Welcome, Julia Thompson, Executive Director

Welcome, Julia Thompson, Executive Director

On behalf of the Help Lesotho Board of Directors, Peg Herbert and I are delighted to announce the appointment of Julia Thompson as Executive Director of Help Lesotho.

Julia brings to this position extensive experience of working in development contexts in Southern Africa and Canada. Julia’s demonstrated leadership, her experience as an Executive Director of a not-for-profit in South Africa, her work as both an educator and administrator in the international development context, equip her well to guide Help Lesotho into the future: a future of growing impact and increased resilience for beneficiaries in Lesotho and beyond. Please find a short biography below.

Peg will be wrapping up her many years of contribution until the end of April. She will be honoured and celebrated in March in Lesotho, and there will be opportunities to see her in Canada in April.

Kathleen Lauder
Board Chair, Help Lesotho

“I am so excited to have joined this amazing team, to participate in the important work of Help Lesotho. Thank you Peg and Board Chair Kathleen Lauder for the warm welcome. I look forward to learning ahead and supporting the ongoing health and strength of Help Lesotho’s beneficiaries and staff.” – Julia Thompson

Meet Julia

Julia Thompson has more than 25 years’ experience working in international development across three continents; in education and capacity building, and as a professional responsible for program delivery and financial oversight.

As the first CEO of Common Purpose South Africa a leadership NGO, programs brought together senior decision makers from across the sectors to experience and engage with capacity building and thought leadership on issues as far ranging as social and restorative justice, and gender and environmental change

Prior to this Julia worked with land claiming communities in South Africa with TRAC (the Rural Action Committee), and lead organisational development and facilitation work with women’s organizations and the co-operative movement in South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Managing for years, the International Program for Development Evaluation Training (IPDET), a flagship training initiative of the World Bank and Carleton University (building evaluation skills for development professionals), Julia led the program administration and delivery in complex environment.

Julia has an MSc in Social Policy and Planning from the London School of Economics and an honours BA in International Development Studies from University of Toronto.

Julia grew up in East and Southern Africa (Kenya, Malawi, Uganda, Lesotho and Swaziland). She now lives in Ottawa, Canada and is a proud mother of her son.

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.”

Mats'epo

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!