A visit to the Pitseng Centre: Picture this, you’re walking through an open grass field. Cattle and sheep surround you as you follow a well-worn dirt path to a cluster of buildings. Set against the beautiful Maluti Mountain Range, in the remote region of Pitseng, you happen upon an cluster of colourful little buildings – Help Lesotho’s Pitseng Centre.
Grandmothers sit together, talking, knitting and sharing advice by the pergola. For these women, the support they get not only from the Centre, but from each other, is life-changing. They can often be found singing and dancing to the tune of traditional Basotho music, while bouncing a baby on their lap.
As you get closer to the Centre, you can hear the laughter of children as they gather and play on a beautiful new play structure –the only of its kind in the area. Off to one side of the yard a group of youth have started a soccer match. In another corner a competitive chess competition is underway. There are always so many activities happening at the Centre!
Walking through the building, you stumble upon a cramped but lively little library with students of all ages eagerly grasping at the array of books and other reading materials available. The well-lit room means eager students have more of an opportunity to learn and practice their reading.
As you enter the largest building on the property, you are immediately greeted by the friendly face of M’e’ Thoala – who with the help of staff and volunteers – supervises all who gather at this special place. Never without a brood of children following her, M’e’ Thoala keeps the centre in check. Despite how busy it always is she makes sure there’s room for everyone who needs it!
As you make your way to the back of the building, you see young mothers with their infants, who have gathered for a support group and training session on how best to care for themselves and their little ones.
As you leave, boisterous children gather around the radio to dance to the latest pop hits. This is just an average day at Help Lesotho’s Pitseng Centre!
Have you ever wondered what it’s like to attend one of our Leadership Camps? This week, Ausi Palesa is at camp and she’s going to give us the full story on what’s like to be a Help Lesotho camper. Today, Ausi Palesa plays a games with the campers! Laughter, cheers and competitive energy fill the grounds at Help Lesotho’s Seotlong Centre.
The children at camp are sponsored through Help Lesotho Child Sponsorship Program. This program is the only option for these rural children to continue going to school and achieve their dream of being educated. who otherwise could not attend high school because of the prohibitive fees. The majority of sponsored children are girls due to their increased vulnerability to poverty and HIV/AIDS.
Sponsorship provides school fees, uniforms, shoes, toiletries, psychosocial support, etc and a five day Leadership Camp to learn life-saving education on HIV prevention, gender equity, sexual reproductive health, leadership development and much more!
Check back tomorrow to learn about the life-changing sessions the campers attend throughout camp!
Sign up to sponsor a child and your Basotho son or daughter could be at camp next year:
The Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho is magnificent and the people are beautiful, but young people face so many obstacles that few can surmount the challenges to stay in school and become the leaders their country so urgently needs.
Primary schooling up to Grade 7 has been free in Lesotho since 2000. It was only in May 2010 that attendance at primary school was made compulsory.
Obstacles faced by Children in Lesotho
Despite free education up until Grade 7, children struggle to stay in school. Many have to walk two hours to school each way, arrive at school hungry and are unable to concentrate. They show up without proper uniforms, coats or shoes required to stay warm and healthy.
Children often wear thread-bare hand-me-down uniforms to school, and sit shivering in their poorly maintained classrooms. The lack of resources to maintain the infrastructure leaves poorer school classrooms often dilapidated with caved in roofs, broken windows, no heat and no desks.
In addition, school pit latrines (toilets) are often full and must be emptied or replaced, and without proper toilet facilities many girls will not come to school due to a lack of privacy.
Obstacles faced by Schools in Lesotho
Teachers also struggle in Lesotho. They have limited resources to work with, receive inadequate salaries, teach in overcrowded classrooms (sometimes up to 100 students per teacher) and at night they return to horrible housing conditions, where they must board away from their families, while teaching in rural locations.
Many teachers do not have the training to properly educate the children, and as a result the children suffer the consequences of a poor education.
When children reach high school, their families begin paying school fees which are prohibitive. You can imagine a family’s priority might not be sending their children to school when they can’t even afford to keep food on the table.
As a result, only 20 per cent of youth in Lesotho are able to attend to high school because of the costs involved, which forces children to sit at home or work informal labour jobs.
Often children are sent out to work in order to cover household expenses. Boys are sent to the fields to herd livestock, while girls work as domestics or take on more of their family’s household chores and responsibilities, so their caregivers can seek work.
Some children come from homes where a parent, sibling or relative is sick with HIV/AIDS and as a result, most children and youth must look after sick people. Other children belong to child-headed households, where most often their parents have passed away due to complications from HIV/AIDS.
Currently, Help Lesotho works with 17 partner schools in Lesotho (11 primary and 6 high schools) all of whom are in desperate need of support. Partner schools are chosen on the basis of leadership and commitment to providing children with the safest and most effective learning environments and strategies.
These schools are then partnered with 17 schools across Canada who provide support financially, but also friendship through project exchanges and other cross-cultural, relationship-building activities.
Thousands of Basotho children and youth have benefited from such support as classroom construction and repairs, uniforms and shoes, classroom supplies, textbooks, rain barrels, blankets and toothbrushes.
For many Basotho students, the friendship and tangible support they receive from their Canadian friends reminds them that they have not been forgotten. While providing financial aid in the form of desks, books and uniforms is critical, it is the restoration of hope for a brighter future that makes the biggest difference.
The program supports children in rural communities who are often double-orphans and have no other source of funds to pay the prohibitive high school fees needed after Grade 7.
The program is the only option for many of these children to continue going to school and achieve their dream of being educated and having a bright future.
The majority of sponsored children are girls due to their increased vulnerability to poverty and HIV/AIDS.
The Child Sponsorship Program is a combination of financial support for formal education and psychosocial support to help children grow up and become a leader, despite the odds stacked against them.
The children who are sponsored are held accountable to Help Lesotho to work hard and achieve good grades, receive life skills and gender equity training and are expected to act as leaders in schools, through regular visits with Help Lesotho staff. The children are also able to access greater support when challenges arise from trained Help Lesotho staff members.
The individuals who sponsor each child not only provide a promising future through education, but they demonstrate to each child that someone knows who they are, believes in them and will support them.
The children no longer feel alone, and children who are supported, thrive.
When Nkhono (Grandmother) Mathibo’s husband passed away she was forced off her land by her step-son who was born of a her husband’s first wife.
The elderly woman left her home for fear of her life; her step-son had threatened to kill her. Lesotho’s inheritance laws give the first born male child all the inheritance rights. In a polygamous marriage, the heir is the firstborn male child of the first married wife.
Nkhono tried to press charges and fight for her land, but her struggle was in vain.
In Lesotho, customary Law is guided by the Laws of Lerotholi, which took effect in 1903. During this time, Lesotho was a highly patriarchal society and the status of women in society was not recognized.
The customary laws of Lesotho state that an heir of immovable property will be the first born male child. It goes further to indicate that in the case where there is no male child in the family, the inheritance will go to the male next closest male relative in the family. Therefore, according to the customary laws, a female is not entitled to any land inheritance.
When the head of the family dies, the heir inherits all the immovable property in that household, including fields and buildings. The heir is expected to use the property to take care of all the minors and needy members of the extended family and to arrange family obligations.
If a widow continues to live in her deceased husband’s village and remarries, she retains life rights to the husband’s fields. As a result, the male heir is supposed to share the land with the widow for as long as she lives, but this isn’t always enforced as was the case in Nkhono’s story.
Women’s Rights to Land
In Lesotho, girls and women are treated as minors and as such they are not considered competent to hold or inherit land or to make any major decisions regarding land under their control.
When the eldest sons exercise their right of inheritance, the women occupying or using the inherited land are left in a vulnerable position. If they are allowed to use the land, they have to use it on conditions set by the heir.
There is also the possibility of them being denied access to the land. This leaves women without a home with no means of income.
In 1995, the Government of Lesotho ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), yet this was not applied to all laws.
In 2011, the CEDAW Committee urged Lesotho to include in its Constitution and other appropriate legislation prohibition of discrimination against women, which encompasses both direct and indirect discrimination in both public and private life.
Unfortunately, today there is still an urgent need to repeal or amend the Laws of Lerotholi in order to change the customary inheritance laws in adherence with civil law, and ultimately removing discrimination and gender inequalities.
Mamosala, a double-orphan lived with her grandparents until her grandmother passed. The girl had no yet come of age when her grandfather kicked her out of his home. She had no protections from this eviction because she did not inherit her parents’ land and her grandmother could not legally leave any property to her after her death.
The girl was left to fend for herself, eventually finding herself in indentured servitude in exchange for lodging.
Girls cannot inherit land under customary law. Under civil law, such inheritance can only occur where the owner has left a will and has abandoned the ‘customary mode of life and adopted a European mode of life.’
The contradictory nature of the two legal systems undermines women’s equal inheritance rights. This causes women and girls to become vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, early or forced marriage, dropping out of school and being excluded from economic opportunities due to lack of education.
Help Lesotho educates girls and women, as well as and boys and men on the harmful effects of gender inequity in order to create a brighter future for all Basotho. Our programs are so important now more than ever; to learn more visit our website.