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From International Mentor to Lifelong Friend

February 20, 2014 5 minute Read by Dr. Kitty Harris Wilkes

This is a guest blog post by Dr. Kitty Harris Wilkes, one of the Mentors for the 2012 class of the Women's Iniative Fellowship


When the Bush Institute first launched the “Women’s Initiative Fellowship Program” two years ago to develop leadership and networking skills for women in Egypt, I was asked to mentor one of the Egyptian Fellows.

At first I was hesitant.  Do I have the time to devote to this? Is this something I would enjoy?  Am I the right person with the skills for such a project?  Would I be able to have a positive impact?

So I struggled with the decision, but agreed that I would mentor Dr. Heba Nader Wahsh, a dentist in the Cairo region.  I quickly learned that Heba and I have mutual interests in providing leadership instruction for adolescents. 

I had been part of a team at Texas Tech University that developed a comprehensive leadership development curriculum and a health and wellness program for youth.  This curriculum was adopted by the Texas Education Agency for use in public schools across Texas.  Schools in other states have also expressed interest in and have implemented these programs.

Heba was excited to learn of our resources and the chance to use them in Egypt. We provided her the curriculum, gave her an initial overview, and allowed her the opportunity to visit a school and see firsthand the lessons being presented to students.  She took a full set of these materials back home to Egypt to develop programing for children. 

Since our first meeting in March 2012, Heba and I have stayed in contact through emails, Skype, and by personal visits to help her design and adapt her own programs for use in Egypt.  She is developing a curriculum that addresses the psychological needs of at-risk youth, and she is starting her own NGO that will focus on child and youth development. She tutors, teaches character-development and relationship-building sessions, and provides dental treatment to children living in poverty.  I am so proud of her!

Even though Heba graduated from the Women’s Initiative Fellowship Program in March 2013, our relationship and mentoring continues.  In February 2014, Heba and I met in New York City and spent three days visiting and working together to build on the accomplishments she has already achieved.  We made plans to meet again and do more intensive training and collaboration in the future. 

We are now close friends and have formed a personal bond.  My involvement as a mentor is one of the most rewarding endeavors of my life.  I think about those first hesitations, and then reflect about the experience and relationships I would have missed had I not agreed to be Heba’s mentor.

After our first sessions together, Heba asked me to read an essay she had written as part of her original application to be a Bush Institute Women’s Initiative Fellow.  The essay was an expression of what she hoped to learn and achieve if she were selected as a fellow. We both were amazed that her essay, written months before she was accepted into the program, was almost word for word what she was actually experiencing in our time together in the mentoring process.

The Bush Institute’s Women’s Initiative Fellowship is now beginning a third year with a new class of fellows, this time from Tunisia. It is a significant program impacting generations to come.

I am grateful to President and Mrs. Bush for allowing me the opportunity to be a Women’s Initiative Fellowship Mentor.  Honestly, I believe I am the beneficiary, the one who received the most from the program.  And to think, in some small way, this mentoring experience may be having a positive influence on the future of Egypt.