High School After the Pearl Program

High School After the Pearl Program

We recently caught up with a couple Pearl Girls who completed the Pearl Program a few years ago. These girls are now nearly finished their high school education. Read on to see how the program has made an impact in their lives and helped them to navigate high school with confidence and success.

16-year-old SEBOPEHO is in grade 11, the final year of high school in Lesotho. She completed the Pearl Program back in 2019. Sebopeho lives with her mother and three brothers. Her mother is not working, but her older brother is an accountant and is able to help support the family. When she was in grade 10, Sebopeho started dreaming of becoming a doctor when she grows up because she loves biology.

Sebopeho, pearl girl

Looking back at when she started high school, Sebopeho does not hesitate to say that peer pressure was the biggest challenge. Everywhere she looked she could see students being negatively influenced by others. Some are no longer attending school because they did not keep their grades up. For Sebopeho, she decided to avoid making close friends in the first couple years of high school. She was friendly with people, but did not want anyone to have too much influence over her. Now she has wonderful friends whom she fully trusts. She knows what good friendships look like and she isn’t willing to accept anything less. The same goes for finding a boyfriend – although Sebopeho hasn’t found someone who is a good match for her yet.

She said, “I see my friends having so many boyfriends, but they hurt them so much. I don’t want that.”

Sebopeho maintained friendships with fellow Pearl Girls from her session. Even though they go to several different schools, they are still able to support one another; “We like to help each other”.

A quiet leader with a bright smile, Sebopeho stands up against peer-pressure and bullying in her school and has become a trusted confidant among other young girls in her school and community. “The Pearl Program helped so much. There are so many challenges, especially for girls. I get to help others now.” She shared an example of a girl being bullied for being at the top of her class. Other students were taking her books and making fun of her for performing well. Sebopeho befriended the girl and supported her to keep her head up. They are now friends who rely on one another to have each others’ backs.

“In my village there are so many children who are not going to school. I see everyday what I would be doing if I didn’t have this opportunity.”

At just 16-years-old, grade 10 student MEISI is already a strong leader amongst her peers. She was orphaned at just eight-years old and has survived thanks to the support of her grandmother. After completing the Pearl Program in 2020, she began her high school education with confidence. “I was a really shy person but being at Help Lesotho really helped me.”

Reflecting on her time as a Pearl Girl and Pearl Mentor, Meisi shared, “Before I was stressed to say anything wrong. But being a Pearl Girl and Mentor helped me learn to talk and share ideas. Now I join everything and have things to say.” She went on to say, “I was always being told I am unique, just like unique pearl stones. I learned self-esteem and human rights. It really helped me be a leader. Next year I will be head girl at my school. Teachers could see my self-esteem so they chose me. I’m open with other people.”

Meisi, past pearl girl

Being promoted as ‘head girl’ at her school is a tremendous accomplishment. The position is nominated by students who select the person they feel best represents the student body. As head girl, Meisi will be a link between teachers and students. She will motivate and encourage students to work hard and dedicate themselves to their studies.

Meisi is putting what she learned from the Pearl Program into action every day. She has overcome so much to get to where she is today, and she knows she still has a long way to go to figure out her future, especially without parents to support and guide her along the way. It is astonishing that she has the capacity to support and motivate other students the way she is. There is no doubt that Meisi has a bright future ahead!

For more information about the Pearl Program, or to shop Pearls4Girls jewelry, click here.

The New Pitseng Library

The New Pitseng Library

Block by block, book by book…we built it!

Pitseng Library Project, new library


Situated between a number of small villages in the Leribe District of Lesotho lies Help Lesotho’s smaller Leadership Centre—the Pitseng Centre. Surrounded by the beautiful Maluti mountains, the property receives over 3,000 visitors a year! From pre-school children to elders, people come from the surrounding area to access educational programs, gather for meetings, learn new skills, play and visit the library. To read about all the activities that go on at the centre, see this blog post.

THE OLD LIBRARY (2008-2023)

An important resource for the community, the library was first housed within the Pitseng Centre and was a well-used resource for many including the nearby elementary and high school children. Over time, it became apparent that the library was too small and lacked resources. Two wooden tables in the room could only fit about 12 students. When the tables were full it was impossible to pass on either side to access books or leave the room. Studying was frequently disrupted with a space that size.

children reading in old pitseng library
The old pitseng library was very small and cramped

Dozens of high school students rely on the library to access textbooks and have a quiet space to study. For primary students from the two nearby schools, the library is often their first introduction to holding a book in their own hands. Most families in the area live in huts without electricity or enough window light to read or study at home. Watch a short video below for more context on why a new library was needed!


The plans for a new space: In 2022 Help Lesotho launched the Pitseng Library Project campaign with a goal of raising $55,000 to build and furnish a brand new library on a vacant spot at the Centre. The campaign was met with great support from Help Lesotho donors across the world, surpassing our goal! Additional funds are being used towards maintenance of the building in future years. We’re so grateful so many were eager and willing to support literacy in Lesotho!

The new library is crucial to helping students stay on track with their studies and form life-changing connections to literacy and learning.

The Pitseng Library is so loved and so busy, especially now when school is on. We have a variety of people who come to read and tutor students. Above all, tertiary students have enough space which is quiet for them to do their work. The community is so excited and we want to thank you to all who contributed, for your generosity.

'M'e Thoala

Pitseng Centre Supervisor


Working closely with an architect in Canada and local trades professionals in Lesotho, plans were drawn up to create an 850 sq. ft. space, large enough for 50-60 students and community members to study, read and browse books together in one space.

pitseng library project interior schematic
Pitseng Library Project exterior schematic

Incredibly, the construction project progressed over a four month period – on schedule and on budget!

With a strong focus on sustainability, the design incorporated building materials and plans aimed at maintaining comfortable temperatures throughout the year. The inclusion of a water tank at the rear for rainwater harvesting, coupled with strategically placed high rectangular windows along both sides, ensures efficient ventilation and heat release during hot summers. Additionally, this design choice optimizes the floor space while providing ample wall area for bookshelves, all the while allowing an abundant natural light.

construction photo of the library lot, January 2022
construction photo of the new library, almost completed


The library opening ceremony in March 2023 coincided with a community-wide celebration to honour Help Lesotho’s Founder, Dr. Peg Herbert, on the occasion of her retirement. Over 500 people came to the event to celebrate the beautiful new library. Grandmothers performed traditional dances, a choir sang Basotho music, and many Help Lesotho alumni gave touching speeches. It was clear that the new library will be a treasured place for many years to come!

plaque dedicating library to 'M'e Peg Herbert, Help Lesotho founder and previous executive director
Grandmothers dancing at the opening ceremony for the new pitseng library
Dr. Peg Herbert and Julia Thompson at the opening ceremony of the new Pitseng Library
children browse the books inside the new pitseng library


A hive of activity, the library sees many visitors of all ages every single day. The shelves are stacked with novels and textbooks, and colourful posters adorn the walls. People of all ages are exploring books and learning that reading is fun! Laughter and happy chatter can be heard throughout the day – they are so grateful to have this special space! Read some of the testimonials from those who visit the library, below.

Limakatso, pearl girl

Limakatso is in grade 9 at the neighbouring Pitseng High School. Two years ago she was a participant in the Pearl Program, and since then she continues to frequent the Pitseng Centre to read, study and use the computer lab. She loves school and works hard at it. Her goal is to one day become an accountant and help others in her community with the skills she’s learnt. “I love coming to the new library, there is lots of space to study and read my books.”


High school student

“I live with my grandmother who takes care of me. I like to spend time in the library using dictionaries to look up new words because I am in the Spelling Champion Club. I always come to the centre on Saturdays and I start by doing my assignments in the library and using the books as I do not have any at home. When I grow up I want to be an accountant so I work hard in all of my subjects. Even during holidays I come to the library to read books and newspapers because I want to improve my English.”

Nthabiseng, 13

literacy poster in new library

When schools are on break I did not want to come home because I was worried of where I can have enough space to do my reading and assignments…now I enjoy being at the Pitseng Centre for my school work.


High school student

New Pitseng Library
Grandmother Home Repairs

Grandmother Home Repairs

Participants in our Grandmother Support Program typically live in very old homes that are a struggle to maintain. Roofs are often made of thatch, walls of mud and stones, and doors and windows rarely close securely. It is a constant concern for the safety of the grandmothers and the orphaned grandchildren they care for. Repairing homes is not a typical component of our program due to the complexity and cost of such work. In 2021, we launched a special initiative to raise funds to repair the homes of grandmothers who were in greatest need. There were many challenges along the way, but seeing these families in safer homes certainly makes it worth the effort!


Mathabiso lives with her husband, five grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. She and her adorable grandson, who is not yet old enough to be at school with his siblings, proudly showed their repaired home. One side of their home was completely rebuilt while the other three walls were coated with cement. Mathabiso specifically asked for Help Lesotho to share a photo of her perfectly cleaned and hung laundry blowing in the wind – a clear indication of the love and care she has for the children she is raising. Her garden was bursting with peas and pumpkins, and the apple tree she received from Help Lesotho was full and healthy!


MaLong might be 82-years-old, but she is the definition of spunky! She bustled about her property in her bare feet, tending to her garden and donkeys, and declared, “I’m active because I’m from Help Lesotho!” MaLong is raising eight of her seventeen grandchildren. She manages to pay to send three of them to high school with the money she earns as an informal entrepreneur. Several days a week she rises before the sun to collect cans and cardboard from her community to sell to a recycling truck that passes through town occasionally. Other days she brings her donkey down the mountain to the community tap to haul water back up to her village, which she then sells for a small convenience fee. Finally, she has a beautiful garden that she sells vegetables from – and which she fully attributes to the skills she learned from Help Lesotho! On our visit, MaLong could not stop dancing, singing, and saying, “I love Help Lesotho!”


Down a steep, narrow path of rust-orange soil lives Makhotso, a 102-year-old grandmother. Her body is frail, but her spirit is strong. She stood and walked about three meters, from the side of her bed to the small kitchen. Even though her five great-great-great-grandchildren are now responsible for most of the chores, she insists on caring for her pig, her pride and joy, who recently had piglets. Makhotso was a member of Help Lesotho’s Grandmother Program from 2010-2011. She feels deeply connected to Help Lesotho and attributes her will to keep going to the resilience she built at Help Lesotho. Through the Home Repair Project, Makhotso’s bedroom wall was fully rebuilt and a new door was installed that keeps her safe and warm in her home.

“I have been looking for the cracks to put a cloth to block the wind at night, but I can’t find them anymore.”


The original plan to replace Mateboho’s door quite literally fell apart when the walls collapsed as soon as the original door frame was removed. Mateboho and her two grandchildren now have a much safer home. Mateboho was away collecting firewood at the time of our visit.


‘Maliopelo’s original door had not been able to fully close for years. Over time, the door was stuck wider and wider open, to the point that everyone who walked by could see right in. She now has a new door and a new roof for the home she shares with three great-grandchildren and her daughter. Maliopelo was at the clinic with her daughter at the time of our visit; her daughter is battling cancer.


Mampolai’s home caved in during one of Lesotho’s infamous rainstorms. Thankfully she and the four children she is raising escaped unharmed. The village chief is providing them with temporary housing while Help Lesotho helps rebuild her home from the ground up. Mampolai is excited to move back in and plant her new garden.

Canadian grandmother honoured for work to promote mental health in Lesotho

Canadian grandmother honoured for work to promote mental health in Lesotho

Peg Herbert began a non-profit in her Ottawa basement that is now being recognized for impacting over 274,000 people in Lesotho.

Dr. Peg Herbert, a practicing counsellor and educational psychology lecturer at the University of Ottawa, upended her life in 2000 after meeting one of her students, a nun and school principal from Lesotho, the mountainous kingdom landlocked by South Africa.

“When I first learned about Lesotho, it was during the height of the AIDS crisis in Africa,” said Herbert. “Nearly an entire generation was lost in a matter of years, leaving behind an enormous cohort of children and youth.”

Herbert traveled to Lesotho in 2004 and experienced firsthand the impacts of HIV, poverty and gender-based violence, and the compound effects of depression, hopelessness and grief. Her background in social work, academia and counselling gave her a clear vision on how she could help.

“When people are equipped with coping strategies, decision-making skills and self-esteem, they can take the necessary steps to move forward through trauma and challenges”.

The mental health needs are significant, with Lesotho having the highest suicide rate Africa according to the World Bank. Herbert’s approach to providing psychosocial support as a means to building resilience was well ahead of the curve, with Global Affairs Canada’s feminist approach finally recognizing the pivotal strategy in 2021.

Herbert’s resulting efforts, in constant partnership and communication with community leaders, quickly became Canada’s largest nonprofit in Lesotho: Help Lesotho. An all-local staff of 45 work across six of Lesotho’s 10 districts building resilience, providing mental health support and delivering life skills education for adolescents, grandmothers caring for orphaned grandchildren, pregnant and nursing young mothers, herd boys, police officers, and community leaders.

King Letsie III honouring Peg Herbert with a special gift at Help Lesotho’s facility in Hlotse.

Peg with graduated of Help Lesotho leadership programs

At an event on March 17, 2023, more than 500 people gathered to celebrate Peg Herbert. Herbert is pictured with graduates of various Help Lesotho leadership programs.

Work celebrated by generations

Herbert is being honoured in both Canada and Lesotho in advance of her retirement as Executive Director, with Help Lesotho now in its 20th year. More than 1000 program alumni, international partners and community leaders attended the Lesotho celebrations in March 2023 to pay tribute to the multi-generational impact of Help Lesotho’s programming.

Herbert was recognized by Lesotho’s constitutional monarch, King Letsie III, on March 17; “Underpinning all Help Lesotho’s remarkable achievements is all the love and commitment that Mother Peg is known for,” said the King, speaking in Sesotho, outside one of Help Lesotho’s two community centres.

Herbert’s legacy lives on through Help Lesotho’s ongoing impact under the leadership of Executive Director Julia Thompson.

Please contact Brianne Smith for high-res media photos.*

Letter from Lesotho #5 – 2023

Letter from Lesotho #5 – 2023

Greetings Help Lesotho Family,

How inspiring to be part of these last high delivery weeks in Lesotho! I’d like to shine a light on some elements of interest, indicative as they are, of our community impact.


Legacy celebration events held for Peg…

The celebration events were great expressions of joy and appreciation for ‘M’e Peg and for Help Lesotho participants, donors and programs. While I met many amazing people at these events, three were particularly memorable.

sr. Agnes

Sister Agatha, a member of the Sisters of Charity of Pitseng, and an alumnus of the Computer and Life Skills program, is proudly in her 8th decade of life. Still teaching at the high school level, she found the skills gained from the course not only valuable to her personally, but important content she shared in her classes. With her humour and acumen she is an impressive ambassador of the program.

Ntate Ts’olo Mahase is an alumni of Help Lesotho’s  Leaders in Training (LIT) program, and a model of civic responsibility. Since he graduated from LIT, Ntate Ts’olo Mahase now also holds an MBA, and is a lecturer at the local business school. Growing up, Ntate Mahase experienced the gulf in communication that existed between hearing and deaf children, and he took it upon himself to learn sign language. At the Help Lesotho Hlotse event, children from St. Paul’s School for the Deaf were present as longstanding participants in Help Lesotho programing. Their translators signed not only the speeches but the song, dance and drama that was featured. Can you imagine how wonderful this was?

Part of the way Ntate Mahase now ‘pays it forward’ is to stay connected with the children at this school. He returns periodically to visit and offer encouragement, indeed ‘M’e Kate Lambert (Director) and I bumped into Ntate Mahase again after the Hlotse event on his way to St. Paul’s, with treats in his car for the students. I was moved by his personal philanthropy, and how he embodies the personal leadership that Help Lesotho programs endeavor to foster.

Julia, Peg and 'M'e MamoletsaneLast, was the privilege of meeting their Majesties; King Letsie III, and Queen ‘Masenate, respected constitutional monarchs of Lesotho, and long time supporters of Help Lesotho and Peg. It was greatly appreciated by ‘M’e Mamoletsane Khati (Country Director), ‘M’e Peg and I to meet them informally in advance of the event, to share and appreciate their keen interest in positive development work. How supportive at the celebration event to hear the King’s expression of ongoing support for Help Lesotho’s programs ahead.

As ‘M’e Peg’s retirement events in Canada approach, I am looking forward to meeting those of you who can attend in person (please click for more information). These legacy events in Lesotho and here in Canada provide the Help Lesotho community the opportunity to celebrate that together we are part of something bigger, and a powerful force to make a positive difference for vulnerable people.


Highlights from program delivery

If I didn’t already know that the LIT (Leaders in Training) youth are visionary, articulate and full of promise, sitting in on their graduation would reveal the same. Graduation was a high emotion day as they, with characteristic powerful expression, shared experiences of growth and the program through dance, poetry, song and speech. As one graduate put it “I woke up to something exciting every day. Help Lesotho taught me to make an invitation to visit myself, befriend myself, introspect myself.” He thanked facilitators who “who were so active and free and made me feel free.” Participants talked about learning skills, building community and reflecting differently on their own lives. Many of the graduates were returning to the Hlotse Centre for Get a Job training and considering volunteering with Smart Kids.

Smart Kids is a program where Help Lesotho alumni can give back. It was designed during COVID when schools were closed. Help Lesotho’s Smart Kids program is to help pre-school to Grade 7 kids have fun while learning and feel supported as they navigate challenges. It’s been so impactful it hasn’t stopped.

julia and HL staff member

A group of us visited a Smart Kids program in Lipohong, all of the homework club were present to engage with us in the open field. ‘M’e Tumisang Mohapi is the lead facilitator of this group, a multiple-time Help Lesotho graduate who happens to be trained in home economics, and who was looking to be useful during COVID. For the past two years, in this makeshift open air classroom, ‘M’e Mohapi has been impacting children as consistently as the department of education – coaching over 40 children every afternoon and Saturday. They’ve been a vibrant learning community; working through the designated workbooks and beyond, and enjoying the positive rapport between students.

For our visit, we were treated to a poetry recital. (Note reciting poetry – like acting, demands heart.) One student recited Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman” from memory. Another shared a self-crafted praise poem to Help Lesotho. All of us visiting were wowed by their delivery, and their explanations of Smart Kids. Their facilitator ‘M’e Mohapi can aptly be described as a phenomenal woman herself for her investment of heart into this program.


Effective facilitation

FellengIt is an ongoing pleasure getting to know Help Lesotho staff, and to highlight here the work and contribution of ‘M’e Felleng Lethola, Senior Program Officer with Help Lesotho. ‘M’e Felleng is one of the calm process leaders who holds the emotional centre of groups of young people or adults with great effectiveness as they navigate psychologically tricky landscapes such as grief, addiction or assault. ‘M’e Felleng has developed ways of connecting and promoting ease and engagement with a group; using her voice with effect; creating individual bonds with people in a large group before she starts to facilitate; having relationships she can draw on and pull into strategic moments. She also uses humour and her own stories and experiences to create connection  in the groups.

It’s exciting to see the mastery of ‘M’e Felleng and how she creates with quiet authority an environment  for learning and healing. Wonderful also to hear how she is savouring working with Help Lesotho; the staff community, and the training and coaching staff receive to develop and grow. Good professionals want to work at Help Lesotho, and Help Lesotho in turn invests in its staff and their professional development and growth.

Widening the Lens: Help Lesotho in context

On this trip, I was struck by the political economy of the region, and in particular of South Africa, and how this impacts development options for Lesotho. In recent weeks, the mood in South Africa has been somber. South Africa’s stock market was grey listed at the end of February, a reputational blow to its ability to combat state capture and corruption. The mood was further dampened by months of daily load shedding (hours when electricity is rationed) as the country’s demand for electricity exceeds its ability to supply it. This is not unrelated to Lesotho, as South Africa’s Gauteng province purchases much of its water from Lesotho, and South Africa’s decaying water storage system and leaking water pipes are signals of break down and crisis in their overall management system.

As Lesotho provides South Africa with water, minerals and human resources, this regional insecurity has profound impacts. The high unemployment, health and food insecurity and climate change which affect and compel Help Lesotho’s work are regional legacies as well as national issues.

In Lesotho, however, there is an air of optimism, as Prime Minister Sam Matekane nears the end of his first six months in office. A successful entrepreneur who is bringing a business mindset to the country and has presented his goals in last month’s budget speech. This will be a defining year ahead to determine how these goals will be achieved, and how Help Lesotho programs can make their contribution in this new context.

Over the last five weeks, I have gained a deeper understanding of Help Lesotho’s offering: building resilience, strengthening mental health, as well as providing tools for healing and decision making.  These are new orientations in the workplaces of the world, as well as in the development landscape. Help Lesotho’s long track record of providing leadership development programs with a focus on personal health is a strategic and sustainable offering both for the districts in which Help Lesotho works and beyond.

mountain pic

Leaving Lesotho, the kingdom’s mountains and their distinctive sandstone crowns, is a lasting image. Layered also, the moments and experiences of the weeks. People were so moved to be together in these beautiful places and special times that phones and cameras were used in overdrive to capture surely a million pictures. Could it be though, that the best place to hold these feelings of wonder is in our hearts?  And, by staying connected to Help Lesotho’s important work ahead.

Please feel free to drop me a note by email, or connect with me on Instagram at julia_mthompson. You are warmly invited to Peg’s Canadian retirement events if you live nearby.

– Read Letter #4 from Lesotho
– Read all other 2023 Letters from Lesotho