Humanitarian Bike Touring in Lesotho

Humanitarian Bike Touring in Lesotho

Jesse Herbert

Hey, Jesse here. March 7th, I’ll be heading to Lesotho for three weeks to celebrate “Dr. Peg Herbert’s” retirement as Director and Founder of Help Lesotho. She’s my mom and I’m a little bit of a momma’s boy, so I’m obviously not going to miss the celebrations and the opportunity to explore the mountains of Lesotho….by bike.

It turns out, one of my favourite activities is to explore foreign countries by bike, also known as “Bike Touring” or “Bike Packing”. So I’ve decided to extend my stay after the festivities and cycle through the mountains. 

There’s a lot to consider in a voyage such as this in such unforgiving, steep and hot high altitude terrain. Where do you get water? Is it safe to drink? Is it difficult to cycle at such high altitudes? How do I get in shape quickly? The list goes on.

Through February and March, I’ll be sharing the journey of preparing for this trip on my instagram channel Oopsmark where I normally share my cycling focused designs and creations. While in Lesotho, I’ll be doing my best to share my exploration of the people, the country and the behind the scenes of Help Lesotho.

I’m heading to Lesotho in Africa for some exciting celebrations, my mom’s retirement (Dr. Peg Herbert) and of course some bike packing in the mountains there. It’s sauna season here in montreal so I’m going to have to get in shape quickly. I love the rush of butterflies once you commit to something. It’s like starting down a hill in a toboggan. All you can do it try and keep up.


Planning for a Bike Packing Trip

Having bike toured in 15 countries, I’ve learned that each environment is different from the next and never what you thought it was going to be. One does their best to research the environment and prepare the right gear while leaving the kitchen sink at home. Gotta stay light  to be climbing up those mountains.
I have no idea what bike touring in Lesotho will be like. So many questions!
green arrow
How hot will it be?
Do i need a sleeping bag up in the mountains or will it be hot at night?
Can i tent along the way?
Will it be same to drink the water?
Can training under heat lamps help my body prepare for the heat and sun?
What sort of food will be available in the villages?
Should i bring pots and pans or plan to eat picnic style?
How will my legs preform at the high altitudes?
Do the Basotho people also speak English, or will I need to learn some Sesotho phrases to communicate?
The list goes on!
items to pack on a bike trip

Cross the Finish Line Campaign

It seemed to only make sense to include a participatory element in this trip planning. As such, we’ve launched a campaign to help kids in their last year of high school “Cross the finish Line”. Many are at risk of not being able to graduate if they cannot pay the grad fee (equal to $200 CAD). Our initial goal was to support 10 kids in graduation, although just over a week in to the campaign we’ve already raised the funds for the first 10! It’s been so exciting to see the donations roll in and all of your encouraging messages of support. Your donations will truly make a lasting impact in the lives of students!

I don’t have a particular route planned or amount of kilometers I’m hoping to bike – this will depend on the weather (Lesotho has experienced a lot of rain lately making mountainous regions prone to mud slides) and Help Lesotho’s agenda for Peg’s retirement celebrations. I will, however, try to get out as often as I can on my bike and look forward to updating you with photos, videos and stories of my time travelling the Mountain Kingdom on two wheels!

20 Years of Help Lesotho

I visited Help Lesotho soon after it started, but it’s been a while since then. I’m looking forward to learning more about what the team has accomplished and what’s planned for the future.

Help Lesotho has become the largest Canadian NGO operating in Lesotho and has impacted the lives of over 265,000 people (65% of which are women and girls) in Lesotho and raised $25 million, all without government funding. The organization is a female-led, with 40 local staff in Lesotho. Services are offered at two Help Lesotho community centres and in villages across six of Lesotho’s ten districts. Over 53,000 people have graduated from Help Lesotho’s intensive, educational programs focused on HIV prevention, women’s rights, leadership, mental health and professional training. 

Smart Kids Interview

Smart Kids Interview

Motopi is a Professional Intern (PI) with Help Lesotho. As part of his role, Motopi oversees the Smart Kids Project, an initiative which equips volunteer youth alumni from Help Lesotho’s programs to provide education and psychosocial support to vulnerable children in their villages. To get a better sense of the impact of the project and the importance of our new 4300 Kids campaign, Motopi answered a few questions below.

What is the Smart Kids project all about? (Motopi) The project was started in 2021 during the covid-19 lock-down restrictions whereby children were going to school on weekly intervals or schedule. For instance, they would go to school only once a week and teachers would give them lots of homework for them to work on while they are at home. It came in place to assist these children with all their school because most of them are staying in child headed families or are living with their grandparents or guardians who are mostly not educated, thus making it tough for them to assist. In other words, this is a literacy project that aims at helping children in their school work and providing social-emotional support.

How important do you think this project is? (Motopi) This project has shown great importance to children both academically and psychologically as the Alumni volunteers do not only assist with home works but also provide basic psychosocial support by listening to children’s different problems and be their support system. It is important to mention that most parents or guardians are not always there to listen to their children’s problem such as peer bullying and thus making it difficult for children to seek comfort. The volunteers have become their support system in times where they give them comfort, space and time to vent about things that bother them, and also to celebrate their successes with them such as celebrating improved marks at school.

What kinds of positive changes have you seen in the kids? (Motopi) This project is not only seeing improved grades in those who are attending schools but it has ignited the spark for those who had dropped out to go back to school. It is attracting a lot of attention from children and parents to an extend in some communities, one volunteers is having over 50 children participating in their sessions because all nearby villages are encouraging their children to attend. For example, there are five volunteers of which each of them is seeing over fifty children in their sessions.

Help Lesotho alumni volunteer outreach volunteers
Help Lesotho alumni volunteer outreach volunteers

Can you speak about how imperative this initiative was while schools were closed because of COVID-19? (Motopi) During covid-19 lock-down restrictions, in the sessions, volunteers included covid-19 prevention measures such as social distancing, sanitizing or washing hands and putting on masks to keep them safe. They even created songs out of these measures just as to make sure that they never forget how to protect themselves, those around them and also where they can get assistance if they suspect that they are infected such as reporting to teachers, guardians and consulting with the doctors. This initiative did not only help to curb the covid-19 infections but also brought cohesion among children and parents in the communities. These children used the after school sessions as educational platforms where they would come together and help each other with school work and also shared their things with the vulnerable ones. For instance, some would identify that one of them does not have a uniform or school shoes and then they would give them their older ones.

How have things changed now that the schools are open? What is the reaction from parents and community members about this project? (Motopi) Support visits were started after the covid-19 restrictions were eased/removed which aimed at visiting volunteers in their sessions to assess the impact of the project on children. It is through these visits that we also conducted parents meetings to hear the take from the parents and guardians, and also assist them to further understand the project. Parents, guardians, community leaders, teachers and health workers showed that the project has being of create help for them because they do not have enough time to help children with school work as some are working nine(9) hours jobs such as factory workers who leave at 6:00am and comeback at 6:00pm already having to prepare for the following day. They also take the sessions as safe home for their children because even on weekends they know that their children are safe there with an adult. This also includes the fact that their children are able to share personal troubles with the volunteers and thus, making it easy for the parents to know them, work on improving their relationships and find mitigation strategies for the problems. For all these reasons, they hope the project will continue for many years to come.

What is the impact of this project on the alumni who volunteer their time? (Motopi) This work made the Alumni volunteers feel valued in their communities because parents recognized their assistance and deemed them as leaders. Most of these volunteers are unemployed, so they found these after school/weekend sessions giving them a purpose of waking up every day and get busy like other people. Some of them realized their potential in teaching career and they have gone to tertiary schools to pursue the teaching careers. Some have seen increased support from community members in their small scale businesses such as selling beauty products or vegetables. These volunteers are also getting psychological support through facilitation of PSS modules and One-on-One sessions from Help Lesotho staff as they are given opportunity to share their personal concerns and struggles through WhatsApp and phone calls.

What do you hope the future of the Smart Kids project looks like? (Motopi) I personally hope the project can be blessed with a good funding so that it can be big enough to cover all 10 districts because it has shown that most children are benefiting a lot from it. It has reduced the literacy gap between children attending private and public schools because it in at this platforms whereby they all learn the same thing and pull each other up. We are having children who are in grade 6 who cannot read or write but through this project we have managed to bridge that gap in the communities it is covering, therefore calling attention from those others that it does not cover and they are hoping that they can also get the similar assistance. As for the Alumni volunteers, there is a long list of them who also want to participate in this project as it does not only give them a purpose in life but also work experience in working with children.

Help Lesotho’s new ‘4,300’ Kids Campaign aims to pairs vulnerable children with trained alumni volunteers that will provide support, educational assistance and positive encouragement. We hope to raise enough money to train 100 new volunteers that will be able to provide support to 4,300 kids in Lesotho. For more information about the campaign and to make a donation, click here.

2022 Letter #7: Letters from Lesotho (142)

2022 Letter #7: Letters from Lesotho (142)


I am so touched by the number and responses of readers to my first letter. Thank you for following along and for caring so much.Peg at Hlotse Centre

Back in Canada, I reflect on my intense but productive trip. I had over 40 meetings, visited programs, hugged each staff, admired our new library and our two centres and ‘felt the Mosotho’ in me again after such a long hiatus. Knowing I will return for February and March 2023 made it all that much easier to leave so soon.

‘M’e Mamoletsane, Kathleen and I met with the World Health Organization, UNICEF, UNAIDS and UNFPA to discuss our CHANGE4ce Program to help build capacity in other organizations to provide better psychosocial support in building resilience and mental health. We are hopeful to move this initiative forward. We know that our training and experience in mental health would help so many organizations deepen the impact of their work.

Correctional Officers Help LesothoI previously mentioned the new group of correctional service and national security officers in our Computer and Life Skills Program. They had heard about our program and made a proposal to their management to be allowed the time to attend the course. The first week, they were mostly speechless about the opportunity before them. Week two, their questions were meaningful with minds and hearts open. Each one will impact hundreds of wounded lives in their careers. Realizing that prisoners are not evil people but broken and struggling was a profound revelation. One said this was “like the family he never had where people get real love and care”.

One of our COVID initiatives was to mobilize our alumni to both keep them occupied with purpose and to provide support to children during the school closures. We developed and they distributed over 5,000 age-appropriate workbooks filled with COVID information, coping strategies, math and literacy activities, motivational pages and games. The alumni volunteers were trained and each supported a troop of children in their village – to listen, learn and comfort. It has been a great success. The guardians of the children have approached the alumni to learn how to better support the children under their care. Although thankfully the schools remained open for the 2022 school year, we continued the project with the volunteers supporting children after school and on weekends. COVID set so many children so far back both educationally and emotionally. The impact over the last year blew our expectations away. As you can see from the table below, a total of 108 volunteers reached 4,635 vulnerable children. On average, each of these children participated in 7 life-changing sessions.

alumni volunteer with kids<br />
kids with school work
volunteer outreach stats

“I have really improve on my self confidence because I can stand in front of many people and speak which was something that I wasn’t able to do before I start my outreach.” – Mafusi, volunteer


“Children are now seeing the light even those who are struggling they are trying.” – Chaka, volunteer

4300 kids logoWe are so proud of these young people that we are asking you for help to support a whole new cohort of volunteers. We are excited to launch a new project in which we will, with your help, recruit 100 new volunteers who will reach at least 4,300 children with tutoring and mental health check-ins. These young ones are desperate to get some help and to learn. This is the focus of our fall fundraising and we hope you will join us to make it happen. Please click here to learn more and stay tuned for additional information in the coming weeks.

Another project we are conducting is in its third year in the south of Lesotho on early and unintended pregnancy. UNFPA begged us to help in an area in which over 50% of the high school girls had fallen pregnant. That is not a typo or over exaggeration – literally more than half of the girls in high school in this region became pregnant. My heart aches for these girls and their dear babies. We are working with the chiefs, local council and community members to hold them responsible for protecting these girls. We are working with potential enablers and perpetrators, including the landlords of the tiny rented rooms rural children must live in to attend high school, taxi drivers (part of the essential transportation sector), bar owners, herd boys and teachers. We are proud to say that there has been significant progress. The taxi drivers are determined to protect their student passengers, educate new drivers, and to work with the schools to ensure students can only access taxi rides if they have a pass to leave school. Similarly, the landlords have stepped up to monitor their premises against perpetrators and ensure only those who should be in the rooms are. The main high school has reported a remarkable decline in pregnancy and has made a commitment to work with other schools to reduce truancy so that the girls are not enticed away from their education by the promises of food, jobs and ‘treats’.

Kathleen visited a school and spent a day each with the young mothers and a couple of grannies.

Going to their village, Kathleen visited a granny who had prospered under our program and who was able to grow enough food to feed her family and understand positive parenting.

Kids in classroom
Granny in village
Kathleen with young mothers

The other was a different story. Our program officer had rescued two children whose mother had abandoned them. Their grandmother agreed to raise them. When Kathleen arrived, the grandmother was totally bedridden. At 84, she was giving the little food she had to the children and literally starving herself to death – so weak that she could not get out of bed. The children now care for her. This visit still haunts Kathleen. Our staff will follow up.

sick granny and child

I had charged our psychosocial professional interns with reading Viktor Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning” and had a great chat with them on it, followed by a serious and quite wonderful discussion with all the male staff on a module on ‘Supporting Boys and Men’.

Males discussing at Help Lesotho
2022 #6: Letters from Lesotho (#141)

2022 #6: Letters from Lesotho (#141)

On October 12, 2022, waiting hours to board for our 15-hour flight from New York to Johannesburg, I had such vivid flashbacks to my reverse journey 31 months ago – leaving Hlotse in the dark hours before dawn to get through the border before it closed, to the circuitous days and countries to return home, wary of the hordes of international travelers who might be carrying this nameless plague that had so suddenly descended upon the world.

Now – returning to Lesotho, still masked and COVID wary, the world is both altered and oddly the same. The pandemic brought our staff new capacities with devices and platforms allowing more effective and meaningful distance communication – upon which we have relied all these months. Compounded by climate change effects and debilitating inflation, so much progress has been erased during these months. Gender-based violence, human trafficking, poverty, food insecurity have all risen alarmingly.

Our Board chair, Kathleen Lauder, a long-time supporter, friend and an international development specialist, is with me. Kathleen was in Lesotho twice in the very early days of the organization – no staff, no office, little structure. We reminisced about the sometimes harrowing adventures and struggles in those years building credibility, programs, partnerships and progress. It is exciting for her to see Help Lesotho now – robust, highly trained staff, incredibly well respected and impactful.

As you can imagine, I longed to see each one of our staff – to see for myself and hear know how they are. I love and admire them. After the beneficiaries, they are my daily concern. Zoom and Google Meet just aren’t the same. Our driver, dear Ntate Motsamai, greeted us warmly at the airport and, after a two-hour drive to our Hlotse Centre, the staff and children welcomed us with songs, signs and hugs. Home again!

Peg arrival at Hlotse Centre
girl holding sign at Peg's arrival to centre

I write after our first week – predictably crammed with 25 meetings as we try to make the most of this trip (my shortest visit in my 18 years). I will return for February and most of March for my usual time and donor trip, but these precious days are designated for our staff after such a long absence. There are still a couple spots open on the March 2023 trip. I would love to welcome you to the mountain kingdom. Please take a moment to watch this short video of the incredible people and places our guests visit (be sure to hit the ‘play’ button in the bottom left corner!).


Just since we arrived, there has been rain – finally – to drench the arid soil and prod the spring seeds and seedlings to grow after a drought of many months. As prices escalate, these homegrown vegetables are more essential than ever. At the centre, we only lost water for two days this week.

We had a great visit with our Pearl Girls and Guys4Good. These adorable grade seven children are learning how to navigate the perilous world of high school, peer pressure and adolescent confusion. They were bursting to tell us of their growth, new-found insights and how they are sharing what they learn in this program with their peers.

By-weekly, our staff congregate from various locations at the Hlotse Centre – to support each other, share their successes and challenges, and learn. This provided us with the chance to see everyone and celebrate our time together.

                                           Pitseng Pearl Girls

This year, all staff completed a challenging 12-Session Psychosocial Support Course on our online platform, followed by a Facilitator Course for those who facilitate our modules – a refresherMampaka with Change4ce certificate course for some and new training for others. Our impact depends on the professionalism and insight of our facilitators. The certification requires successful completion a 7-session online course and practicum of facilitation evaluation on various topics. I was thrilled to present the program staff with their CHANGE4ce Facilitator Certification Certificates.

How they love to learn – always asking for more training. I recently finished mini-courses on suicide (Lesotho has the highest suicide rate in Africa – you can learn more here) and most recently on supporting boys and men – delving into the social-cultural issues more deeply than ever before. Following our group discussion with the male staff, they will then lead the discussion with the female staff to process the material. I love those discussions as do they, as we constantly work together to increase our effectiveness, in this case to reach one of our strategic goals to train more boys and men and hopefully, this will help.

Our staff are dedicated and care so deeply, yet each one is exposed to stories and pleas of unspeakable suffering all day long. They too face the same challenges at home. Providing useful training and support is paramount. Toward this end, I have engaged a dozen of our talented donors who have specialties to act as monthly phone/Zoom coaches for particular staff. The pairing of them has been a joy – knowing what a wonderful growth experience this will be for both. The mentees and I are thankful for donors who give so freely of their time and expertise to help our staff grow and get the attention they dearly deserve.

On this subject, one of our staff has an autistic son, another an autistic nephew. With no resources in Lesotho, I am reaching out to see if there is someone reading this letter who knows of a parent of an autistic child who might be willing to listen and support these two.  We have many deaf children at the centre and our staff have learned sign language. All of them would benefit from and appreciate learning about exceptionalities. If you can help – please reach out.

Lesotho held a national election last week and I was keen to hear the opinions on the results. We made enormous efforts to get the young people out to vote. We sent text messages to 141,000 people across Lesotho – in both English and Sesotho, distributed 3,000 handouts on why voting is so important, and reached thousands with multiple posts on social media. Of the 163K people we potentially reached, we hoped that at least 30% actually read the material – perhaps 50K. Shortly before election day, there was no electricity. Our staff were so committed to get voters out that they went out one-by-one on foot all over town encouraging people to vote. Yet, after all this work, disappointingly, Lesotho had the lowest voter turnout in the country’s recorded history at 38% – a clear indicator of how discouraged the population is with poor governance. We can only hope that those who voted did so wisely. Election monitors from many countries pronounced the election peaceful and fair. The populous has accepted the results without backlash – unlike most previous elections. The new Prime Minister, Sam Matekane, will hopefully bring the positive change this country so badly needs. He brings extensive business experience as the wealthiest person in Lesotho and seems determined to cut corruption, entitlement and restructure. We live in hope.

I met with a new class of Computer and Life Skills (CLS) participants, this time all correctional officers. Another strategic goal over the next five years is to train as many police and correctional officers as possible. We have trained many police officers and correctional guards in the past. They love it. Along with nurses and teachers, these are the frontline workers who can either help or retraumatize vulnerable girls, women and boys. Building their self-esteem and psychosocial awareness has proven to help them address their clientele with greater compassion and less judgement. I will re-visit them this week. Ironically, when I finished chatting with a youth group yesterday, there was a female police officer and former CLS graduate waiting for me. Hearing I was in town, she patiently waited for a couple of hours to tell me what a huge difference the program had made in her life. She looked to be in mid-forties and was completing her Master’s degree in social work on secondment from the police force. We had an interesting chat, while she pleaded for Help Lesotho to give this training to all the police officers and management so that they too could change.

Kathleen Lauder in LesothoKathleen spent this weekend at our precious Pitseng Centre, participating in the programs, exploring the village and the stunningly beautiful valley. I was thrilled to see the new library – nearly finished, the space is well made, bright and spacious. We regaled ourselves with imaginings of the depressed youth, struggling students, correspondence students and aspiring literacy learners having this wonderful place to concentrate and hold discussion groups. Our most sincere appreciation to those who donated to this library. Please know that the impact of your generosity will last for decades and help hundreds of villagers.

Pitseng Centre Library
Pitseng Library

Whether meeting with staff, professional interns, or program participants, the message is the same. Their compounded trauma peppers every conversation and meeting. The staggering need, intense fear and anxiety, and overwhelming gratitude are ever present. Our time together is filled with various combinations of tears, hugs, confessions, pleas for more training, stories of personal bravery and change, prayers of gratitude, and hope. I am constantly and deeply touched by the expressions of how important and meaningful our programs are and how loving and talented our staff.

The needs are tremendous but we are not helpless. We are focused and reaching people every minute. Last year, we helped 22,000 people. No dollar, day, conversation or effort is wasted.

I will write only one more letter this trip. So much to pack in! Kathleen and ‘M’e Mamoletsane and I are meeting in the coming week with three of the UN agencies who currently fund us to see if they will support some new work. Wish us luck!

I look out on the mountains as I write, feeling hopeful and appreciative. We have serious work to do and you are the ones that make this possible. I wish you could know what a difference it is making!

Until the next letter,

Best wishes

peg signature

Lesotho’s Suicide Crisis

Lesotho’s Suicide Crisis

Lesotho has one of the highest suicide rates per capita (possibly the highest) in the world. Data sources vary slightly in the global rankings, but Lesotho is undoubtedly the highest ranked country in Africa.

The rate of suicide in Lesotho is the clearest indication of a mental health crisis. Despite this, Lesotho continues without a national mental health response strategy. Overall, mental health is barely acknowledged and the social stigma of getting help is so severe that people feel better off suffering alone or making the devastating decision to take their own lives. Decades of poverty, grief and loss brought about by the AIDS pandemic, few employment opportunities and overall feelings of hopelessness for the future are major contributors to the crisis.

suicide crisis in LesothoLesotho differs from many other countries in the gender breakdown of suicide rates. While nearly all countries report higher male suicide rates, Lesotho has a significantly higher female suicide rate. Once the context of Lesotho’s excruciatingly high rate of gender-based violence is considered (at least 86% of women have experienced violence in their lives), there is a clear window on the overwhelming pain, stress, shame, and burden carried by Basotho women. These women are disproportionately burdened by unemployment, household responsibilities and caring for family members, contributing to steep financial disparities. HIV prevalence is roughly four times higher among young females (ages 20-24). Adolescent girls and young women are the ones to suffer the consequences of teenage pregnancy and early marriage. For many of Lesotho’s women, cultural and familial expectations for them to care for others, keep quiet about abuse, work in terrible conditions or not at all, and have almost no decision-making power in their relationships is simply too much to bare.

In every Help Lesotho program, there are beneficiaries who have seriously contemplated suicide; many have tried. Universally, it is estimated that for every person who dies by suicide, another twenty people made attempts. Every single one of our beneficiaries has had a personal experience with suicide, often within their family or close friend group. Despite suicide permeating so many aspects of Basotho society, almost no one talks about it. Help Lesotho is making strides to break this taboo by opening the door to conversations about trauma, grief, abuse, isolation, discrimination and depression.

The ultimate goal of Help Lesotho’s programs is to help participants build their RESILIENCE. Resilience is a cornerstone of mental health. Having resilience makes people less likely to see suicide as the only answer to their problems.

Tlotliso is a twenty-seven-year-old female graduate from Help Lesotho’s 2022 Leaders-in-Training program. After gaining the support and trust of others in the program, Tlotliso felt compelled to share her incredible story of enduring three violent attacks, the first at just ten years old, followed by several attempts to end her life.

TlotlisoThough a series of things happened to me I am now able to talk about them in chapters or episodes. Some of the memories are only coming back to me now and for me that is a sign of healing. I am now in control of my emotions and handle debates or arguments better.

I had declared my life a failure and never saw any point in living. Now, I see that the world needs me to stop holding my silence.

I told my loved ones stories about my life without fear of being judged and the response was heartwarming. I got the feedback that I never expected, the support and resonance stood out. I publicly told my story, and all went in tears. I could tell it wasn’t just about my noise but they retrieved memories or relived realities. I could tell the world is in more pain than we see, and I carry the responsibility to make changes. I need to speak louder and now I have the confidence. I am a better person and all thanks to Help Lesotho. I run out of words to express gratitude. I am humbled”.

(Photo and story shared with Tlotliso’s permission)

Person-by-person, life-by-life, we are helping people choose to LIVE. Join us.

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