Friday was our long awaited 10th Anniversary Celebration in Lesotho.
It was exactly as we imagined – with 700 guests, a wonderful speech from His Majesty, King Letsie III, singing and dancing, poems and cheers. Staff and volunteers came from all over the mountains and worked tirelessly to prepare. One school sent a sheep – which our staff slaughtered on the lawn and cooked.
The night before we had torrential rains, lightening and high winds. We slept lightly wondering if the tents would fall down during the storm. Despite the weather, youth arrived late into the night to be sure they were present for the morning celebration. All night long ladies were chopping cabbage, peeling carrots and potatoes, slicing pumpkin and beets, and cooking mountains of rice. Everyone else was up by 4am to cook and clean.
The dawn brought a glorious sunrise and an army of youth, staff and volunteers scurrying about in silent, focused activity.
The program included speeches:
- from a herd boy advocating to end violence against women publically with great aplomb;
- a young mother who has overcome her shame to stand up and advocate for community support for young mothers;
- a granny who admitted to all assembled that she used to drink to hide from her depression thinking all her children had died of witchcraft rather than AIDS and now she is managing well with her grandchildren;
- a girl who has learned to believe in herself and the power of women to make outstanding decisions in all aspects of life.
Below is a photo of our two Ambassador Girls – Felleng (on the left) who represented Basotho girls for the Canadian celebrations and Lijeng who wonderfully represented girls in Lesotho at our event yesterday. We were being filmed throughout by the Lesotho television network and it appeared immediately afterward.
The country director for one of our partners said after the event: girls can change this country – at least Help Lesotho girls will!
The Ambassadors from Canada are having a wonderful time – despite the challenges of going without internet the whole time, losing electricity for several days and managing without water for a while, everyone is wonderful.
They built key hole gardens with grannies, hiked, rode and walked through villages and caves, met with young mothers and youth and helped to prepare for the event with the staff. We could not have asked for a kinder, more enthusiastic or positive group of people. They have loved every minute of it. Tomorrow we leave for Thaba Tseka – deep in the mountains to explore and meet more of our beneficiaries.
As we close this anniversary year, with our theme ‘CELEBRATE THE SUCCESS AND ENSURE THE FUTURE’ and our focus on gender equity – our first and last priority – one cannot help but reflect on the changes in individuals and villages over these years.
His Majesty commented several times on the effect Help Lesotho is having on his country.
Greeting our former sponsored children and youth makes one proud.
Throughout this anniversary year, all programs here have been doing gender advocacy. It was hysterical and wonderful to see boys doing the traditional women’s dance at the event, and girls participating in the all-male gum boot dance – for the first time ever. Two firsts – initiated by two of our partner schools. The King commented on this as well as examples of changes that are afoot in the land – a turning point.
It takes time to do good development; to change attitudes and behaviours. There was much to celebrate.
In 2004 we had 16 girls in a special hostel, about 75 sponsored children and 30 youth in training. In 2014 we had hundreds of youth in training and 10,000 beneficiaries every year. My mother was our first child sponsor! Her Basotho daughter, Lerato, is 25, HIV negative, unmarried and determined.
Another of our leadership girls is 25 as well, a graduate pharmacist and has a job! Like any proud mother, I could go on and on – each one to be celebrated and supported.
It was a very special day – so many sponsors and partners, chiefs and government officials, country directors and beneficiaries came from afar to be with us and to celebrate the thousands of people who have gained hope, purpose and focus to move forward with their lives.
PS The eye testing for the grannies in Thaba Tseka went well. Of the 88 tested, 62 require surgery. The doctors say the incidence of cataracts are much higher in the remote mountains due to the lack of sunglasses in an unshaded existence and the toxic fuels used to cook in unventilated, smoke filled huts (cow dung, paraffin, etc.)