After changing the lives of more than 40,000 Australian teenagers, including those dealing with racism and disadvantage, an Australian not-for-profit mentoring scheme is rolling out in the United States.
Schoolgirl Rose Quetee was overwhelmed by many things when she arrived in Australia from Liberia five years ago.
“The roads are so straight, and there are so many cars, I thought I was in heaven,” she said.
“I was hoping just to find money lying on the ground so my family would never have to work.”
But what shocked the 15-year-old more than anything was having to deal with racial tension in her new home in Melbourne's south-east.
“When I walk to the bus, people stare at me, I feel like they are saying ‘watch out for her’,” she said.
“I’m sure it’s linked to publicity over [claims of] ‘African gangs’ because it was not like that before. Now, I feel it includes all black people, no matter what your nationality.
“I get scared to go into shops and get nervous if staff want to look into my bag. I want to show them that I’m not a criminal, by calmly opening by bag and not haggling with them.”
Rose came to Australia with her mother and 18-year-old sister after her father migrated in 2008 seeking better opportunities.
“In Liberia, I didn’t go to school that much because we didn’t have a lot of money,” she said.
Rose has been taking part in a youth workshop run by not-for-profit mentoring group, Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience (AIME).
Founded in 2005 to support Indigenous and underprivileged youth, AIME has since expanded to support children of various backgrounds. Its university mentors will this year work with more than 10,000 high school students Australia-wide.
Last year, AIME also began working with African-Australian teens struggling to combat racial stereotyping, following Melbourne’s so-called ‘African gangs’ furore.
Nabil Feki, whose family migrated from Ethiopia to Melbourne in the 1980s, recently began mentoring with AIME.
“[Racism] impacts young people in a way that it damages their mental health and self-confidence,” the 23-year-old said.
“If they see media reports suggesting all young Africans are criminals and in gangs, they start to believe it and it takes away hope.”
AIME operates in every state across 18 different university sites.
“Up to six times a year the students come out of school onto a university campus, for sessions that include ‘failure time’,” said Dorcas Maphakela, program manager of AIME’s African-Australian stream.
“We get them to try something new, like a language, sport, or a game, and we encourage them to fail safely, to show that failing is part of success.”
Ms Maphakela is a writer and filmmaker who migrated from South Africa 13 years ago.
“I came here in my 20s and I am comfortable with the person that Africa made me,” she said.
“But some of these young people have never been to Africa, don’t even speak their language because they were born here.
“So when people tell them to ‘go back home’ they don’t know where to go.”
Through working with AIME, Rose Quetee said her self-confidence has grown steadily.
“Meeting people just like me is really good, and I can feel like myself and I belong somewhere,” she said.
”I am standing up as a leader in Year 10 and giving it my all … showing my best and not being shy.”
She now has her sights set on a professional career.
“I want to do my VCE (Year 12 certificate) and then work while getting into marketing management, and set up my own business for people who need help.”
In recent years, AIME has expanded offshore into several African countries and, in 2020, founder Jack Manning Bancroft plans to begin programs in the United States.
"AIME starts mentoring African-American high school students in Texas and New York early next year," he said. "Other programs are rolling out in Louisiana. AIME is also in talks with Indigenous American community leaders."
"In the US we’ll be delivering our imagination curriculum. It's the same program we deliver in Uganda, South Africa, Nigeria and Australia including African-Australian kids," Mr Bancroft said.
"The key element is the design. We've cracked an off-the-shelf scalable imagination curriculum that is able to create transformational change for students from all different backgrounds."
"The key for marginalised kids is to ensure that the program leader is from the same background," he added.
However, Mr Bancroft said mentoring Australian Indigenous youth will remain a primary focus for as long as AIME exists.
"We hope to change more young Indigenous lives, at the same time we are changing the world," he said.