2022 Leaders-in-Training Impact Report

2022 Leaders-in-Training Impact Report

For six weeks in February – March 2022, 57 young adults participated in the annual Leaders-in-Training Impact (LIT) Program at the Hlotse Centre. As Help Lesotho’s most intensive program (24 training days), LIT provides an exciting opportunity to foster and then witness significant personal growth. Participants engaged in meaningful modules about self-awareness, communication skills, gender roles, power relations, and psychosocial support.

Without support, disenfranchised young people plagued by poverty, disease and isolation are likely to engage in unhealthy behaviour and may become a burden on society. LIT develops the capacity and skills of young people to identify and deal with the profound impact of AIDS and poverty in their lives, and then to become leaders, benefitting themselves, their communities and all of Lesotho. LIT graduates are more likely to get jobs due to their improved emotional intelligence and professionalism.

The LIT program targets participants who already have a strong foundation for leadership. In the 2022 cohort, 100% of participants had graduated high school and 71% had completed some form of post-secondary education. The average participant age was 24 years old.

LIT Program Outcome #1: Youth increase their resilience

Help Lesotho measures changes in resilience levels according to confidence-indicators. Participants report their level of confidence (Very confident, Quite confident, A little confident or Not confident) at the beginning and the end of the program.

  • Participants with increased confidence asking for help 60% 60%
  • Participants with increased confidence making good decisions 64% 64%
  • Participants with increased confidence standing up for their rights 67% 67%
  • Participants with increased confidence to set goals and work towards them 71% 71%
  • Participants reporting significantly improved resilience 96% 96%

“I came here having the lowest self esteem and not thinking that I am good enough, but now I know I have what it takes to hold my head up and I believe in my capabilities.”

Likopo

“The knowledge I gained turned me into a better vision of myself. I am now able to express my thoughts and feelings.”

Mahleloa

“I am a changed person, I have better personal relationships because now I can communicate better, I am assertive and I take other people feelings in to consideration.”

Mathapelo

LIT Program Outcome #2: Youth improve their knowledge and attitude toward HIV/AIDS and power sharing

All 2022 LIT participants felt that they improved their knowledge and attitude towards HIV/AIDS and gender equity (100% of participants ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ with the four measurement indicators). The majority of participants had a good understanding of HIV/AIDS prior to attending the program, and 88% already knew their status. The program content focused on clarifying harmful myths surrounding HIV/AIDS and equipping participants with strategies to address stigma so they can better support people living with HIV in their communities. Help Lesotho has shifted our programming emphasis from gender equity to power sharing in an effort to emphasize the role and responsibility of all community members in sharing power – in the home, in relationships, communities, and throughout child-rearing. LIT participants engaged in meaningful discussions (pictured below) about what it really means to share power while examining their personal role and responsibility to contribute to the redistribution of power between men and women.

LIT Program Outcome #3: Youth learn skills and strategies to help their community and apply the strategies

Consistent with previous years, 100% of participants report that they learned strategies to help make positive change in their communities, and 98% of participants were already applying these strategies by the end of the program.

 

Participants Who Identify as Leaders:

%

Pre-Program

%

Post-Program

Program Adaptations for 2022

  • COVID-19 continued to impact the LIT Program, but participants reported feeling safe and informed. Participants and facilitators wore masks to minimize the risk of transmission, but there was no way to prevent the masks from hindering people’s ability to form strong connections to one another, particularly during emotionally-intense sessions. Participants proved a high degree of adaptability as they found ways to work together and support one another while following COVID guidelines.
  • The 2022 cohort was the first to participate in a training module titled “Gender Identity and Sexuality”. In a highly religious country where this topic is taboo, this marked a big step towards inclusiveness. Participants were able to remain open and engaged in the discussion despite many of them feeling uncomfortable with the topic at first. In the end, participants were grateful for the opportunity to ask questions, learn important terminology, and better understand gender, sex, and sexuality.

Participant Profiles

Thandiwe is a 23 years old participant from the 2022 LIT program. In 2017 at the age of 17 while in grade10 she gave birth to a son, whom her boyfriend denied responsibility for. As a single mother and student, life became very difficult as she had to focus on her studies and take care of her child. Fortunately, with the support of her family, she was able to complete her secondary education.

“One day as I was surfing Facebook I came across the LIT advert on Help Lesotho page and immediately my interest to apply triggered. I have always been keen to acquire leadership skills and know much of the program itself because I have heard from my friends praising and talking good about it.

It is much interesting and fun to be part of the program as I am learning a lot from the facilitators and my peers. For instance, I did not know much about sexual violence issues however, with the skills I acquired I know my rights. Being single and young mother is way too much and I felt betrayed and heart-broken by my boyfriend whom I expected to have a family with but ever since joining the LIT program I allowed myself to open up and heal. I was not willing to further my studies but with the sessions, my interaction with the facilitators and peers I am hopeful about my future so much that I am willing to press on and go for remedial classes so that I could get admitted at the institution of higher learning. Right now I feel much alive, hopeful about my future and my self-esteem is boosted.”

Mamokete, a young woman from Butha Bothe, is like many other participants who applied for Leaders in Training because their friends who had been part of the program before advised them to, despite not knowing anything about Help Lesotho. What she received from the training was far from what she expected. She says the trainings were fun and therapeutic, and the interactions with participants and facilitators helped her face her fears of public speaking. Before the training, Mamokete said she had low self-esteem and confidence to share her thoughts within a larger group. She used to be hard on herself and always expected things to unfold quickly, failing which she would get depressed and withdraw. The training at large and one-on-one PSS sessions helped her gain confidence, be more resilient and have hope for her future. She is now able to set clear goals which will help her take her small business to the next level and she is willing to challenge herself to try new things she had always been scared to do.

Relebohile is a young man form Pitseng living in a family of 4 members. He just completed high school in 2021 and wishes to further his studies at a technical school. The training has been fun and very educational for him. Before coming to LIT, Relebohile said he used to get angry, shut everyone out and sometimes lose his temper by being aggressive. The training helped him to deal with issues that trigger his anger and he is able to communicate effectively with others and build healthy relationships with those around him. Lastly, he said having learned life skills will help him to become a better person to his family because he is going to put into practice what he had learned from the training. Relebohile now knows leaders never give up and that moto will motivate him to push through all sorts of challenges he come across.

 

Click here to see the 2021 Leaders-in-Training Impact Report.

2022 #5: Letters from Lesotho (#140)

2022 #5: Letters from Lesotho (#140)

Greetings,

This is my last ‘Letter from Lesotho’ this season – imagine writing 140 letters! It would be fun to make a list of people who have read each of them! (Let me know if you have and I will make that list). I hope to return to Lesotho in the near future. I have some news to share with you at the end of the letter.

We near the particular parallelism when the weather in Lesotho and Canada is the same – as the former transitions to fall and us to spring. Basotho turn their thoughts to harvest; Canadians to planting. Climate change has altered the predictable, bringing hunger and erosion to the Lesotho mountains and flooding and fires to ours.

In my last letter, I mentioned our concern about the educational deficits exasperated by two years of COVID.

Help Lesotho is an educational organization. Everything we do is either psychosocial support or education.

It seems fitting that the funds raised to build one of our two centres, our precious Pitseng Centre, came from the 1400 teachers in the Ottawa Branch of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association. The buildings were constructed by local people, with a grand opening in June 2008, to wide acclaim and jubilation.

It was and remains the only community resource in the whole area, surrounded by two primary and one high school, a 45-minute walk from the nearest village. We have a wonderful Centre Supervisor in ‘M’e Thoala – sometimes I think of her as the mother of the whole area! ‘M’e has been with us for ten years and is a blessing to everyone who comes.

In its 14 years, the Pitseng Centre has hosted well over 100,000 visits – people who long to learn or be listened to, little ones who crave joy and protection, primary school children learning to read and comprehend the challenges they need to face, youth who devour discussion about their thoughts and feelings, community leaders who proudly master basic computer skills, and grannies who cherish the companionship of those who understand.

As well as the main building, our small centre has a wonderful new playground we installed last year, an open-air classroom (lappa), outdoor toilets (latrines) and a computer lab. I think of our grannies there – asking me, or should I say imploring me, to let them come every day so they can be in a happy place and learn something new.

I have taken some of you into the computer classes where the young people proudly show us how to create a formula in excel. You may have seen the photos of the children playing cognitive games to best other children in our centre competitions in Scrabble, Monopoly, Chess or Cribbage.

Tucked inside the centre is a small library, chock-full of African-centred books for all. When a dozen small children huddle around the two wooden tables, it is nigh impossible to pass on either side to access books or leave the room. For many little ones, this is their first exposure to books. Most of our visitors live in huts without electricity and little-to-no space to read or study.

The library plays a significant role in the community in shaping attitudes and opportunities about literacy, learning and creativity. More than 50 students flock there from school every week to grab one of those precious seats. The overflow must go to the outdoor lappa or to read under a tree despite the distraction of dozens of boisterous children on the playground equipment, playing cognitive games or other activities.

We are launching more initiatives to draw the hard-to-reach, oh-so-vulnerable out-of-school youth into the womb of the centre. Many have quit school after the discouragement of losing almost two years of their education due to COVID lockdowns or whose families can no longer afford the fees. Last year, we invested in new books for this age group in efforts to entice them away from depression, isolation and relentless household chores. Whether to play chess, join the computer classes, or participate in the many programs, these connections and constructive activities are instrumental in preventing teen pregnancies, crime, human trafficking, early and forced child marriages and substance abuse.

A wonderful organization called Bountiful Hope donated our computer lab in 2016, which has brought so much to the whole community. The first Computer and Life Skills class of 2022 just graduated, including 7/20 girls, and another one begins soon. One of the women is a nun from the nearby convent. Sister Itumeleng was passionate about the program and participated fully, not at all intimidated by her age difference with her youthful classmates.

This group particularly enjoyed the session on decision making, as they grasped the influence their thoughts and decisions have on their choices and consequences. When asked to anonymously write a current situation they face and feel inadequate to handle, the submissions revealed troubled youth desperate to find help in the program. They shared about conflicts and harsh treatment with parents, fear of men and the pressure to have sex, fear of teachers and life, worry about failing at school, feeling desperately lonely. This is often the first time they share such deep concerns. One wrote, “I just tested HIV positive and this has troubled me such that I think of taking my life or spreading it to more people because I feel betrayed by my partner”. The group unpacks the issues together, sharing thoughts, learning that HIV can be treated, peer pressure can be resisted, loneliness can be overcome. The girl who just tested positive felt that although no one in the room knew it was her, she had been supported and she could now take a bold decision to seek help.

Our Pitseng Centre professional intern, Moliehi, recently shared:

“Many of the children, even in grade 5/6, cannot read or write when they should be able to. Because COVID closed the schools for such a long time, they were just promoted to the next class without the learning. I help them choose books they will be successful at reading and we work on speed, fluency and comprehension. We play games with vocabulary and grammar knowledge. ‘M’e Peg, you know children really want to learn.”

Moliehi

For many of these children, the centre is home – a place to be listened to, to be welcomed, to belong. Young Mothetho, comes daily and loves to share what she learns:

“I am Mothetho, a girl aged 12 years in grade 7. I am the only child of my parents, who are in South Africa searching for a job. I want to be a nurse when I grow up and so I must study hard and learn because my cousin, who is a nurse, told me that this is a good career but I have to put my full potential in reading and attending school very well. I visit almost every day so I can read because my grandmother has no books. I always ask myself questions I have no answer to, but at the Centre I learn that I am responsible for working hard to achieve what I want. Reading at the library takes my mind away from my stress so I keep going back. I am really trying! Someday, I can have a job to look after my grandmother, instead of her looking after me.”

Mothetho

We have made a thoughtful decision to build a new library – a larger, quieter space to think – especially for the high school students. If they don’t have a place to study and books from which to learn, they cannot have a future.

The location will use the only remaining space we have left on the property – filling between the lappa on the left and the computer lab on the right as indicated by the white arrow (below).

I am focusing on the Pitseng Centre in this last letter because we have never had a designated funder for it. We have to raise the $130,000 required every year for its operations and programming. After ten generous years, a family foundation that gave us $10K a year has stopped. We occasionally have a gift specifically for this centre but the rest must come from our general pot. It is my hope that we can find a family, individual, corporation or foundation that would faithfully take this on annually, wholly or in part, to ensure its future. We can even name the centre in honour of them or a loved one. It is a large ask but I am putting it out there – in great faith that someone or a group will come forward. I love this centre and am determined to make sure it is a blessing to the community and its 3,000 annual visitors for years to come.

Next week we will officially launch our spring fundraising campaign to raise the funds to build the library. I know this is a project many will want to support. If you want to kickstart the project, you can make your donation here.

I realize many people wonder when I am going to retire.

As most of you know, I am an obsessive planner. To this end, I set my retirement date four years ago with a step-wise plan to build staff capacity, donor stewardship and organizational excellence. I am proud and grateful to say that, even with COVID, we are on track – with a wonderful leader, ‘M’e Mamoletsane, in Lesotho, a terrific board and outstanding staff. I will retire in the spring of 2023, a few months shy of my 74th birthday.

  • The board and I have developed an emeritus role for me to define how I will remain involved. I am not going anywhere – just stepping back from active leadership.
  • This month, we formally begin the search for our next executive director (ED), who will hopefully start an overlap with me in the late fall.
    I plan to spend a good part of next winter in Lesotho with ‘M’e Mamoletsane and the new ED toward a smooth transition.
  • By our fiscal year-end in June 2022, we will have a new five-year strategic plan in place to leverage our experience and expertise to reach significantly more people in new, deeper and exciting ways.
  • We have a full year ahead to celebrate our first 19 years, to prepare for the transition and lay the foundation for the wonderful new initiatives we have planned.
  • I feel we are just getting started. My retirement is no surprise and a terrific opportunity to bring a different skill set for a different phase of the organization. We no longer need a founder. Our next ED does not have to do what I did. The foundation, trust, structures, governance, content and capacity are all in great shape and well-developed. The new ED will bring other skills, networks and capacities that I do not have and which will be needed in a new time and context.

I mention it now as we will post the position soon and I want to tell you myself. We will of course keep you informed as our plans evolve but for now, please pray with me that the new ED is longingly waiting for exactly this opportunity to serve in this very special way with and for the most amazing people one could imagine.

As a final note, many have asked me about the next donor trip to Lesotho. We are planning this for February 2023 so if you are interested let us know. Three guests from the 2019 and 2020 trips share some of their fondest memories here.

I look forward to the future. When I am relieved of my formal duties, I will have more time to chat with you, spread the word, be with my grandchildren, and make different kinds of contributions. As I write this, my mind is full – I tell everyone who will listen to me that I love our donors, that each one is a privilege to know.

Together, we will launch the second innovative phase of Help Lesotho and continue its achievements in reaching 265,000 more people. We are a team and you are key members.

I send you energy as you rebuild your resilience after such an arduous couple of years – thank you for walking this journey with me.

Love,

Peg

Nkhonos of Qoqolosing

Nkhonos of Qoqolosing

Grandmothers (‘nkhonos’ in Sesotho) hold a special place in Lesotho families. Our Grandmother Support Program empowers 200 rural grandmothers each year with education, access to local resources, and psychosocial support to help them overcome grief and care for their orphaned grandchildren. Read on to meet three nkhonos from Qoqolosing.

Nkhono Maneo

Nkhono Maneo has the energy of a 20-year-old woman. She said she will die with a spade in her hands to provide for her grandchildren. She built her two houses with her bare hands although her knees are quick to remind her that she is old. Nkhono said, “I am grateful to Help Lesotho for putting food on my table when I could not provide for my grandchildren because of an illness that had put me on bed rest. I put the lantern light on in the evening for my grandchildren to play outside while I finish cooking. I then take it back into our house to share a meal with my family and talk about the day’s events. I have no words to express when it comes to the life skills sessions I attended. I learnt to forgive and make amends with people whom I had conflicts with although, for some, it is a work in progress. I have been able to manage my anger at the state of my life and build a stronger relationship with my grandchildren.”

Nkhono Mants’ihlele

Like a thief in the night, death left her shattered from burying eight of her children and husband one by one. She is left with one daughter whom she prays for every day. With tears cascading, Nkhono Mants’ihlele said, “The life skills sessions have given me new hope and helped me to grieve although it will take me time. I had never seen how important I am until the self-esteem session made me appreciate life and my family. My family of 7 members entirely depends on my small pension but because of learning about good relationships, my neighbours and I always share the little we have with one another to get to the next day. I loved the Grandmother Program. I have a blanket to keep warm and a lantern light to brighten my night without the fear of running out of paraffin or not having money to buy a candle. I don’t remember the last time we had a decent meal but Help Lesotho really answered my silent prayer. I feel rich at heart and have found healing.”

Nkhono Malerato

“I recently lost my husband and could not bear the thought of being called a widow. I have to wear mourning clothing every day for a few months. I miss him every day especially when I come back from the trainings because I used to share with him everything I learnt and he really appreciated Help Lesotho. When I came home with the food relief and the lanterns I remember him jokingly saying that he can see that I have not been leaving his sight for nothing.”

Nkhono Malerato lives in a household of eight who all depend on her pension money. She has learnt to appreciate new ways to communicate with her grandchildren instead of shouting at them. She now approaches them differently and has seen remarkable improvement in their relationship as a family. “Thank you Help Lesotho for helping me heal.”

Reflections from Guests to Lesotho

Reflections from Guests to Lesotho

Annually, Help Lesotho welcomes a group of international guests to visit our work in Lesotho. These 12-day trips are an incredible opportunity to participate in an authentic and deeply meaningful experience in rural Lesotho. Three guests who visited Lesotho in 2019/2020 share their favourite memories below.

Information about future trips to Lesotho can be found in the Information Package. The 2021 and 2022 trips were cancelled due to COVID-19, but we hope to welcome guests once again in February 2023.

Deb Ruse, 2019

My trip with Help Lesotho was a wonderful experience and I would love to return. As a member of Kingston Grandmother Connection, I was familiar with Help Lesotho but until I saw their programs in action I didn’t understand how they all worked together to empower their participants. Now I understand the way the participants are expected not just to learn for themselves, but to share their learning with their families and villages, becoming true agents for change.

Everyone we encountered was friendly and appreciative. Seeing the way Peg and Help Lesotho are so respected in the country was revealing. One day we were visiting the Pitseng Centre and as the schools were closed, several young people were using the library to study. When Peg introduced herself, their faces lit up with wide smiles! Everyone seemed to know her name, wherever we went.

Of course the focus of my group in Kingston is the grandmothers, and I loved meeting them, serving them lunch in Pitseng, listening to their songs and stories. But one of the most moving experiences occurred when our group sat in on the last day of a Herd Boys’ gathering in Mohlanapeng. After congratulating them on their efforts, Peg asked the young men if there was anything else she could do for them before they broke up. One brave young man stood and asked “Can you give us soap?”. When Peg asked “why now? I offered this before and you said no”, he responded, “now that we are going back to our villages, ready to be heard, we want to be seen as respectable and we want to be clean.” Oh my! With a donation from one of my fellow travelers, Peg was able to commit to their request, and went on to purchase laundry soap, soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes. And, a couple of soccer balls (their last request). Afterwards we gathered outside and the young men sang and celebrated with us. Many photos were taken!

If you ever wonder “should I go?” GO! You will not be disappointed.

Nona Mariotti, 2020

When my “kids” said in August 2019, “You have to get away for a holiday this year,” I knew exactly where I was going to go! LESOTHO and South Africa! I had been a member of the Kingston Grandmother Connection for almost fifteen years; consistently devoured Peg’s descriptive letters from Lesotho, and dearly envied other members of our group recounting their special visits to “Help Lesotho.”

The email informing people of the opportunity to visit Lesotho and integrate a Help Lesotho donation magically came at the right time. I immediately forwarded the email to my sister Dianne in Halliburton with a query, “interested in going with me?” She immediately responded “sure!” I knew it had to be another great sign for me. Little did I know at the time this was to be truly an emotional experience for us both.

Dianne did not know much about Help Lesotho but had complete faith in my choice of experience. She suggested that since we were going that far, let’s do some sightseeing as well. Precisely what I needed! As I was to later discover this was to be the prescription I needed as I continue along the road of life now chosen for me.

Our arrival to the Hlotse Centre was such a sincere welcoming. Each of our private bedrooms had a personal note or hand drawn picture. Any concerns re where we would be housed immediately disappeared as our shared adjoining apartments had all the perks of home! No one could ask for a more dedicated hostess than Peg and her “crew”. Even though Peg and staff prepared us for the days ahead no one could prepare you for the different emotional reactions we were all going to experience.

It was such that by mid-day of our first day at the Pitseng Centre we could look into each other’s eyes knowing we were both feeling the same emotion. It was Saturday and the Centre was alive with dozens of children and youths, ages two to twenty-two. There were mini soccer games, board games, coloring and painting with the older students brushing up on their computer skills and applying for college/university. None of us will ever forget the circle dancing and singing we did with all the children as they expressed their joy of life.

Our drive to Berea to visit grandmothers was so memorable as they sang and danced to welcome us to their domain. Each grandmother face etched a different story yet radiated with hope and thanks as they greeted us and their ‘M’e Peg. It was such a privilege to serve them lunch and know they in turn were appreciative of the opportunity to participate in the grandmother programme offered by Help Lesotho.

The Young Mothers Support Programme introduced us to young moms and their tots. They were so willing to inform us about what they had learned and provided us with the opportunity to visit their homes. A true lesson for all that home is where the heart is as these wonderful ladies shyly showed us their simple living with such pride. Again, it was so evident that they had gained such respect not only for themselves and their child but for the opportunity to be part of this support programme. One sensed these moms and their babies’ experiences, through HL, would truly generate a healthier lifestyle for the family.

The scenario of riding a horse in the mountains in my 70s was never on my wish list! Being led on horseback by a herd man, into the setting of Majara Primary School was so exciting. The children were outside along the roadway to greet us singing! We all felt like royalty! The opportunity for me to see the school setting, classroom environment and speak with the students demonstrated their awareness that education was a privilege, something to be truly valued. They certainly expressed ambition for their future when asked.

To truly understand how HL achieves success one has only to be given the privilege to sit in class with the youth participating in Leaders in Training. These young adults welcomed us into their group, even shared their private lives and concerns. The staff were so professionally supportive and challenging to these young adults that the students themselves were comfortable communicating their struggles. This comprehensive programme will develop leaders in the communities if not in the country.

The closing memories I hold dearly is the short time I got to spend with our sponsored student Makoenane Mokhethi. She had taken three buses to come to the Holste Centre to meet me as she had been to Maseru to try out for the Provincial Volleyball team. I do not know if she made it onto the team as with COVID it probably was cancelled. She was only 16 yr old and most girls there were 18yr+. She was again having to take 4 buses home into the mountains of Thaba Tseka.This was an experience worth repeating for sure! An experience I only wished I could have shared with my husband, grown children and grandchildren.

Thank you Peg and staff of Help Lesotho in Canada and in Lesotho! Khotso

Hilary Barrett, 2019

I and seven others visited The Mountain Kingdom in March 2019 as guests of Help Lesotho. We met the people, and learned about Help Lesotho’s programs through visits around the country. What was memorable? Just about everything!

Sitting outside the Hlotse Centre and watching the young women and men, members of the GIRL4ce Movement, perform a play – with a social message. In Lesotho, violence against women and girls is endemic and this particular drama showed how young girls can be sexually abused, and later forced to marry a man they do not know. GIRL4ce stages this and other dramas in rural areas to start conversations within the community, which can be therapeutic for those who have suffered, and those who did not realize it could be changed. The enthusiasm and commitment of the actors for their cause was wonderful to see.

Going up into the mountains to Thaba Tseka. At first the road was good, but as we got higher and higher there were switchbacks and precipitous drops. The view was spectacular – green mountain ranges behind which more mountains faded into purple hues. The pavement ended and became quite bumpy. Ntate Motsamai asked, “Are there any dirt roads in Canada?” Indeed, there are!

Riding up a very steep mountain on horseback to visit Majara Primary School. The village struggles to feed its people as there is not much land for farming. As usual we were welcomed with singing and dancing. A local councilor rode up with us, very concerned about the state of the school and seeking support from Help Lesotho. The tin roof had blown off and, although the villagers had done their best to patch it up, part of the school was unusable.

Visiting the Khanyane Pre-school, near Hlotse, where even the youngest children could sing the Lesotho National Anthem. When I got home, I quizzed both my English and Quebec school-age grandchildren, and none of them could sing their own national anthems!

As I went through the airport on my way home, I was asked by the checkout lady what I liked most about Lesotho. I said “the singing”. She replied “We do not sing because we are happy, but because it helps us to deal with all our problems.” As a singer myself, I understand this.

Many thanks to M’Peg and all the staff who make this well-run organization such an inspiration, and to the people of Lesotho for their gracious welcome!

2022 #4: Letters ‘from’ Lesotho (#139)

2022 #4: Letters ‘from’ Lesotho (#139)

Lumelang,

To my chagrin, I was absent for the graduation ceremony of the Leaders-in-Training (LIT) Program – again. I have written about it many times – the ‘best-clothes-possible’ attire (even the occasional evening gown; often traditional dress), the rehearsed performances of song, poetry and dance from the young people, the almost blinding glow of pride in their faces.

This is not an easy program – these wonderful young people have opened up infected wounds of abuse, neglect, fear, isolation. They have learned words to describe the intensity, anger, desperation and longing. We have 22 programs and all of our intensive programs have these graduations. For the young mothers, grannies, computer students, and herd boys, this might be the only graduation they have ever had. Chiefs and community leaders come. Each arrives with mixed feelings. They are so proud and look forward to receiving their special certificate, yet reluctant. They definitely do not want to leave their program. It has been a womb – safe, loving, healing and growing. (One of them stood up at the graduation and said: “I felt loved”). They will remember this time for the rest of their lives, knowing they were brave enough to face their demons and embrace behaviour change and healthy decision making.

I have a shameless pride and admiration for them. I know in the depths of my heart the risk they have taken to be known, and they never flinch. I have tears in my eyes as I write this. I missed the chance to tell them that and to tell them we expect them to go forward to share what they have learned with others and to make a real difference in their families and communities – not just now, but for the rest of their lives.

(Top Left) Herd Boy Graduation, (top right) Grandmother Graduation, (bottom left) Young Mother Graduation, (bottom right) LIT graduation.

As I was writing this, I saw an unsolicited post on LinkedIn from one of our interns, Katiso Motopi:

“One year ago today I graduated from the Leaders in Training (LIT) program at Help Lesotho. I wish everyone could go through this. It changes the whole way of seeing life. It was very entertaining and educational. I got a chance to reflect on my fears and challenges, shared my experiences and knowledge. I cried for the first time in 14 years, laughed and felt the healing through the powerful sessions. Since that day, I still strive to be a better person both professionally and personally, a better father, a better colleague, a better listener, a better psychosocial support provider and most importantly an agent of change. After my graduation, I was blessed to join the Professional Intern Program here as a Professional Psychosocial Support (PSS) Intern. This is the platform that I am still part of which is helping me to improve in my PSS provision and facilitation skills (to be continued).

The isolation of COVID has brought a whole new awareness of mental health and the need for psychosocial support to all of us. The lid is off the can. We need each other and now we know how much. From Day 1, 18 years ago, Help Lesotho has focused on this, developed its approaches and programs, trained our staff around improving mental health. I see the international development world finally realizing how central this is to social change. Unless people’s woundedness is acknowledged and healed, no amount of money or ‘stuff’ will make the long-term difference. Wounded people do not make good leaders. Emotionally damaged adults do not make good parents or teachers. Deeply insecure men do not stop bullying and domineering.

I have used a fair bit of my COVID-non-travelling time to improve our staff training in these areas. We need outstanding materials and training to maintain our expertise in this area. Other organizations come to us for this specialization because it is so hard to develop this kind of capacity. We developed the CHANGE4ce Program to leverage our experience, proven materials and staff talents to operationalize our strategic goal to train more organizations to deliver deeper, more meaningful psychosocial support (PSS). The need only increases. Our online learning platform now offers a fulsome 12-session Psychosocial Support Training Course (required for all our staff) and a 7-session Facilitator Certification Course with an extensive practicum (required for all our program staff). Each is multi-media with videos, readings, assessments, exercises, discussion groups and practical tools and assignments. Going down into the heart of human misery is difficult and requires knowledge, perspective, self-care and tender talent.

I share this as it is the thread that weaves itself throughout all of our work, approaches and relationships – whether staff, partner or beneficiary. This is the foundation on which we stand and from there people can learn, develop critical thinking and move on with their lives with confidence, autonomy and social responsibility. That is what brings about real social change – when enough people have the confidence and personal capacity to demand equality, justice and democracy.

To give you an idea of the impact, I include some quick quotes from the course graduates:

  • “I struggled when interacting with beneficiaries but now I am more confident in handling their painful experiences and circumstances.”
  • “It really helped me to grow personally as a father, husband and professional to be a better PSS provider.”
  • “It helped me to heal emotionally. Now I feel I have a big room full of emotional support tools for myself and others as I apply what I have learnt. It helped me improve my relationships with other staff and to feel confident that I have necessary skills to support others.”
  • “PSS is so complex. We need to master the skill of listening carefully, have a kind heart, empathy and respect for others. Beneficiaries receiving the right kind of PSS at the right time helps them to be resilient towards challenges they are faced with – to be assertive and become survivors.”

If we could train existing organizations, front-line service providers, such as police, development and health workers, and teachers to deliver their programs with greater compassion and comprehension of the underlying issues, maybe the pregnant girls would go to the health clinics, the community members would report sexual and domestic abuse, the children and women would feel safer, and youth would get more support. Hopefully, we will find funding to be able to provide this training for free to organizations that cannot afford it or have not yet valued such in-depth training for their staff. Wish us luck.

Those of you who follow our individual programs will know that this approach is central and has affected the lives of everyone who has come in contact with our Help Lesotho programs, staff and donors, such as these two young girls:

When one of our staff arrived at Mpati’s home, she fought back the tears. A young girl was fixing the pillow under her granny’s head. She is tasked with nursing her grandmother at an age when she should be playing with friends. Mpati is part of our grade seven Pearl Program, paid in part by the revenue from our pearl sales. The program care, skills, knowledge and self-awareness has given this child the commitment and capacity to do well at her school work, handle the housework and look after her grandmother.

15-year-old Pontso, a Pearl Program graduate, is an exemplar of the continued high rates of child-headed families. Many drop out of school to collect tins and metal to provide for their siblings who are also in school. Child-headed households perpetuate teenage pregnancy and face much discrimination. She has looked after her four siblings (the youngest is 18 months) since both her parents left to work in South Africa. Pontso starts at dawn to cook, do the laundry, and get herself and the other children ready for school. She was often late for the training sessions, yet her presence lit up the room as she actively engaged in discussions and activities. She used the little transportation money we gave her to buy essentials for her and her siblings and walked the distance home. Despite all this, she graduated from primary school in December 2021 with flying colours and is now in high school, through our child sponsorship program.

As I close, I want to respond to a few questions from readers about COVID-19 in Lesotho. I reached out to Tebello Sarele (read more about her here), one of our alumni who is a practicing pharmacist, to share some of the issues from her perspective. Tebello describes the misuse of drugs and traditional medicines to prevent or fight the infection, such as antibiotics, which absorb people’s precious funds and can cause liver and kidney damage. People have defaulted on getting their AIDS medication or drugs for chronic diseases (heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, etc) for fear of getting infected at the clinics. These conditions are now out of control. She highlights the myths and inadequate supervision for adverse reactions to COVID vaccines as a significant driver to vaccine hesitancy. She writes:

If I were to be given a chance anywhere, I would stand on the mountain and shout “The population of Basotho have a right to access quality pharmaceutical care”. This is what I would advocate for even in my sleep. As a Help Lesotho Alumni, I believe that I need to do what I can to make my country different, that I should be honest, transparent, and SERVE AS I LEAD. LEADERS NEVER GIVE UP!

Tebello

Each one of us – on staff, in the programs, on the board and in the families of those around us, thank you that you never give up either. The situation globally is truly depressing, but we are not helpless. We can be the steady help that changes lives and improves social justice. You are the ones who help us do it. Thank you!

Peg

P.S. Another good use of my time is catching up with you. If you would like to chat on the phone or go for a walk in Ottawa, send me an email. I would love that!

Click to read Letter #5 from 2022

Click to read Letter #1 from 2022
Click to read Letter #2 from 2022
Click to read Letter #3 from 2022

Click to read past Letters from Lesotho