Greetings to you all,
This is my 5th and final Letter ‘from’ Lesotho of 2021. I hope you are well in this protracted suspended animation we are experiencing. I am reading ‘The Plague’ by Albert Camus. The parallels are incredible and generate reflection on how idiosyncratically we are handling this unprecedented experience in our own lives. It has been enough time for major events to have left us without closure or condolence. In my life, the normal rhythm of being in Lesotho to truly ‘touch’ our staff and their work, my mother’s passing and the birth of my youngest grandchild have each affected me deeply. The isolation has given me premonitions of old age or serious illness. I long to have the chance to be available for my neighbours, friends and family and those who need a listening ear. My mental list of what I will do post-COVID is remarkably simple.
As this will be my final 2021 Letter ‘from’ Lesotho, there is much to share.
It was so special to see so many of you (on Zoom!) on Tuesday to hear from our Program Manager, Ntate Sello, about our programs for boys and men. You may remember the stories in my previous Letters, especially the exciting adventure of one of our herd boys traveling to Germany to share about the Herd Boy Program. The increasing interest in this work with boys and men is exciting because it is the real key to gender equity. We recorded the conversation so you can listen to my chat with Ntate Sello and ‘M’e Mamoletsane about how we tackle behavioural change with boys and men and about what new initiatives we are working on.
I asked Ntate Sello to tell us a bit more about himself.
“I grew up with my younger sister and my parents. Unlike most of the boys in Lesotho who drop out of school at an early age for herding animals, I was fortunate to attend school and herd animals during the weekends and after school hours. As the elder boy in the family, I had to find ways to provide for my family and I felt I was a deputy father to them. I found it very tough. I did not get a chance to play much with other children because I had to do my studies during the night because of my family duties. It was like that until I was admitted to a university in South Africa where I enrolled in Engineering. I was broken hearted when I had to come home before the end of my first year because my parents could not pay for the tuition fees. I did enroll in the National University of Lesotho for a BA in Social Work in 2007. A few months before my final year exams in 2012, I lost my father but still managed to graduate with my degree. Despite the degree, I felt hopeless and struggling to provide for my sibling and mother. Because of a friend’s insistence, I enrolled in the Leadership in Training Program at Help Lesotho in January 2013. I had never heard of the organization. Those two months changed my life forever. I got an opportunity to become a professional intern and was nominated several times to represent Basotho youth in international forums in numerous countries. Before the year was out, I was offered a program officer position to focus on herd boys and other male-oriented programs. All these brought a wider perspective to more learning and application of skills I have acquired over the past years. Today I am in charge of a number of programs including herd boys and donor funded projects. I was thrilled to talk to our donors on the Zoom on Tuesday. Thank you for that opportunity. I am so proud of the young men we help.” – Sello
‘M’e Mampaka, our Senior Grandmother Officer, just returned from Thaba Tseka and her visit to our grannies there. Although it is only fall, the nights become terribly cold for these dear souls. She told me that: “Grandmothers could not stop thanking Help Lesotho so much for the support to them. Because of donors to this program, we were able to give them masks, blankets and healthy meals for 4 days. They have had such a hard time during this long COVID period.”
The schools in Lesotho have finally re-opened! Primary students have been sitting home for over a year. My educator heart breaks to think of these children missing fundamental development and learning opportunities during such formative years. Many of the little ones have had no chance at all to learn to read or write, and there is no one at home who can help. The youngest ones barely remember going to school at all, let alone anything they previously learned. We are providing masks and sanitizer to help rural primary schools resume safely.
During the lockdown in early 2021, we piloted a program for our Professional Interns to work with children in their community. Rather than children coming to our Centres, we went to them to do simple educational activities and share information about COVID-19. That initiative has now expanded to include 40 youth who previously completed a Help Lesotho program. These alumni applied and were selected as volunteers to help children in their communities through tutoring, educational games, story times, and psychosocial support.
Each volunteer received a backpack filled with three levels of primary activity booklets, pencils and pencil crayons, COVID-19 information sheets, a COVID-19 children’s story, and simple resources they can use to provide psychosocial support to children (mostly just asking questions and actively listening). The alumni received training on how to interact with children safely and are equipped with sanitizer and extra masks. In the first week alone, these fine and most willing youth reached 476 children!!! To say these children are craving stimulation is an understatement! One villager shared:
“This is a brilliant idea. The pandemic has actually affected our children’s education. Help Lesotho with its Alumni Volunteers is doing a marvellous work. We are so grateful as we are not teachers and do not know how to help them.”
At the high school level, the changes to the educational system are so reactive that it is difficult to follow. To make the impact of COVID-19 even more challenging, Lesotho is in the process of changing high school from a 5-year to a 4-year program. Students will graduate after grade 11. Some schools are choosing to advance students to the next grade now, despite them loosing an entire year of education. Our Child Sponsors have been amazingly patient and supportive as we navigate the myriad of challenges. As expected, but heartbreaking nonetheless, we lost several female students to early marriage. We can only hope that the education and coping strategies they previously learned will help them make healthy decisions for themselves and their families in the future. Our communication with students and schools over the past weeks has highlighted an area of significant need – and we need your help to address it.
Next week, we will kickoff our spring campaign, focused on raising funds to help as many students as we can graduate from high school in December. These students have a very short runway to overcome an entire year without teaching or learning. Their families or caregivers are expected to find the $190 CAD to pay for the exam fees at a time when they are the least able, given that COVID-19 deprived them of any chance to earn money and the cost of essential goods have risen significantly.
If you are already keen to help these students and give the campaign a jump-start, here is the link.
In addition to the staggering demands of constant pivots due to COVID, our organization is undergoing a significant number of changes. Our fabulous Country Director, Shadrack Mutembei, officially leaves Help Lesotho at the end of the month after ten incredibly successful years. We will all miss him dearly. Our new Country Director, ‘Mamoletsane Khati, officially takes over – for which we are so grateful. In Canada, our Donor Relations Manager, Marlene Caicco, and her family are leaving us after 4.5 years to move to South Africa to do direct development work. I know many of you have grown fond of Marlene and will miss her compassionate communications, as we all will. We have hired Zara Jennings to start mid-May, a talented young woman for the position so you will have a chance to meet her over the next months. You will be delighted to know Kate Lambert has been promoted to Director in recognition of her valuable contributions to the workings of Help Lesotho. In addition, we have two new board members, Zaida Bastos and Shola Iyoho, who will add a huge amount of African program experience to our governance. And finally, we are doing a complete overhaul of our human resources materials and processes and a total review of all our programming content. This ‘refresh’ is a huge amount of work but will set us up in many ways for increased capacity to help more people, in ever deeper ways. You, as our donors, are so supportive that we feel we can tackle these strategic initiatives and adjust to the changes with your encouragement. I hope you will visit our website to meet our team and our new board members.
In closing, I want to thank you for following along with me on these letters, even though I was unable to be in Lesotho this year. The readership has been enormous and it makes us all proud that you care so much to know what is happening. Our ‘Coffee with Peg’ Zoom series with Lesotho staff, our United in Prayer, your notes and emails have kept us connected and perhaps, even drawn us closer together. We are touched and invigorated by your trust. Twelve months ago I made numerous hypothetical projections, not knowing how we would manage during this pandemic. Because of your faithful support – we are doing OK and continue to help thousands of people. It is a remarkable story of the goodness of people’s hearts in such an uncertain time. We don’t know what the future holds but we do know that together, we are doing something really special.
I send each of you a hug – and would love nothing more than to sit down with you for a glass of wine or coffee to spend time with you.
You mean the world to us ….