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

2022 #3: Letters ‘from’ Lesotho (#138)

2022 #3: Letters ‘from’ Lesotho (#138)

Greetings,

I know you are as excited as I am at the advent of spring – it has not come too soon! I imagine you are planning gatherings and trips, hopeful to satisfy some of those longings. I am booked and looking forward to a hiking trip for a week in the Rockies in the first week of April – it has been so long …. I can’t wait!

I have so much to share in this letter that I will get right to it. Note that I am including two videos of our beneficiaries that are well-worth a few minutes of your time (about 11 minutes total running time).

Firstly, our staff have done a terrific Annual Report for 2021 (fiscal year ends June 30). It is quick, visual impact reporting on our work during a very challenging year. The financial charts on this page tell you exactly where your money has gone – https://helplesotho.org/financials/.

Young mothers in Lesotho in their training program

As you know, we have a vibrant program for pregnant girls and young mothers. One incredibly generous woman in Canada sponsors a major portion of the program and UNICEF another section so we can reach more girls. The program is holistic, dealing with pre- and post-natal issues, breastfeeding and nutrition, sexual and reproductive health, emotional challenges, conflict resolution, and managing the stigma of having babies so young. The girls also learn to start a small business in their villages. Over the years, the program’s reputation has grown so that UNICEF regularly uses it as an example in other countries and sponsored the production of this video which introduces you to these dear young woman as they speak for themselves.

The world just celebrated International Women’s Day. It is exciting to see the changes and concurrently disappointing to see the lack of progress. Our staff and beneficiaries honoured the day by striking the ‘Break the Bias’ pose!

As Help Lesotho evolves, we move fervently to scale up our program strategies to educate community leaders and members on their explicit responsibility to create the social change required for girls and women to be safe and part of decision making in all facets of life. Since 2016, our GIRL4ce Program has delivered the message through drama, song and poetry. Our community dialogues train herd boys to educate and communicate with their local councilors on their rights and the rights of girls and women. All beneficiaries are trained to speak up to the elders, mothers-in-law, teachers, parents, guardians and local leaders on their rights. The impact is significant and in the end, the community leaders are appreciative:

“We are so empowered as leaders, from now onwards we understand that we have power to influence for social change and can keep the momentum going within our societies to support people vulnerable to Gender Based Violence because indeed it happens in our villages.”

‘M’e Mafonea

“I was not aware of such a very important role of protecting the rights of women and girls as a politician. I have always been interested in political powers without realizing the responsibilities it comes with. Now I’m ready to make a difference in every corner of my community and those next to me.”

Ntate Keele

This scale-up includes increasing our programing for boys and men, for their own benefit, and as they are the usual perpetrators and conveyers of inequity. We have augmented the number of male participants from 20% to 35% over the past few years, despite our experience that donors are often reluctant to fund male programs. We have boys and men in various programs (Guys4Good for grade seven boys, the leadership programs and camps, sponsored children, Computer and Life Skills, GIRL4ce, for example). Funded almost entirely by another generous woman, the impact and reputation of our Herd Boy Program is significant. Some of these boys are as young as six when they start herding. One of the Chiefs in Berea, Ntate Mangana, said:

“Since the herd boys attended the program, there is a very huge positive change in their lives. Before Help Lesotho’s intervention, I attended to many criminal cases of herd boys who violated people especially, girls and women. Although I repeatedly tried involving the police to intervene, the situation remained the same. The herd boys were very cheeky and could not abide by any rules related to range management. This led to disputes between families and in some cases other people even lost their lives in such family fights that emanated from inability to solve conflicts harmoniously. In this community, most young men abuse drugs, especially marijuana which is easily accessible. The past two months, I noticed a change to most of the boys here. I’m glad to say that they have been so engaged in the community policing committee, they organised and participated in a soccer tournament focused on messages to do away with drugs. They aim to rebuild their lives and act as positive role models to their peers.”      

You definitely will want to watch this short video of these boys so far away and trying so hard to be good men. 

We piloted a program to combine the herd boys with the out-of-school boys in the same village. In many ways, both groups are idle, prone to depression and substance abuse with limited prospects for their futures, and are often the abusers of the girls around them. Alas, bringing the two groups together did not work. Each group has unique challenges, different education levels, and deeply ingrained biases towards the other. The groupings had such different attitudes and contexts that they could not communicate or support each other. We now run programs for each group so they get the support they need to safely explore their challenges, emotions, and hopes for the future.

As the mother of three sons and grandmother of four young lads, these fragile boys break my heart. They are so wounded, but they actually thrive when given the support, attention, empathy and time to heal from their insecurities and lack of knowledge. When they explore how these negative, abusive sub-cultures sabotage their relationships with their families and girls they long to partner with, they start opening up to growth and eagerly grasp at new ideas to become young men they can respect. One staff wrote: “The boys say they are no longer forcing their girls into sexual activities but are choosing to communicate and discuss consent because they want better relationships”. From our multitude of reports here is a sample from our staff, as the boys can now:

  • recognize peer pressure situations and have the skills necessary to resist it;
  • identify people they want to become friends with by sharing their values;
  • think for themselves rather than allowing others to make decisions for them;
  • identify their own self-esteem levels and strategies to boost their confidence and self-esteem;
  • understand the importance of self-talk, and that saying good words to themselves when they do not feel strong will help them to accept who they are and value themselves when others do not;
  • accept that dropping out of school was not a healthy decision and if given a chance to go back to school they would go;
  • understand the laws and acts protecting human rights in Lesotho, including that children actually have rights and should be protected against gender-based violence, being exploited, forced into marriage and denied an opportunity to go to school; and
  • realize that abduction and human trafficking are serious offenses, even abducting girls to be married, and that if they witness these things, they could also be found guilty.

Many of these boys do not know their HIV status as they are afraid to go to the clinics. We bring the health care providers to them, for testing and education about transmittable diseases, condoms, female reproduction etc.

Doing this math, if we helped close to 22,000 people last year, we reached over 7,700 boys and men. Multiply that by the number of years and we are reaching an enormous number of males with deep enough programing to create substantial social change.

And finally, I want to share this happy story. When COVID forced lockdowns, we were deeply concerned about the education and mental health of the children. Most have no real support, no books at home, often no table to study, light to read or educated parent to help. We were also concerned about our program alumni becoming depressed with all they have to cope with. We married the two concerns and called it ‘Limitless Horizons Volunteer Village Outreach’. Next week marks exactly one year since the project began.

In 2021 we had 96 alumni who volunteered 5,379 hours (av. 56 hours per volunteer) and reached 4,736 children (av. 49 children per volunteer). In 2022, just over half of the original volunteers continue their outreach activities and we are welcoming 30 new volunteers to the project this month. The alumni receive training in tutoring and basic listening skills to then work with children in their village to keep them motivated to learn and to provide basic psychosocial support. We have developed and distributed over 5,000 activity books, filled with COVID-19 education, math, literacy and science games and activities, motivational messages and coping strategies.

The project has been so successful that the guardians and parents have asked us to teach them how to better support the children in their education! Perhaps most rewarding is witnessing the pride the youth volunteers have in seeing their commitment to role modeling and helping others yield substantial impact. They are earning the respect of others in the community. They finally believe that they have what it takes to make a difference.

To learn more about the educational context in Lesotho right now you can check this out: https://reliefweb.int/report/lesotho/striving-build-better-future-children-through-education-lesotho

I sometimes struggle with what to include in these letters as there is so much to share, context to provide, people to thank and others to celebrate. In the course of a given series, I try to cover key areas but do let me know if you want special topics in either of the last two letters this season.

Be well my friends, embrace the day, know that you are appreciated.

If you will accept it, I send you a hug.

Peg

P.S. For those who are interested, this digital government of Lesotho flip brochure has lots of photos and information on various sectors. The font is small but you can enlarge any given page: https://heyzine.com/flip-book/a6669c2361.html

Click to read Letter #1 from 2022
Click to read Letter #2 from 2022
Click to read past Letters from Lesotho

Coffee with Peg and Mamoletsane Oct 14 2021

Coffee with Peg and Mamoletsane Oct 14 2021

Have you watched the latest Coffee with Peg and Mamoletsane? On October 14, Help Lesotho’s Founder and Executive Director, Dr. Peg Herbert, and Mme Mamoletsane Khati, Help Lesotho’s Country Director sat down for a virtual chat to discuss the latest on COVID-19 in Lesotho and the organization’s new project in South Africa. They were joined by two psychosocial support professional interns, Motopi and Lineo. Enjoy!

 

Watch previous Coffee with Peg videos:

International Women’s Day 2021 Speech

International Women’s Day 2021 Speech

International Women’s Day 2021: In honour of International Women’s Day (March 8), Dr. Peg Herbert gave a Zoom presentation to the ‘Women in Real Estate’ group from RE/MAX Hallmark about her experience with gender equity. Her talk focused on the importance of involving boys and men in the fight for gender equity. Peg shared inspiring examples from her work as Founder and Executive Director of ‘Help Lesotho’.