessons, ranging from the designing and implementation of SDG activities to the building of teams for the effective implementation of ideas. The current cohort of advocates under my mentorship has benefited the most as I now possess requisite mentorship skills and a comprehensive understanding of the operations of the Global Schools Program. A notable improvement that I have made is the provision of a step by step guidance in the implementation of Sustainable Development activities. For example, I have designed Strategic Plan templates that I have shared with my mentees upon request. I have gone on to involve myself in implementing selected projects upon invitation by the advocates. For example, I have closely worked with Advocate Victor Akansansira from South Sudan, who has successfully coordinated interclass debate competitions on SDGs 4 and 13. I have also introduced him to a British Council-led program called Connecting Classrooms, and he has gone on to deliver webinar presentations on SDGs in classrooms to over forty teachers from thirty countries. Witnessing such achievements gives me a feeling of fulfillment and is the reason why I highly value my involvement with the Global Schools Program.
How are you helping your mentees in their advocacy journey?
This has been one of the most rewarding activities I've been involved in. In the past four months, we have established a support system that has not only provided me with a platform to help my mentees but also to learn from them. I have created a WhatsApp platform where participants are free to seek guidance, ask questions, share opinions, and do anything relevant to sustainable development. I make sure that I respond to their questions within the stipulated timeframe. On top of that, I held monthly Zoom calls where we discussed challenges they encountered, and together, we brainstormed solutions using a peer assessment, evaluation, and feedback system. This is a process where advocates get a chance to respond with solutions and ideas to solve challenges that their fellow advocates are encountering. This has allowed the advocates to practice critical thinking, and as a result, a lot of the challenges they have been facing in the designing and implementation of their SDG-related activities have been addressed successfully.
What has been the best part of working with your mentees?
I would say the best part has been the opportunity to share knowledge during our monthly Zoom calls. In as much as we maintained a formal atmosphere, we tried hard to make the meetings flexible and interactive, which allowed the sharing of many ideas that made a difference. Through such meetings, I learned a lot from my mentees, and I am in a better position in terms of project implementation than I was before the mentorship program. They also made it clear that they have learned a lot from me as their mentor and from themselves as peers. I believe that this group of advocates will go on to play an important role in the contextualization, localization, and operationalization of the SDGs in different parts of Africa.
How and where do you find inspiration for your SDGs-related activities/work as a Global Schools Advocate and Mentor?
I would answer this question by giving reasons why I joined the Global Schools Program first as an advocate back in 2019. I grew up in a peri-urban community in the peripheries of Harare (the capital city of Zimbabwe), where a significant part of the population was subject to drug abuse, Gender-Based Violence (GBV), and extreme poverty. The quality of education was poor, and the number of out-of-school children was always on the rise. Witnessing such and other dire deprivations of human rights developed my ambition of becoming a community development practitioner. The launching of the Sustainable Development Agenda in 2015 presented an opportunity to pursue my dream. However, from 2015 to 2019, I struggled to involve myself in the movement in a meaningful way until August 2019, when I got selected to work as an advocate of the Global Schools Program. The idea of working with schools to operationalize the SDGs is the biggest step I have made toward my dream of becoming a community development practitioner.
We are living in a world where poverty, conflicts and disasters, and other effects of climate change are never likely to end any time soon, and as such, there is a need to develop response mechanisms that address both humanitarian assistance needs and the development needs of communities. The Sustainable Development Agenda seeks to address these 21st-century challenges, and this has been the source of inspiration for my SDG-related work as a Global Schools advocate and mentor. These challenges have been present from the time I was very young but perhaps have even increased in the present day owing to the emergence of environmental complexities such as Climate Change and global health pandemics such as COVID-19. As rightfully expressed by the former Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon, “We are the first generation that can put an end to poverty and the last that can end climate change”. Schools possess an enormous potential in this effort as more than half of the world's population is still in schools. This is the reason why I've been involved in the Global Schools Program for the past 3 years, first as an Advocate and second as a Mentor.
What is one thing you wish to tell current and future Global Schools Program advocates?
My advice to current and future Global Schools advocates is derived from this famous quote by Magaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has". Indeed, if we're committed and resilient toward a common objective (To improve sustainability literacy), we have the potential to influence a more sustainable world. We can achieve this in big ways and small ways, no action is insignificant, and every little contribution counts. Imagine what the future will look like if we can mobilize and influence a whole generation of young people who are in schools today to make more sustainable choices in their behaviours, lifestyles, and careers. These are the future leaders who have the duty to continue the fight against climate change, poverty, conflicts, and every other challenge that affects our welfare and that of future generations. Therefore, we, as educators, have a responsibility to lead this shift toward a more sustainable future. There is a tendency for advocates to suspend all their SDG-related activities at the end of their terms as Global Schools Advocates, but I appeal to the current group of advocates to set an example for future groups. I urge them to continue working on their different sustainable development ideas in their different schools. Once an Advocate, you're always an Advocate.