If there is one thing that Lillian Moremi enjoys, it’s a good challenge.
So when the bubbly 31 year old education specialist from Botswana was offered the chance of a lifetime in 2013 to travel to the coldest continent on earth, Antarctica, she grasped it with both hands.
When Moremi swapped Botswana’s steamy 32°C for Antarctica’s bitter sub-zero February temperatures on an expedition for aspirational young leaders, she became the first ever woman from her country to do so.
Raised by a single mother of six on the outskirts of Botswana’s capital, Gaberone, Moremi was not financially privileged, and she had never once been on a ship.
She struggled with seasickness, and physical discomfort from the extreme cold, but was delighted to see penguins for the first time and learned valuable life lessons that she still carries today.
“It was very, very cold and I’m a tiny person so we had so many layers of clothing to keep warm,” she laughed.
It taught her that “you can put yourself in any situation, no matter how difficult it is, as long as you’re very determined, have the right people around you, and know what you want to achieve, and you will be successful.”
Moremi spent two weeks in the breath-taking beauty of the world’s southernmost continent on a 2041 expedition, set up by polar explorer Robert Swan to challenge a young generation of leaders from around the world to protect their communities and the environment.
Her Antarctic adventures are now the basis for motivational talks to inspire other young Botswanans to achieve their dreams.
After studying accountancy in South Africa she realised that her first passion was education and youth development, which made her the perfect fit for the position of country manager for the Ducere Foundation, an Australian-based non-profit group providing leadership opportunities for African children.
In 2010 she set up the Botswana Student Network, an organisation now in partnership with AAT, which sends volunteers to schools and colleges to offer career advice.
It targets students from disadvantaged backgrounds like herself, offering them the chance to improve their education and career prospects.
“A lot of young people are confused or stressed. We get opportunities to study but you find that you are not really sure of who you are or what you want to study. And so the organisation [tries] to address those kind of issues,” she said.
“We go around the country talking about careers, motivating young people and promoting academic excellence, on a volunteer basis.”
The NGO is supported by government financial institutions and the US Embassy. This year it signed a memorandum of understanding with AAT to help students ensure that they have the soft skills that employers are looking for.
It is the first partnership with a student network that AAT – the most common form of professional qualification in Botswana – has signed in the country.
In one of her earlier experiences of mentoring in 2014, Moremi adopted the Mogoditshane Senior Secondary School, a single-storied building in the dusty outskirts of Botswana’s capital, Gaberone, that caters for both day and boarding students.
Every Saturday 30 to 100 pupils aged 16-18 would squeeze between the white walls of the school’s main halls to sit and listen to Moremi’s two hour career guidance lectures. Standing at the front, she would offer mentorship tips on leadership, education and how to succeed after school.
Many of the students listening to her every word were children from outlying local villages who often came from underprivileged families.
“They felt confident as I helped them with making career decisions, like how to choose their career, which tertiary institutions and colleges to apply for, and how to apply for funding,” she said.
“I also enlisted the help of my friends occasionally to join me and [deliver] motivational talks.”
She is now seeing the fruits of her labour, recalling several times when she has found former pupils working in government financial institutions, who have thanked her for her guidance.
“They say ‘Lillian, thank you so much, you played a fantastic role in our journey’,” she said.
In particular, a young girl called Lebogang sticks in her memory. Moremi recalled Lebogang during her coaching sessions as being “extremely shy”.
She was thrilled one year ago to receive a Facebook message from her “thanking me for helping her make informed career decisions and that she had made it into the University of Botswana.”
Lebogang asked Moremi to continue being her mentor, and she then enrolled the younger woman to work for her new business Career Coaching, which offers career development training for students.
Lebogang had now become so confident that she was not only engaging in public speaking, but also entering beauty pageants, said Moremi. “It is humbling to see her growth,” she added.
Moremi’s passion for mentoring young people is borne out of her own experience. Her first mentor was her mother, Anna, who raised her and her five siblings alone, while working as a cook at a school for the disabled.
“My mother is one incredible woman. She is very rich in her heart. She’s done so much for the community, and I’ve learned so much from her; how to be humble, selfless, how to serve,” she said.
“What I have continuously learned from her is that hard work and consistency matter the most, and it doesn’t matter if you are from a rich or a poor background,” continued Moremi.
“She’s really shown me that if you are a young person then be determined, work hard, and be the best person that you could possibly be.”
Moremi hopes that her small company, Career Coaching, will grow into a successful enterprise in education, training and human development and that she can also serve her country in the future.
“I’d love to see my country go places and maybe at some point represent it internationally as an ambassador,” she said.
“I believe we are all sent to the world to somehow serve a purpose and mine was to positively contribute to my community. Every single day I ask myself what am I really doing for my community?”
Nicola Smith has spent a decade reporting for The Sunday Times on both the European Union and South Asia.