Mariam grew up in an environment of economic disadvantage where it could have been very easy to slip into a cycle of lack of aspiration and underachievement. Teens and Toddlers gave her the confidence and life skills she needed to overcome her environment and become a source of support to disadvantaged young people and others in her community.
In Mariam’s words:
I’m lucky to have a great mum. She raised five of us by herself really well. She never liked us mixing with people in our area. It was far too easy for kids to fall into crime and teenage pregnancy in my community. But at the time I wanted to be able to get out of the house, so from about age 12, I started to do voluntary work, which gave me that opportunity.
Then when I was 14, Teens and Toddlers came to our school. As I was studying social care, I thought the programme would be really useful to me, so I went for it. Once a week for 20 weeks, we spent two hours with the toddlers, mentoring them, followed by an hour of tutoring with the programme leader. My toddler was like a little version of me and I really enjoyed building a bond with him. A lot of things I said to him were actually what my mum had told me.
I didn’t properly realise the significance of everything we were being taught at the time, but looking back, I can see how incredibly helpful it all was. The programme gave us so many life skills, things that you need to be able to get ahead. Some were really simple – I never used to look people in the eye when I spoke to them, until they taught me to. I find it amazing when I meet adults who still haven’t learnt that.
I realised I had changed when I started not to agree with decisions my friends were making. Unlike my friends though, I was fortunate enough to go through Teens and Toddlers and get amazing after-care from them. They opened my eyes to a different world, where anything was possible, and I haven’t looked back.
If a seed is nurtured properly it will grow into a strong plant, and children are just the same. Every young person would benefit from a programme like Teens and Toddlers.
I’m now 21 and working as a Leader on the Teens and Toddlers programme, guiding teenagers through the process that did so much for me. If I could give one piece of advice to these young people it would be to take their time growing up. There’s no need to rush it.
In the future, I want to finish my degree and do a Masters. I also want to do voluntary work in Nigeria for a year to share some of the skills I’ve learnt here with the country I came from. I feel a certain responsibility in my community. As far as I’m concerned we all have a responsibility and I hope in the future to develop new community projects to help other young people learn that too.
By Tom Roberts, Writer-in-residence