My personal greetings to each one,
As this letter falls into your inbox, I wonder how you are. You would be surprised at how often I think of you – wondering how our donors are doing – seeing your names, wondering if you need help or a listening ear. We are all struggling to manage during this seemingly endless pandemic and we all need support. Thank you for your messages of encouragement and for remembering us and our beneficiaries when you have so much else on your mind.
I am grateful daily that my children and six grandchildren have remained healthy the past two years, as I have. We have all had a very long reminder about gratitude!
My plan to return to Lesotho in March or April is on hold until it is safe and reasonable to satisfy four different countries’ regulations to get there and back! I will go as soon as I feel it is a good idea. We have a lot of interest in the next donor trip so we will plan that when safety allows. In the meantime, I will once again publish my ‘Letters ‘from’ Lesotho’ on our usual schedule over the next couple months.
As we move into our third year of COVID, I am often asked how it is to lead an international team at this distance. Firstly, I want to highlight that we are now an all-female-led organization as a result of some leadership changes last year. Besides myself and our finance managers in both Canada and Lesotho, we now have a new female Country Director in Lesotho and a female Chair of the Board. This is an amazingly committed and talented team, with whom I work closely and am deeply grateful for their leadership. I have asked our two new leaders to share some thoughts with you.
Last May, ‘M’e Mamoletsane Khati took over from our wonderful Country Director, Shadrack Mutembei, who helped build our organization in Lesotho for ten years. I love working with ‘M’e ‘Mamoletsane and know that she will continue to guide and grow the organization for years to come. Many of you have met her already and I know those who haven’t yet, will want to. She writes:
“Since I joined Help Lesotho in August 2020, even throughout COVID, I have witnessed so much social change brought from our programs. Our dedicated, talented staff have persevered and still managed to be positive and effective. Working with such a selfless, committed team has developed in me so much humility and compassion for others. Our interventions continue to bring so much hopefulness and optimism to us all – staff and beneficiaries alike.
I hear often from community leadership, chiefs and councillors, and partners how our programs have improved their communities and their relationships with each other – even economic improvements! Our grannies were truly dismayed during the shutdowns to miss their usual trainings, support and care. When they could meet again, they sang and ululated with sheer delight to be together and receive some relief packages. One teary, yet appreciative grandmother said; “Oa tseba ke tlohile hae ke sa tsebe na ke tlo khutla ke soka eng! Ke ne ke sena le ha e se e le phoofo feela. Empa hona joale kena le papa, le lijelello. Kea leboha Help Lesotho” loosely translated as “The children and I have been without food and now I will have good things to feed us. With my whole heart, I thank you, Help Lesotho.”
To our chagrin, our talented and beloved long-time board chair, John Graham, completed the maximum term of nine years on the board and retired in November 2021. I truly enjoyed working with John – he always had my back and remains a sage, faithful friend and supporter. Thankfully, Kathleen Lauder has taken up the mantle to guide us as our new chair. Kathleen was one of the very first people, with Sheryl Selwyn, who believed in this crazy vision I felt so compelled to do – even before my first trip to Lesotho. She has remained committed to our work and brings her own decades of experience in international development to our board. These photos were taken in Kathleen’s first of two trips to Lesotho (2006/2007) when we had no office, no staff, and almost no money! She lived in a hut in an extremely remote school.
Kathleen writes: “It is an honour and a privilege to be the chair of the Help Lesotho Board. I met Peg in 2004, before her first trip to Lesotho to “see how she could help”. Since then, I have watched in awe as Help Lesotho was structured, life-changing programs developed and implemented, staff hired and trained, and individual and institutional donors come forward to support its enormous impact. It was a joy to pray those first steps of its development with Peg on ‘our’ bench on the Rideau River. Despite hosts of enormous obstacles, she and her team have stayed firmly focused on serving the Basotho. In my trips to Lesotho in the early days, I saw firsthand how Basotho lives were transformed through Help Lesotho’s work. It is a marvel to me how Peg’s desire to “see how she could help” has resulted an organization identified by Imagine Canada as among the best governed NGOs in Canada, one which brings life-changing support to over 15,000 Basotho each year, and which is now training other organizations to improve their impact. I look forward to a challenging, intensely rewarding journey as the new board chair and would love to hear from you, anytime.”
Last month, we also welcomed a new board member from Toronto – our first remote member, Susan Richardson. Susan has been a longtime supporter who has twice experienced our work directly in Lesotho. She is a sought-after executive coach and a strong advocate for our work.
Susan writes: “Although I have been a long-time supporter, yet as I reflect on my inspiring trips to Lesotho in 2017 and 2019, it is only during those trips, when I saw for myself the children, herd boys, grandmothers and the new mothers smile and dance as we arrived in the Help Lesotho truck, that I truly understood the incredible impact Help Lesotho has in the remote communities. That is why I decided to join the Board. I am honored to be joining the Board and look forward to meeting many of you, contributing as an advocate and support the organization today and as it continues to evolve”.
Leading this team remotely for two years has not diminished either my ability to remain informed or the organizational impact during the endless pivots and COVID constraints. My perennial goal is to build the kind of capacity in Lesotho that leads to progressive autonomy. As it has here, COVID has pushed our technical capacity to work together remotely. Luckily, we made a significant investment the previous year to improve our internet in Lesotho – it is still not great but it is better. Our staff in Lesotho are now more adept at and comfortable with various digital modes and apps for communication and efficiency. I am in touch with them daily through Zoom, Google Meet, WhatsApp and email. We completed a migration to Google Drive – which is free and productive. Some now have smart phones to capture better quality photos. I feel it has brought us closer. There are always opportunities in every challenge.
This increased broadband and capacity has allowed many more of our donors to ‘meet’ and talk with our staff in Lesotho through our Zoom events. It has been reciprocal and a blessing to them both. Our staff are deeply touched that our donors are so interested; our donors are deeply moved by the dedication, positive attitude and grace of our staff.
The proof in the pudding, so to speak, is that we were able to reach over 21,000 people last year – with your support. If you haven’t already looked through our Year in Review, I hope you will do so and feel encouraged that you are supporting an organization that is frugal, nimble and making an enormous difference to suffering people in a time of crisis. 94% of our revenue went to programs!
As I commence this series of five letters ‘from’ Lesotho, we wonder what you would like to hear about. I will be sharing the challenges and successes of our staff and beneficiaries but I would like you to tell me what you are most interested in by a quick click. Please take this 2-minute survey. I will ask the staff anything you like. If your question is not suitable for mass response – I will email you personally.
I do know that you wonder how COVID is affecting Lesotho. At this point, 43% have had one shot. Our staff were deemed an essential service and could thus get vaccinated early. Only one staff had COVID and he is fine. Unlike this time last year when so many were dying, the cases seem to be lighter, as they are here. We help arrange for beneficiaries to get their shots when possible. The photo of this young man on the left was taken last week in our out-of-school-boys program.
As well as rampant inflation, unemployment, depression and fear, Lesotho is again gripped by disastrous climate change conditions. This spring (September/October) started out so well – with enough rain to bring hope of a plentiful harvest. In the past few years, delayed precipitation prevented seeds from germinating. This year however, it is the opposite.
Starting in November, Lesotho experienced so much rain that roads have been washed out, gardens decimated, the Katse Dam overflowed, and food security increased dramatically – either drought or torrential rains!! In an agrarian society, this means crushed livelihoods and starvation.
Our beneficiaries need us and you are there.
Your support, encouragement, interest and care are the lifeblood of this organization and our gratitude is endless.
Be well my friends – grab onto what you can to bring joy to yourselves and others. Hopefully, we are near the end of this isolation and restriction.
I send you all a hug. I will write again soon.