I hope all is well with you and your families. Although our new-normal is still months away, we have lots to look forward to – especially the hugs! My vaccine is scheduled for 5:51PM Easter Sunday – an odd day and time but I am thrilled. More friends and family members get vaccinated and we celebrate. It won’t change our habits yet but is very reassuring on a personal and national level.
Non-profits in Canada and organizations in Lesotho have been struggling and many will not recover from this year. Our donors have generously and graciously allowed us to manage throughout the year and still provide a staggering number of services to the people we serve. Thank you so very much. Words fail me in conveying how much we appreciate your support.
We finally installed the long-awaited replacements for our 11-year-old, well-loved and worn playground equipment at both our leadership centres! The volume of kids we have is extraordinary. The old structures gave great joy to thousands of children and are now being donated to nearby day cares. Although ordered many months ago, the pandemic delayed the arrival of the new equipment from South Africa. We are so keen that young people have a few healthy, fun things to do – their lives are so filled with worry and troubles. We are also wanting to set up an obstacle course in our adjacent property for youth, team building and possibly renting it out to generate some small revenue. It will cost about CAD $16,000 installed – which is a lot but we will pick away at the funding – as we did for the play structures. I know that if we install the obstacle course, so many of our program attendees will enjoy it as well – such a great stress reliever.
Today, our GIRL4ce program ran a special day at the Hlotse Centre for our leadership and computer program participants. The day began with a session on contraception types and use, proper use of condoms, HIV prevention and treatment, and STI education. After discussion and time to process, a tent was set up for private HIV testing and a mobile clinic arrived, staffed by a nurse, for STI screening, counselling, and distribution of contraceptives.
Our program officer, ‘M’e Palesa, said that both our male and female youth are so appreciative of the services coming to them on our property – where they are taking their programs. It has reduced their shyness to ask questions, get tested and seek medical advice in a confidential manner. She also noted that this has increased the positive peer-pressure to be open and participate in these opportunities.
I just read a message from one of our kids: “I am so hungry I am shaking.”
I worry about these young people. I am concerned that they might lose hope during this endless pandemic and its restrictions so I am trying to connect with as many as I can. Today I would like to share the stories of three resilient young women who give me hope for Lesotho’s future. One of our alumna, LINTLE, whom I last hugged 13 months ago at our alumni reunion event, is now one of our new psychosocial support interns and participating in the annual leadership program going on right now. I will introduce her but do watch the Zoom chat we had on Monday (below). I first met Lintle in 2009 at our leadership camp.
Lintle was a sponsored child from a remote village in Thaba Tseka very high up in central Lesotho. She shares more of her childhood on the video but suffice it to say that this single-orphan had no hope of attending high school. After her father’s death, her mother struggled to raise and provide for eight children until she succumbed to severe diabetes. Lintle was thereafter raised by her grandmother. She told me that our camp changed her forlorn 12-year-old little girl’s soul. She has been ever grateful for the stationery, uniforms, shoes and school fees which allowed her to graduate from high school in 2014. Lintle worked as a nanny to save for university from which she graduated in 2020 with a Bachelor of Social Work. She immediately volunteered in numerous places:
“I am very grateful that my dream of helping others is flourishing. Now that I was chosen as a Psychosocial Support Intern at Help Lesotho, I feel blessed to return to my Help Lesotho Family to learn to effectively help my fellow brothers and sisters. I know what it means to be vulnerable. The sessions in our training and the LIT program are so thought-provoking, especially the topic of resilience hit home for me. I faced and overcame many challenges from childhood and I learned that those experiences strengthened my resilience. We explored the dangers of blaming and fostering anger and actually how to start taking responsibility for one’s feelings and decisions.”
Many of you will remember FELLENG who came to Canada to celebrate our 10th anniversary in 2014 with Queen ‘Masenate and Princess Senate of Lesotho – some of you even housed her! I met Felleng in 2009 when she joined our first group of 25 Basotho Girls’ Leadership Corp.
These tiny 12-year-olds lived above a Catholic church hall – crammed into two small rooms for a whole year while we waited for their dorm at the Hlotse Centre to be finished. I visited them often, more than a little concerned about their well-being. Their housemother cooked on an open fire in the parking lot below. I saw this painfully shy young girl, with no father and a mother who worked in a garment factory for $4/day, blossom into a top student who took on leadership at school, at church and within the girls in the program. I am deeply aware of her struggles, the many times she grew so thin at university because she had no food, the desperate loneliness when her mother moved to South Africa to find work. Felleng was 16 when she came to Canada with her Queen and the Princess to meet donors and give speeches on our anniversary theme of gender equity. What an incredible experience – to cross the globe, fly for the first time. She and the princess were about the same age – game for this adventure but both shy. It was the Princess’ first international trip as well. Felleng was petrified to speak at fancy public venues and stay with strange white families, but she faced it all and did an amazing job. It was months of preparation and anticipatory anxiety and then additional months of recovery and processing but she did it!
Felleng wrote me last week:
“I am 23 years now, ‘M’e. I am still every grateful to Help Lesotho and will always be, because it is the reason I could graduate in 2020 with an honours in Public Administration and Political Science without being pregnant or married unlike so many of my age mates. Because you asked, I will share that life after university is very challenging and COVID 19 has things even worsened matters.
I have not given up even during these hard times. I apply for every relevant job post that I come across. I want you to know that the advocacy passion has not died in me. I work very hard to improve my advocacy skills through volunteering. I am currently a member of United Nations Youth Advisory Panel in my country. I am also volunteering with Help Lesotho’s new Alumni Village Outreach Project. As you know, I have travelled to Canada, South-Africa, Ethiopia and Kenya representing young people in Lesotho. I am very grateful to Help Lesotho for having given me the opportunity to study and skills to represent and advocate for other young people. I can speak without fear, I can reason and represent my country because of the confidence that Help Lesotho built in me. So many girls are not so lucky. I always thank God for directing this precious organisation into my life and pray that it grows bigger than it is. I am a proud and grateful alumna.”
My final young woman is 23-year-old ITUMELENG, a GIRL4ce member. She is one of the leaders of the ‘Do the Right Thing – stop gender-based violence (GBV)’ Blitz that happened before Christmas that I mentioned in my last letter. Itumeleng graduated from high school in 2016. Before joining GIRL4ce in 2018 she had a little business selling handbags and watches. For the last two years, she has devoted herself to fighting the high and alarmingly increasing rates of GBV as more and more girls have no one to protect them.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has really affected us. I so miss being with my friends. I am using the pandemic to save money. We have all learned better hygiene practices and more respect for personal space – which is good. I wear a mask all the time and wash my hands every 20 minutes and keep two meters’ distance. What is not good is the loss of jobs, the curfews and restrictions and occasional total shutdowns. Many have lost valuable time in their studies and online learning is a struggle due to lack of adequate computer skills and poor technological infrastructures in the country, i.e. absence of electricity and internet connection in remote areas. The endless closure of schools gives rise to more teenage pregnancy and early marriage. We already experienced so many deaths!
The blitz was the best experience ever, going out to people hearing their opinions on GBV and teaching them was quite fun and educational on both sides. The pandemic is affecting GBV, the rate of violence is accelerating at a very high rate, primarily domestic violence because of congestion in households, due loss of jobs and closed schools. People who participated or received our message come back to Help Lesotho to report cases of GBV in their villages. During and after the Blitz, we had a strong response on social media, which shows people understood our message and are willing to partake in our initiative. Some men shared our views while a few tried to justify their actions of violating children’s and women’s rights. Some used culture and customs to validate their behavior but the majority seemed to appreciate their errors and promised to work towards repentance.”
My heart bleeds for these kids – they are all trying so hard. I often think there is a huge lesson here of how grateful and determined young people can be despite having so little.
We have so much going on that I struggle to limit these letters. The interest you show is incredible and truly appreciated.
Be well, be safe and be kind,