As my flight touched down in Lesotho at the end of January, I was, as ever, anxious to assess the rain situation, after hearing about the devastating impacts of the ninth year of drought in the region. In practical terms, this means that there is such a long period without rain that people have no water and crops cannot be planted or come to maturity. Even when the rains do come, they are not sufficient to grow food for the needs of the population. This past December, the World Food Program reported that 70% of people in Lesotho would need food assistance to survive 2020 because of the lack of rain. Climate change is affecting all of us and in Lesotho, the rains are coming later every year. September-October is the spring planting season. The lack of rain parched the depleted soil to the extent that it was useless to plant. The first rains only came after Christmas. Vegetables were planted but it was too late to plant maize – the nation’s staple food. For those interested, this is the most recent report.
I could see the greening out the plane window and felt some sense of relief. At least there was enough precipitation for the trees and grasses to grow – and once again abate the erosion so threatening to Lesotho’s precious soil. After a two hour drive I arrived at our Hlotse Leadership Centre, which is looking beautiful! I was thrilled to see that the flowers planted as camouflage on our rather unattractive concrete block retaining walls have finally filled in after ten years!
It was delightful to be so warmly greeted by the staff. When I woke up in the morning, the children at the Centre were anxious to chat – despite my groggy, jet-lagged state! At first, there are only the small boys – girls must stay home to do the chores, sweep, fetch water, etc., only free to join the activities around noon. I loved their questions: How many hotels do we have in Canada? Is my home as big as the Centre? Are there wild animals in Canada? Does Canada have water? Are there fish in the rivers? …. and the inevitable question – Why did I start Help Lesotho? When one young lad realized Canada went up to the north pole, he earnestly asked me if that is indeed where all the presents are made!
This Centre is their second home where they are always welcome, treated as smart, thriving young leaders, and where their feelings truly matter.
I tried to imagine how one sweet young boy had found a single roller blade and somehow managed to ‘roll’ it along on these uneven, potted, stoney roads! Another walked so far to be here with almost no soles left on his shoes.
It is our practice to hold a two-day staff meeting upon my arrival. The first day we dress up. The second day, all wear their Help Lesotho staff golf shirts – looking very smart. I share how we raise funds in Canada, the results of our annual audit, strategies for skill development, and messages from donors and staff. The staff share their impact reports on their last quarter activities. Since July, we have reached over 10,000 people. Our Herd Boy Program received such accolades that one herd boy, Lebohang, and Ntate Sello, our Grant Implementation and Impact Manager, were invited to Berlin to present at the 30th Anniversary International Celebration of the Convention of the Rights of the Child for nine days in November.
What an extraordinary challenge/experience for Lebohang – from the isolated mountains of Lesotho – to flying in planes, sleeping in hotels, getting on the bus at the airport in Berlin, sitting in a car with a dog, seeing people kissing on the street, and so much more. A handsome young man with a fascinating story, our Lebohang attracted a lot of attention. I look forward to meeting him when I go up to the mountains in a few weeks.
We listened to a report about our Country Director, Shadrack Mutembei, and our Senior Capacity Development Officer, ‘M’e Felleng’s, presentation at the Southern Africa Regional Conference on Prevention of Violence Against Women and Girls on December 4-5 in Johannesburg about our Herd Boy Program as a unique example of success in involving marginalized boys in gender equity programs.
The staff sang so beautifully and gave me a thoughtful late birthday celebration and cake. We commemorated our senior accountant, ‘M’e Nthabeleng Posholi’s 5 years of faithful service to Help Lesotho. It is special to be together again and share our work.
There is a great deal to look forward to in the next couple of months. I will meet with staff individually, with my friend and co-conspirator, Sr. Alice Mputsoe, with old friends and partners and with the former St. Mary’s Girls – a six-year project, started in 2004, to educate girls sponsored by St. Bartholomew’s Anglican Church in Ottawa. We are busy preparing for our first Alumni Reunion this week, initiated and planned by our graduates themselves. We are expecting around 150 people. I can’t wait to see them – some I have not seen for ten years.
Thank you for reading along and accompanying me on this journey. We will catch up more in Letter #2. As I close, I want to thank those who collected the eye glasses I brought in my suitcase for our grannies– such a gift!
Best wishes to each one,
PS: It is a huge help if you share these letters with your colleagues, friends and families. We do not spend any money on advertising. Word-of-mouth is the most effective way for us to grow and share our impact. Many people do want to support work such as ours but they are unsure which organizations actually use the funds as they claim. This year, 91% of our revenue was spent on programs. Your recommendation and advocacy are needed to help sustain this work!
PPS: For those interested, this link takes you to a faith-based podcast I did with two Anglican priests in London, Ontario just before leaving Canada.