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