Letters from Lesotho 2023 – #1

Letters from Lesotho 2023 – #1


Today, it is not raining! I arrived back in Lesotho in the evening, in the dark and amid torrents of rain. The long dirt road into our centre from the paved main road was so saturated that the field was flooded. Ntate Motsamai’s ability to navigate the car was impressive! The rains this season are unrelenting, unprecedented and wreaking havoc – huts crumbling, bridges breached, gardens swamped and roads washed out. It has been raining most days and/or nights since I arrived. Most of the crops have benefitted from the rain and there is hope the harvest will be good. We hope the weather will improve for the visitors and events we have planned in the coming weeks.

I felt fully ‘at home’ once I heard the all-too-familiar sound of the sheep bells just outside the centre as I began working early one morning. Sheep are emblematic here. They graze on the sides of the roads as one passes, are tethered in the small yards of villagers, are the need for our Herd Boy Program, are integral to the traditional ceremonies of killing a sheep to mark a wedding, funeral, or rite of passage, and they provide protein for privileged families and the angora wool of which Lesotho is so proud.

boy with sheet in lesotho

This visit will be close to two months and atypical for me, as it is the last before I retire at the end of April. Next week, we are excited to welcome Help Lesotho’s new Executive Director, Julia Thompson, to Lesotho. Julia is as much looking forward to coming here and meeting our staff in person, as they are excited to meet her. Donors, staff and our board join me in feeling deeply grateful to have such an experienced, capable and compassionate person to lead Help Lesotho forward into this exciting new phase of the organization. Her weeks here will be filled with visits to programs, participation in staff and partner meetings, and keen listening to the beneficiaries as they share their stories. Julia will write a couple of these ‘Letters from Lesotho’ during her time here so that you can hear directly from her. I know you will look forward to reading of her impressions and stories of her experiences.

On March 3, we will welcome our donor trip guests for an adventurous couple of weeks, during which we will celebrate the opening of the new Pitseng Centre Library to which approximately 150 of you contributed! My eldest son Jesse will also visit Lesotho in March –a real treat for me. He will be here for the Pitseng event and stay for my retirement celebration before heading out on a daring bike trek in these incredibly challenging mountains. You can follow his training and journey on his Instagram page: Oopsmark.

It was wonderful to be so warmly welcomed by the staff – I love them all. Watching them grow in their professions and skills is a great joy. Our programs are in full swing and the centres are hopping with children, program participants, comings and goings. It was special that I arrived in time to participate in the quarterly all-staff meeting and listen to the plans for the next three months – so carefully constructed to incorporate any changes or lessons learned from our extensive program evaluations and feedback from participants.

Out of School boys in their program session

Out-of-school boys starting their 6-month program.

Leaders in Training program participants gather in classroom

First-day excitement for the 2023 Leaders-in-Training participants.

This past Friday was very special and indeed emotional. The entire staff, our wonderful Country Director, ‘M’e Mamoletsane, and I spent three hours celebrating together. Some staff and professional interns received their completion certificates for the intensive Psychosocial Support Course, others their CHANGE4ce Facilitation Certification and course certificates. Nine staff were honoured with their five-year plaques for faithful service, including Bo-‘M’e Tsoakae, Hlalefo, Shasha, and Malefu, and Ntate Thabo. As I gave each a long hug, many were shaking with emotion. Among those were our three security officers (Bo-Ntate Tokiso, Lefu, Motebang and Bereng) who, on shifts, protect and support our staff, and visitors, our centre, and our participants. I wondered if these dear men, fine examples of kind and caring males to all who comes into the centre, had ever been publicly acknowledged. (Later, one told me how proud his ten-year-old son was of him when he saw the plaque.) Two Senior Program Officers, ‘M’e Felleng, our Psychosocial Support Officer, and ‘M’e Thoala the Pitseng Centre Supervisor, received their 10-year recognition plaques. ‘M’e Mampaka received our first 15-year plaque. ‘M’e Mamoletsane and I told the stories of the amazing leadership, growth and contribution of each one over so many years. These long serving staff are the foundation and stability of our programs and are mentors who train, encourage and support the others.

At each juncture, representatives of various groups spoke about the learning, growth and accomplishments of which they are so deeply and rightfully proud. Standing in front of these amazing men and women, who have bravely embraced so much training I have thrust upon them, was inspiring. Our staff face human injustice and trauma every single day. They hold these stories in their hearts and feel the weight of the responsibility of so much trust on their shoulders. They live daily with the frustration and feelings of helplessness at not being able to address all the needs before them. I thought of the many hours of emotionally-laden, fruitful conversation in their discussion groups, the ways each supports the other in pairs and groups, and the passion they hold so dear for Help Lesotho, its impact and their growth as professionals. I admire them so much – and, in the end, I just couldn’t breathe!

peg with thoala

‘M’e Thoala with her 10-year plaque.                

Peg with Motebang

Ntate Motebang with his 5-year plaque.

Peg with Mampaka

‘M’e Mampaka with her 15-year plaque.

Help Lesotho staff with plaques

Staff and professional interns pose with their course certificates!

Peg with Malefu

‘M’e Malefu with her 5-year plaque.               

Peg with Thabo

Ntate Thabo with his 5-year plaque.

Help Lesotho staff with certificates

Help Lesotho staff and professional interns proudly display their plaques and certificates!

With each day and each meeting, the stories pour out. One was about a mom, who left three little ones with a 12-year-old to go to South Africa to work and never came back. The children tried to cook for themselves and suffered significant burns. When they were brought to the attention of our staff, the latter made various efforts to support them, introduce them to the social development workers, provide emergency relief and even ensure the processes are followed to get the children birth certificates. With support from the Ministry of Home Affairs or other relevant ministry agents, we help herd boys, grannies and young mothers secure identity documents for themselves and their babies to literally ‘exist’ in the country, and which are essential for them to gain access to orphan or old age pensions, medical assistance, death certificates for inheritance or insurance.

As I close, one of my great thrills over the years is to hear from our alumni. I just received this on LinkedIn and thought you might feel proud too.

Thank you for reading along – lots more to follow.

Best wishes and a hug from Lesotho,

LinkedIn Message from Help Lesotho alumni

P.S. Just as I finished this letter – the sun came out! Yeah!

P.P.S. I wish you could hear the laughter and excitement coming from the 100 grade seven kids in the Guys4Good and Pearl Girls programs who have just arrived to begin their new year of training. They are playing basketball before their session – just adorable.

Pearl girls and Guys4Good playing basketball together
Young Mother Program Overview

Young Mother Program Overview

Help Lesotho’s Young Mother Program is a comprehensive approach to capacitate pregnant teenagers and adolescent mothers with strategies and support to cope with the repercussions of being young, often single, mothers. This involves emotional turmoil, dropping out of school, expulsion from family units, lack of support from the father of the child, stigma and rejection from family and community members, poverty, stress and livelihood insecurity. The program fosters capacity in the participants to build their personal resilience, learn to make healthy decisions, and support one another through their challenges.

Over the course of the year-long program, 70 vulnerable young mothers go on a journey of self-discovery. They challenge their beliefs, build their self-worth, become critical thinkers and take steps towards being the young women and mothers they aspire to be.

The program includes monthly training days, participant-led village support groups, individual psychosocial support sessions, the provision of baby-related care items, access to services and referrals such as health clinics and official identity documents, and entrepreneurship training alongside start-up funding for small businesses (learn more about the entrepreneurship component here).

Young mothers in Lesotho participating in a training session

Key Impacts:

  • 100% of young mothers report improved resilience.
  • Young mothers begin to treat one another with respect. Whereas at the beginning of the program the young mothers are often very harsh towards each other, at the end they actively listen, empathize and offer meaningful support and suggestions.
  • Young mothers begin to treat themselves with more respect. They take better care of themselves, demonstrate patience and grace and feel confident that they have important things to say.
  • Young mothers analyze issues with more clarity, introspection and rationality. They are able to stay calm as they discuss issues, rather than turn to anger.
  • Young mothers seek sexual and reproductive health services. They want to visit the clinics, access contraception and speak with medical professionals.
  • There is a tremendous improvement in intimate partner communication. Young mothers go from feeling helpless and undermined in their relationships to having a real say. They report that together with their partners, they are deciding on contraception and testing for HIV. They also say that they have input in the family’s finances, especially as their entrepreneurial small businesses grow.
  • Young mothers report significant improvement in their relationships with their mothers-in-law. In Lesotho, mothers-in-law wield a tremendous amount of – often misused – power and authority. Mothers-in-law are suspicious of their daughters-in-law’s at the beginning of the program, doubting that the program is worth all the time away from home. With time, the mothers-in-law come to appreciate that the improved communication skills, conflict resolution strategies, and overall increase in self-esteem all have positive effects on the family.
Young mother in Lesotho wrapped in a blanket wearing a face mask

Lineo, now 14-years-old, dropped out of school at age 13 when she fell pregnant with her 17-year-old boyfriend. Her parents, already struggling to provide for their family of 8, did not react well to learning of Lineo’s early pregnancy. The boy left the village immediately after she told him that she was pregnant and his family is hostile towards her. She has been hoping to get in contact with him but she was told that he is in South Africa attending school.

At her young age, having a child has made everything difficult. She said, “I sometimes miss being around other people of my age without carrying a baby around”.

Lineo is a strong student. She said that after receiving encouragement to not give up, she is motivated to take her life back and go to school. She said “I am still young and my mother will take care of the baby while I am at school, after attending the session on healthy relationships I feel more supported”. Having learned about domestic violence, HIV/AIDS and healthy relationships, Lineo said she feels lighter and more prepared to navigate her challenges.

Young mother in Lesotho wearing a face mask

Moipone dropped out of school in order to take a job as a nanny. Living away from her family, she sought friendship and companionship from a boy who took interest in her. Within months, Moipone realized she had become pregnant. The father denied paternity and took no responsibility to support his child.

Moipone returned home and was thankful that her family was willing to accept her back in their lives. The family support changed, however, when Moipone fell pregnant a second time. Even though Moipone continues to live at home with her parents, she says their relationship is very tense and they have not been able to resolve their conflicts well. The father of the second child is somewhat involved with raising their daughter, but not as consistently as Moipone hoped he would.

Now, a mother to two young children at 21-years-old, Moipone is feeling more optimistic for her future. “Since I joined the Young mother Program I feel lively, refreshed and I notice that I have to think thoroughly before I make decisions. Right now I have decided to use contraceptives so that I don’t have another child.” Moipone also describes significant improvement in her family relationships as they have all benefitted from understanding good communication skills to express their feelings and listen to others. Moipone’s favourite module was self-esteem because as a church-goer and choir-singer she felt down when people judged her for having children out of wedlock. “After learning about self-esteem, I have learned to take positive things and let negativity go. I have learned to better relate with other people as well. I used to be rude to male people but I have started the journey to drop the attitude and biases of them being mean, unsupportive and unloving.”

Quotes from 2022 Participants:

  • “The program assisted me to realise that I am still important as a young mother.”
  • “The information on child spacing was very crucial.”
  • “Knowing how to share knowledge and skills with other young mothers has been important to us.”
  • “The program has made us true leaders.”
  • “I only expected to be taught how to take care of my family but I learned a lot more.”
  • “I learned patience and being humble at all times.”
  • “It is important to care and love to others.”
  • “My family and my relationship has improved.”
  • “I am now able to ask for forgiveness. My future will be brighter.”
  • “I will be a role model for my daughter. I hope her life will not have so much pain as mine.”
Mats’epo’s Story

Mats’epo’s Story

Through Help Lesotho’s Young Mother Program, participants receive ‘Starter Packs’ to help them with the initial investment needed to launch small businesses. As much as these young mothers try to find jobs elsewhere, the high degree of unemployment in the country makes for an incredibly competitive job market. Additionally, most young mothers need significant flexibility in their work in order to care for their children. The young mothers find that being self-employed is the ideal scenario for them, even though it is not an easy road to success.

Along with the start-up funding for their small businesses, the young mothers are trained on budgeting, inventory management, marketing, and customer relations. While not all young mothers are able to sustain their businesses, this model remains an effective way to give young mothers the option to build a business, or to use their initial profits to meet urgent needs within their families.

One young mother, Mats’epo, used her Starter Pack to buy simbas (peanuts), biscuits, eggs, sweets and match sticks. She selected her starter pack products based on what is in demand in her local community. Many people in her community had to walk a long distance to get the products she is selling, so she knew the demand would be there as people would find it more convenient to buy from her. She made use of her profits to open a salon which is right next to her shop where she sells her starter pack products. Mats’epo says her success is attributed to her business strategy. She invests her profits back into the business to make sure that it keeps growing, and keeps thorough records of all her transactions. In the future, she hopes to learn more about bookkeeping and how she can better manage multiple business operations. She is currently looking into making jewelry with beads and believes that it is going to be a success!

Young mother in Lesotho working as a hairdresser

“The starter pack enabled me to meet different needs such as food as well as my family’s needs. I found the starter pack helpful because it enabled me to buy shoes for my child. At some point, I was struggling to buy shoes for her and other basic things.

The Young Mother Program as a whole has made me more aware of the areas I was failing in my relationship with my husband. We used to have some conflict but now I know how to handle that. Another important thing was getting tested for HIV. At first I was afraid to know my status but now I don’t have a problem going for testing. I also learned about contraception and now I know how to use contraception properly.

My business skills have also improved. As you can see, I started off with the starter pack but now I also have a salon which is doing well. It’s almost Christmas and there are many people who are going to be coming to get their hair done. I am also going to buy some beads next week so that I can start making jewelry that I will be selling to women who are going to come in the salon. The business is going to grow and do well and I thank Help Lesotho for everything.”


Rally for Resilience!

Rally for Resilience!

At Help Lesotho our vision is for the youth of Lesotho to have the resiliency and agency to create healthy and self-sustaining futures.

We firmly believe that real, positive change happens when a person is able to heal their heart and equip their mind.

Over the past 18 years our work has been strategically tailored to help vulnerable people build resilience so they can heal and move forward with their lives in healthy and productive ways. Each one of our programs includes unique approaches to resiliency-building by helping participants boost their confidence and self-esteem.

To read the Resilience Rally Report, you can scroll down through this post. Alternatively, click here to download the report as a PDF. Be sure to scroll to the bottom of this post to watch the video – it is so fun to see the kids in action!