Lessons From My Mama: Values and Life Skills

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Article by: Purity Ngina

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“Do you know how lucky you are? Consider this: You are lucky to have been born in a health facility, lucky to have a roof over your head. Lucky! Lucky!  Lucky!” This is my story, a story that my mama repeats every single day. I am only 5 months old but clearly, this story means a lot to her.

Mama prays that I become a Medical Researcher. She talks animatedly about COVID-19.

“These are unprecedented times son. Life was never like this. You see, when I was expecting you, COVID-19 separated papa and I for three months. He was locked down in Tharaka-Nithi and I was in Nairobi. My sleepless nights were spent worrying about the unknown. The days were long, and my mind would wander. Luckily, your papa and I have invested in some social-emotional skills that helped us deal with the situation.  Having said that, my son, these challenges present an opportunity for you to ensure no other parent goes through this kind of unsettling experience. And Medical Research is the way to go.”

I have listened to this story over and over, during playtime, feeding time, bathing time, night prayer and during mama-son moments. My papa also calls me Doctor; I am not quite sure what is expected of me but I know they will give me the guidance I need to get there.

When mama is not talking about COVID-19 she talks about values and life skills. She calls them the 21st Century Skills. These skills, she says, have guided her thus far.

“Richter, the world is changing so fast and in ways we could hardly imagine. You might be the greatest Medical Researcher in the world but without these skills, none of it means anything. These skills will help you survive and thrive.  Son, you need to be aware of yourself, be able to collaborate with others and be good at problem-solving. And in all this, have respect for yourself and others. As you continue to grow, it is important that you know your strengths and weaknesses and accurately recognize your own emotions, thoughts, and values. This is what we call self-awareness.  But even as you get to know yourself my boy, never underestimate the power of collaborating with others. There is an African proverb that says, "If you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together”.

I continue staring, cooing and babbling in agreement with what mama is saying. “Son”, she continues, “I know how important it is for one to be respectful. However, respect is quite diverse, it is influenced by culture, location, and/or religion. What is important is to always be mindful of others, mindful in terms of your dressing, your language and your beliefs.” Mama disregards my signals for bedtime and continues her stories with enthusiasm. 

“Something big and complex has started in East Africa, my son, and I am so privileged to be part of it. We shall be assessing young peoples' life skills using contextually developed tools. The project, Assessment of Life Skills and Values in East Africa (ALiVE) will assess children between the ages of 13 -17 years. This will help us determine whether they have the required skills. It will also help us monitor the progress made along the way. Concurrently, we are engaging the government and the public to raise awareness about these skills. To amplify our voice, we have collaborated with 20 state and non-state institutions in East Africa.”

This project will take three years to complete, and I know that in the fullness of time, it will have a tremendous impact on me and many other COVID-19 babies.

“Son, in whatever you choose to be always endeavor to carry these skills with you”, mama concludes as she puts me down to sleep.

Also read: Dr Purity Ngina on Rewriting Your Story