This blog was originally shared by YALI NETWORK

Youth coach and mentor Salimi Gerhard didn’t always know that she wanted to be a motivator of young people. In fact, Salimi struggled as a child in Namibia to find motivation in her own life.

“I grew up in Swakopmund in a location called Mondesa,” Salimi said. “Growing up was fun, but I was never really a motivated child, especially when it came to schoolwork because the distractions were too many. I believe lack of focus was also the main problem.”

It was her childhood challenges that made Salimi believe in the importance of youth mentorship.

“This is why I grew to be interested in youth coaching and mentorship, because I relate so much to the youth, especially those who feel they will never amount to anything in life, because at some point in my life I also felt the same,” Salimi said.

Watching young people struggle in the same way, Salimi was driven to give back to her community. She is a Southern Africa Regional Leadership Center alumnus and the founder and managing director of Smiley’s Foundation of Hope. Her nonprofit organization offers free counseling services, coaching, mentoring and community-development projects to orphans and vulnerable youth in Namibia.

Salimi and her mentees at a community engagement event

Smiley’s Foundation of Hope gives the young people of Namibia a safe space to dream big, pursue careers of their choice, and provide their community with valuable information, such as mental health awareness.

“In most cases when I would advise the youth to never give up on their dreams, I always do that by sharing my story,” Salimi said. “I always tell them that your story can change. I always motivate them to never compare themselves because our destinies are different.”

Salimi encourages anyone interested in starting a youth counseling or youth development organization to always show respect to every individual and to be of good virtue.

“My advice to somebody out there is that humbleness is the key to a great leader. Running an organization looks easy, but it requires discipline, it requires honesty, it requires being able to accept and acknowledge one’s mistakes, it requires one to be able learn from others.”

Are you interested in learning how you can be a mentor to youth? Visit our YALI4Youth page for more tools and resources.

The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author or interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of the Network or the U.S. government.