2022 #2: Letters ‘from’ Lesotho (#137)

2022 #2: Letters ‘from’ Lesotho (#137)

Lumelang,

When I take my first sip of coffee and start my day, it is already early afternoon in Lesotho. I open my emails with a moment of trepidation, knowing there will be many and that each one needs my careful attention

Mamoletsane Khati, Country Direcor

Even though ‘M’e Mamoletsane and I meet for a couple of hours weekly to share updates on the many issues we are facing and the opportunities we are chasing, there are always things that need immediate response. Some emails tell me of sad news of our beneficiaries. Others reveal the latest on the social-political issues in Lesotho from my newsfeed. There might be an issue with maintenance in our centres, a new report or story on the impact we are making – on an individual or on a group, a new request for proposals from UNICEF or UNFPA. My inbox is also the conveyer of the dearest messages from donors in support and encouragement. Every day has its surprises.

A recent email reported the reach of a special post on our Facebook page. It was one of the most popular posts we have ever had (over 7,000 views!) – about a man who has no Facebook account. Ntate Motsamai, our incredible driver, was awarded his Ten-Year Loyalty Plaque at a recent staff meeting. I so vividly remember hiring him. We had decided we needed a professional driver to transport staff to our outpost locations. I had done a lot of the driving myself over the years but no other program staff had a license, nor were confident to get one.

I hired Ntate Motsamai because he had been a long-haul truck driver and knew how to manage vehicle breakdowns in the mountains. He volunteered helping the vulnerable at his church, had a gaggle of children and wanted to work closer to them. He spoke little English then and was quite shy with me.

Over these many years, Ntate has transported thousands of pounds of goods to our beneficiaries and staff to the most rural sites you can imagine. When we have international guests, he and I drive in convoy. He treats our guests as royalty and they all end up loving him (many commented on the Facebook post). He helps the grannies, translates for me, makes our stressed-out young mothers laugh, and kicks a ball around with the herd boys. He and I have had so many adventures – and misadventures – together. Had I been in Lesotho, I would love to have given him this honour myself – with a huge hug. He is a very dear man – who is now famous!

As well as a gift, ‘M’e Mamoletsane took he and his wife to the (one and only) hotel for a nice lunch to celebrate.

Our fabulous head of finance, Lesley Griffiths, also celebrates her 5-year anniversary at Help Lesotho this week. Lesley was our auditor for 8 years prior to joining us, so she has been with us and our growth for much of our journey. She stewards the financial team and its accountability with expertise, the diligence of a pit-bull, and the passion of a forensic auditor. Our last five audits have been ‘clean’ with no suggestions for improvement.

One cannot overstate the value of loyal employees who care deeply for our beneficiaries and always put them first.

Since 2006, we have held our annual Leaders-in-Training (LIT) Program at this time of year. As usual, 65 carefully chosen young men and women between ages 19-27 are launched on an exploration of themselves and their ideas that will transform them forever.

I always look forward to the first morning – watching them come into the centre with a mixture of anticipation and apprehension, not knowing what to expect, hopeful something good will happen. I too am filled with hope that something beyond wonderful will happen for them – this is why we exist.

At the staff’s request, I conduct the first session of the program every year on self-awareness – the last two years by Zoom. Even with the awkwardness of a screen, masks and distance, their questions to me are filled with longing for guidance and care:

  • “’M’e, how can I learn to be confident, I am always afraid?”;
  • “’M’e, I want to make better decisions. Please tell me how”;
  • “’M’e, I am crying all the time, how can I learn to stop”.

One wants to just hold each one for a while and listen. They are desperate to know better; to do better. Our staff do an amazing job with all the love and care possible. Everyone grows, everyone loves the program. The participants develop amazing friendships, many of which last a lifetime.

As I write, our staff are playing a friendly soccer game vs. the LIT participants. Everyone is out cheering each other on! The match is ongoing, so no final score to report yet. Amid the heaviness of the world this week, I find comfort in seeing these young people having fun. 

I write about this program every year because it is central to our mission to: 1) help young people heal and grow to take personal and social responsibility and leadership; and 2) identify promising young leaders as candidates for Help Lesotho’s Professional Internship Program. I write about this every year because the need is extraordinary and pressing. Lesotho requires ethical, wise leaders more than anything. With the exception of two, all our program officers are graduates of this program as it forms the foundation of values, ethics, commitment to excellence, and compassion that is the life breath of Help Lesotho.

When ‘M’e ‘Mamoletsane sat in on the Grief and Loss session last week, it shook her to the core. The depth of their pain is unbelievable and it pours forth as an emotional avalanche the minute the dam is breached.

Our recent three-year evaluation of the program allows me to share a sample of the data collected through our participant feedback surveys. Their choice of most meaningful topics is consistently self-awareness, self-esteem, grief and loss, and communication. Perhaps the most stable and valuable measure of longitudinal impact is the unsolicited positive feedback and appreciation we receive from LIT alumni – even after 5, 10 years! The most common suggestion is that the program be longer and available to all youth in Lesotho! The full 2021 LIT evaluation, including impact stories, is available here.

You might also enjoy watching this video (about 12 minutes long) of two of our current Professional Interns, Lineo and Motopi, who participated in LIT in 2021. 

We have an abbreviated version of the LIT content in our Computer and Life Skills Program offered at both centres throughout the year. As well as life skills sessions, the participants learn the basics of word processing, spreadsheets and professional presentation. One of those morning emails shared this update:

Three of the young women in our current course, Pulane, Rorisang and Motena, are between 18-20 years of age and were friends before joining the program. When discussing the importance of building healthy friendships, they shared the challenges of being good friends to each other. Pulane teared as she described her feeling of being trapped between her two friends who fight almost every day.

They said they realized in the session on friendship that they never feel they belong and so they are too intense with each other – wanting someone to love them. They compete for approval and superiority at who is the smartest or the best looking. The girls said they understood their emotional needs better now and that their need for approval was bringing behaviour they were ashamed of now. They became aware that children in Lesotho rarely feel they belong or are accepted, especially when they are orphans or if they live by themselves at a young age, and that this is a reason why children don’t get along or do well at school. Often their friends are all they have and they now realize that if they fail to build healthy friendships, they find themselves in risky behaviours such as early pregnancy, early marriage and dropping out of school. They said that equipping the young people with knowledge and skills and these valuable lessons is the most important thing Help Lesotho has offered to them.

To conclude on some levity, you might enjoy this video – the two ladies are absolutely crazy and the footage of the beyond-rough roads and typical Basotho culture is wonderful. I have driven a huge white double cab Toyota Hilux pickup on exactly these roads for close to twenty years. Believe me, they were even worse back then!  If you watch to the end you will get a sense of some of the people I meet and the places I go! Enjoy.

Thank you to those who responded to the survey in the last letter. We all enjoyed reading your comments – and appreciate them.

Every day, we try anew. Everyone is important.

And, so are you! I hope you are able to get the hugs and laughs you need to manage this week.

Peg

Computer and Life Skills Impact Stories

Computer and Life Skills Impact Stories

 

 

MOLEMO

“I found out Help Lesotho offers Computer and Life Skills from a family member who graduated from it in 2016. He told me I would enjoy it very much just as he did but I think I even enjoyed it more.”

Molemo started working as a radio presenter soon after graduating from high school. He knew he needed to learn how to use a computer if he was going to be successful in his role.

Molemo enrolled in the program for the computer skills, but by the end of the session he realized that the life skills sessions had a huge impact on him, particularly the sessions on Effective Communication, Personality Inventory and Self-Esteem. He feels that he learned a lot from hearing his fellow participants share about their personal experiences.

“As a radio presenter I am going to do my job so well with the skills I acquired from the program as I interact with listeners and use a computer at the same time. I have been well equipped with skills of effective communication and factual knowledge about cancer and gender-related issues, which inspired me to select them as topics to explore in my shows and raise more awareness about them to people.

I want to applaud the warm welcome I got every day from Help Lesotho personnel from the security guards at the entrance all the way to the people facilitating. Even on the days I was in a bad mood, coming to Help Lesotho helped me cheer up.”

 

 

THAPELO

Thapelo knows that he has not always made the best decisions in his life. Until recently, he used to deal with the stress of conflicts in his family by using drugs and alcohol and engaging in risky behaviour. He joined the Computer and Life Skills Program and has completely turned his life around!

“Since I have joined this program, I have been able to make better informed decisions and my self confidence has improved. I can firmly stand for my actions and think sensibly about my decisions. Learning about goal setting opened my mindset to be a visionary, to set good goals and to put the work into achieving them. I have grown up, and I am grateful for this opportunity.”

 

 

RELEBOHILE

Relebohile had a good childhood until grade 11 when her father lost his job in the mines. From that point, her family struggled. She was so distracted she perform poorly on her final grade 12 exams. Her family could not afford for her to repeat the grade, so instead she left for South Africa in search of work.

In January 2020 she returned to Lesotho to celebrate Christmas with her family. She started seeing a local boy and found herself pregnant. They returned to South Africa together, but after the birth of her son the relationship deteriorated. Relebohile was depressed and overwhelmed about how her life became so difficult in only two years.

In early 2021, Relebohile bravely left her boyfriend behind in South Africa and returned to Lesotho with her son. A friend told her about Help Lesotho’s Computer and Life Skills Program and for the first time in a long time Relebohile felt a glimmer of hope for her future.

Relebohile’s favourite sessions were about communication, goal setting and role modeling.

“I learnt that having a child at a young age was not the end of my life. I can see that my life has changed, I learned to forgive, even my child’s father. I am on a healing journey now. I am ready to build a life that will be beneficial for me and my son by making better informed decisions.”

 

 

PAPALI

Papali first heard about Help Lesotho from her employer who is a former Help Lesotho employee.

“She encouraged me to come and register for computer and life skills and I have never been so grateful to her because I not only gained knowledge on computer skills but I also got my healing in the life skills sessions.”

She shared that the life skills sessions renewed her as she learned how and why it is important to express her feelings in a healthy way. The goal setting session reminded her of the goals she used to have, including studying nursing. Papali is now taking small steps towards applying for nursing school!

“The sessions made me to be a better person, but I am still yet to work on myself.”

2022 #1: Letters ‘from’ Lesotho (#136)

2022 #1: Letters ‘from’ Lesotho (#136)

My personal greetings to each one,

As this letter falls into your inbox, I wonder how you are. You would be surprised at how often I think of you – wondering how our donors are doing – seeing your names, wondering if you need help or a listening ear. We are all struggling to manage during this seemingly endless pandemic and we all need support. Thank you for your messages of encouragement and for remembering us and our beneficiaries when you have so much else on your mind.

I am grateful daily that my children and six grandchildren have remained healthy the past two years, as I have. We have all had a very long reminder about gratitude!

My plan to return to Lesotho in March or April is on hold until it is safe and reasonable to satisfy four different countries’ regulations to get there and back! I will go as soon as I feel it is a good idea. We have a lot of interest in the next donor trip so we will plan that when safety allows. In the meantime, I will once again publish my ‘Letters ‘from’ Lesotho’ on our usual schedule over the next couple months. 

As we move into our third year of COVID, I am often asked how it is to lead an international team at this distance. Firstly, I want to highlight that we are now an all-female-led organization as a result of some leadership changes last year. Besides myself and our finance managers in both Canada and Lesotho, we now have a new female Country Director in Lesotho and a female Chair of the Board. This is an amazingly committed and talented team, with whom I work closely and am deeply grateful for their leadership. I have asked our two new leaders to share some thoughts with you.

Last May, ‘M’e Mamoletsane Khati took over from our wonderful Country Director, Shadrack Mutembei, who helped build our organization in Lesotho for ten years. I love working with ‘M’e ‘Mamoletsane and know that she will continue to guide and grow the organization for years to come.  Many of you have met her already and I know those who haven’t yet, will want to. She writes:

“Since I joined Help Lesotho in August 2020, even throughout COVID, I have witnessed so much social change brought from our programs. Our dedicated, talented staff have persevered and still managed to be positive and effective. Working with such a selfless, committed team has developed in me so much humility and compassion for others. Our interventions continue to bring so much hopefulness and optimism to us all – staff and beneficiaries alike.

Mamoletsane Khati, Country Direcor

I hear often from community leadership, chiefs and councillors, and partners how our programs have improved their communities and their relationships with each other – even economic improvements!  Our grannies were truly dismayed during the shutdowns to miss their usual trainings, support and care. When they could meet again, they sang and ululated with sheer delight to be together and receive some relief packages. One teary, yet appreciative grandmother said; “Oa tseba ke tlohile hae ke sa tsebe na ke tlo khutla ke soka eng! Ke ne ke sena le ha e se e le phoofo feela. Empa hona joale kena le papa, le lijelello. Kea leboha Help Lesotho” loosely translated as “The children and I have been without food and now I will have good things to feed us. With my whole heart, I thank you, Help Lesotho.”

 

To our chagrin, our talented and beloved long-time board chair, John Graham, completed the maximum term of nine years on the board and retired in November 2021. I truly enjoyed working with John – he always had my back and remains a sage, faithful friend and supporter. Thankfully, Kathleen Lauder has taken up the mantle to guide us as our new chair. Kathleen was one of the very first people, with Sheryl Selwyn, who believed in this crazy vision I felt so compelled to do – even before my first trip to Lesotho. She has remained committed to our work and brings her own decades of experience in international development to our board. These photos were taken in Kathleen’s first of two trips to Lesotho (2006/2007) when we had no office, no staff, and almost no money! She lived in a hut in an extremely remote school.

Kathleen Lauder compilation in Lesotho

Kathleen writes: “It is an honour and a privilege to be the chair of the Help Lesotho Board. I met Peg in 2004, before her first trip to Lesotho to “see how she could help”. Since then, I have watched in awe as Help Lesotho was structured, life-changing programs developed and implemented, staff hired and trained, and individual and institutional donors come forward to support its enormous impact. It was a joy to pray those first steps of its development with Peg on ‘our’ bench on the Rideau River. Despite hosts of enormous obstacles, she and her team have stayed firmly focused on serving the Basotho.  In my trips to Lesotho in the early days, I saw firsthand how Basotho lives were transformed through Help Lesotho’s work. It is a marvel to me how Peg’s desire to “see how she could help” has resulted an organization identified by Imagine Canada as among the best governed NGOs in Canada, one which brings life-changing support to over 15,000 Basotho each year, and which is now training other organizations to improve their impact.  I look forward to a challenging, intensely rewarding journey as the new board chair and would love to hear from you, anytime.” 

 

Last month, we also welcomed a new board member from Toronto – our first remote member, Susan Richardson. Susan has been a longtime supporter who has twice experienced our work directly in Lesotho. She is a sought-after executive coach and a strong advocate for our work.

Susan Richardson compilation in Lesotho

Susan writes: “Although I have been a long-time supporter, yet as I reflect on my inspiring trips to Lesotho in 2017 and 2019, it is only during those trips, when I saw for myself the children, herd boys, grandmothers and the new mothers smile and dance as we arrived in the Help Lesotho truck, that I truly understood the incredible impact Help Lesotho has in the remote communities. That is why I decided to join the Board. I am honored to be joining the Board and look forward to meeting many of you, contributing as an advocate and support the organization today and as it continues to evolve”.

 

Leading this team remotely for two years has not diminished either my ability to remain informed or the organizational impact during the endless pivots and COVID constraints. My perennial goal is to build the kind of capacity in Lesotho that leads to progressive autonomy. As it has here, COVID has pushed our technical capacity to work together remotely. Luckily, we made a significant investment the previous year to improve our internet in Lesotho – it is still not great but it is better. Our staff in Lesotho are now more adept at and comfortable with various digital modes and apps for communication and efficiency. I am in touch with them daily through Zoom, Google Meet, WhatsApp and email. We completed a migration to Google Drive – which is free and productive. Some now have smart phones to capture better quality photos. I feel it has brought us closer. There are always opportunities in every challenge.

This increased broadband and capacity has allowed many more of our donors to ‘meet’ and talk with our staff in Lesotho through our Zoom events. It has been reciprocal and a blessing to them both. Our staff are deeply touched that our donors are so interested; our donors are deeply moved by the dedication, positive attitude and grace of our staff.

The proof in the pudding, so to speak, is that we were able to reach over 21,000 people last year – with your support. If you haven’t already looked through our Year in Review, I hope you will do so and feel encouraged that you are supporting an organization that is frugal, nimble and making an enormous difference to suffering people in a time of crisis. 94% of our revenue went to programs!

As I commence this series of five letters ‘from’ Lesotho, we wonder what you would like to hear about. I will be sharing the challenges and successes of our staff and beneficiaries but I would like you to tell me what you are most interested in by a quick click. Please take this 2-minute survey. I will ask the staff anything you like. If your question is not suitable for mass response – I will email you personally.

I do know that you wonder how COVID is affecting Lesotho. At this point, 43% have had one shot. Our staff were deemed an essential service and could thus get vaccinated early. Only one staff had COVID and he is fine. Unlike this time last year when so many were dying, the cases seem to be lighter, as they are here. We help arrange for beneficiaries to get their shots when possible. The photo of this young man on the left was taken last week in our out-of-school-boys program.

As well as rampant inflation, unemployment, depression and fear, Lesotho is again gripped by disastrous climate change conditions. This spring (September/October) started out so well – with enough rain to bring hope of a plentiful harvest. In the past few years, delayed precipitation prevented seeds from germinating. This year however, it is the opposite.

Starting in November, Lesotho experienced so much rain that roads have been washed out, gardens decimated, the Katse Dam overflowed, and food security increased dramatically – either drought or torrential rains!! In an agrarian society, this means crushed livelihoods and starvation.

Our beneficiaries need us and you are there.

Your support, encouragement, interest and care are the lifeblood of this organization and our gratitude is endless.

Be well my friends – grab onto what you can to bring joy to yourselves and others. Hopefully, we are near the end of this isolation and restriction.
I send you all a hug. I will write again soon.

Peg

Meet our 2021-2022 Grandmothers

Meet our 2021-2022 Grandmothers

200 grandmothers are enrolled in Help Lesotho’s Grandmother Support Program in 2021-2022. The grandmothers attend monthly life skills training days where they receive psychosocial support. In addition to the training, the grandmothers receive support items such as blankets, food parcels and solar lanterns. Below, meet five of the nkhonos (grandmothers) currently in the program. The interviews were conducted by Help Lesotho’s local staff shortly after the grandmothers received their solar lanterns.

Grandmother Support Program participant poses outside her home for a photo.

Seventy-two-year-old Nkhono Mapaki lives with her 2 grandchildren after their mother’s passing. She enjoys attending Help Lesotho’s monthly trainings because at the end of the day she sits with her grandchildren under the lantern light to share all that she has learnt. “The healthy versus unhealthy relationships session helped me to build a stronger relationship with my grandchildren and become a better communicator. I don’t have any access to electricity and we don’t see it happening anytime soon. The lantern has been greatly helpful because I don’t have to worry about buying the expensive paraffin anymore.”

Nkhono Malehlubi is raising two grandchildren. She said that she used to raise her voice at them but has since learned that using respectful words and being careful of the tone of her voice is more effective at getting her point across. She said there is now harmony in her home. “The lantern is a precious gift because I do not have electricity therefore has also saved me a lot of money from not having to purchase paraffin and candles but use the money for other basic needs.”

Grandmother Support Program participant poses in rural Lesotho for a photo.
Grandmother support program participant poses for a photo outside her home.

“Thank you Help Lesotho for fulfilling your promise and proving us with psychosocial support and bringing back our self-confidence. I was hesitant to participate in the grandmothers’ training because we had been given false hope in the longest time from other programs. Parenting has never felt so easy, raising my two grandchildren to my utmost best. I communicate better with them and see a massive improvement in their behaviour because of the skills I acquired from the trainings. I’m happy for the solar lanterns because my grandchildren will be able to do their school work with sufficient light.” – Nkhono Malineo, 82 years’

“The program was therapeutical because I had just lost my son to an accident. I had anger issues and could lash at anyone who came my way, but I was guided into understanding the consequences of my behaviour. My stress level is lowered and I find joy in sharing heartfelt conversations with the other grandmothers. Additionally, the solar lanterns is going bring greater joy in my family because we do not have electricity. – Nkhono Maleemisa, 61 years’

Grandmother Support Program participant poses for a photo outside of her home.
A participant of Help Lesotho's grandmother support program poses for a photo.

Nkhono Mamotebang lives in a household of 10 people, raising 8 of her grandchildren and her youngest daughter who is 18 years old. With the high rate of teenage pregnancy and early child marriage in Lesotho, she is worried for her daughter. The trainings thus far have helped guide her through many of her problems. She is using her self-esteem to stand up for her rights and uphold community leaders to their promises. “I have become more independent because I do not only rely on providing for my family through brewing traditional beer but also selling brooms and planting garden crops. The solar lanterns have come in handy because it is cost-effective and safe for the children to use when I am away from home. Thank you Help Lesotho.”

Founding Story

Founding Story

Help Lesotho founder Peg Herbert started the organization in 2004. Please read on for her story.

IT ALL BEGAN in 2000 with Sister Alice Mputsoe, a student from Lesotho in my graduate class in the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa, Canada.

I had never heard of her beautiful country. In our many discussions, Sr. Alice taught me about her people and their suffering from AIDS, poverty and famine. At that time, Lesotho was on the verge of extinction – people were dying, children were orphaned, villages were forgotten and families were destroyed. Her tale of such suffering haunted me for years.

In 2004, I visited Lesotho and was heartbroken at the misery. I traveled for weeks high into the mountains, held workshops for hundreds of teachers, talked to thousands of children, and met with local chiefs, government officials, and the King of Lesotho.

The courage and determination of the teachers and children was truly inspiring. I listened and learned what these amazing local heroes and youth felt would help their villages, schools and families. I was overwhelmed by the thought of these orphans, vulnerable children and their grandmother–caregivers feeling so alone and forgotten.

Although I had no prior experience in international development, my background in social work and educational psychology helped me to structure what I heard into culturally meaningful projects and programs delivered with kindness in the most sustainable ways. I was committed to providing the depth of psychosocial support that individuals need to deal with crushing poverty and despair.

As I began to tell the story to groups and colleagues, financial support initially came from friends, family, educators and neighbours. By 2005, the work was so extensive that I committed myself to it full-time – Help Lesotho was born. I spent three to four months each year in Lesotho deeply involved in program development and expansion. I held the grannies as they wept and listened to the children’s fears and hopes. Local staff were carefully recruited and trained to be effective and accountable. Community leaders and local partnerships were engaged on a village, district and national level.

Young people changed before my eyes as they thrived with the encouragement, education, personal development, kindness and support. I believe with all my heart that it is possible for these precious lives to be healthier, self-reliant and fulfilled because of the work we do.

Help Lesotho’s two community centres are especially wonderful places of hope. I stay committed to this country and this cause because I can see that our work is responsible, sustainable and locally valued. Our core priority of accountability ensures your funds are well directed, often several times over. I believe deeply in our local team and their incredible commitment to the work and the people we serve. Lives are changing and, while there is still a long way to go, Lesotho is coming back from the brink.

With the help of over 5000 donors from across Canada and in several other countries we have raised more than $20M and enabled Help Lesotho to deliver a highly-valued diversity of integrated programs to change thousands of lives annually.

It is a privilege to serve the people of Lesotho and to know our faithful donors. The work has changed lives among our donors too as they discover the joy of making a huge difference to individuals and communities and who believe as we do that it is possible to make sustainable change in Africa – one day at a time!

Peg

PS. To read more about the development of Help Lesotho, please read my ‘Letters from Lesotho‘!