When Tsita finished primary school, his family could not afford the high school fees, so he became a herd boy, looking after cattle and sheep up in the high mountains.
From the age of 12 and for 14 years, he lived an isolated life, wandering the mountain sides, without education, support or socialization. When his village chief invited him to Help Lesotho’s Herd Boy Program, he jumped at the chance. This was the first opportunity he had ever had to better himself. During the six-month program, he never missed a Saturday class, soaking up every word and idea, despite being by far the oldest in the group.
When he completed the program, Tsita gave a speech to his community:
“My name is Tsita. I live in a little village in rural Lesotho. I was in Help Lesotho’s herd boy training. As herd boys we spend almost our entire lives looking after animals with no information about issues concerning us. The training has changed our lives—most especially mine.
Most of us were never told about issues surrounding HIV/AIDS, but the program helped us dispel all false information about it. We tested for HIV and screened for STIs for the first time ever. We learned about the importance of good health and hygiene. We believe that this is going to strengthen our relationship with other people out there who have been considering us as animals.
I used to be a perpetuator of violence against women. It seemed normal to us boys to beat and violate women’s rights because no one took any action against it. The issue of gender equity to me and my fellow colleagues was understood as a way of depriving us of our privileges and punishing us.
The training changed my whole thinking. Now we understand that women are human beings like us with the same rights and worth—just like us. Therefore, we as men should stop abusing women and girls. Ladies and gentlemen, gender equity doesn’t imply that men should be inferior but that both men and women should have equal opportunities and power in making decisions about their lives because they both have the same capability.
To all young men in Lesotho, please let’s join hands and empower our beloved women and girls. How are we expecting them to live when we mistreat them? They are our mothers, sisters and wives. Let us respect and honour them for the greatness they bring to our lives.
Now in my village, we have a committee of herd boys who are fighting hard to report cases of abuse. I am making a plea to every man in Lesotho to make it their assignment in their communities. We young men should work together to end violence against girls and women in any form.”
Three years after completing the program, Tsita continues to share what he learned and advocate against gender-based violence. During a conversation with Help Lesotho, he said the program changed him forever. He had been a harsh man, thoughtlessly abusing women sexually. He said that once he started the program he stopped completely and never did it again. To this day, whenever he sees a woman or girl being abused he either tries to stop it or he reports it.
He said that he learned how important it was to know his HIV status, to get tested regularly and to get treatment if required.
Tsita said that he tells people around his village that women must be respected and should never be abused because they have rights. He reported that because of the program, he became confident and can now express himself. Before that he had been so shy that he never spoke to others and could not express what was inside.
He said if it had not been for this program, he probably would have been in prison but now he will never go there because he knows how to do better.
He said that the donors who gave him this program must be very happy because his life will be better. He is a different man and he will make them proud.
With the onslaught of the global COVID-19 pandemic, Lesotho declared a lockdown on March 29, 2020, despite not having any confirmed cases at the time. The six-week lockdown compromised Lesotho’s already fragile social and economic support systems and caused major disruption to school, jobs, and Lesotho’s vital supply chain. The Basotho people were terrified of another viral pandemic when they are still in the midst of fighting HIV/AIDS.
By July 2020, Lesotho was among the last countries in the world to confirm a positive case. The number of cases quickly grew and the country imposed another lengthy lockdown and full border closure with South Africa. Testing numbers remained low and it became abundantly clear that the official data reported did not align with the on-the-ground reality of people falling ill.
For the next year, Lesotho would transition in and out of lockdown periods. Many students were out of school for more than a year. The uncertainty caused many businesses to fail. The official COVID-19 case count remained low. As of June 2022, there have been 34,000 infections and 699 deaths due to COVID-19 (according to the WHO).
Vaccines finally became available in August 2021 (countries like Canada were vaccinating in March 2021). The roll-out has been slow. As of June 2022, approximately 45% of the population has received one dose. Myths and misconceptions about the vaccine and its safety are rampant in Lesotho, further complicating the vaccination effort. All Help Lesotho staff were vaccinated in August 2021 thanks to their status as essential service providers.
Today, Lesotho is still struggling to overcome the consequences of the lockdowns. The pandemic exacerbated many prevalent issues such as gender-based violence (GBV), access to services for rural populations, and treatment of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Help Lesotho’s Response
As soon as Lesotho’s first lockdown began, Help Lesotho pivoted to continue providing support to our beneficiaries. Our community leadership centres closed down and all staff transitioned to working from home.
Staff spent weeks calling program participants to check in on them, provide factual COVID-19 information, and provide emotional support to people struggling with the stress and uncertainty.
“I would like to thank Help Lesotho because of its caring nature because nobody volunteers to check on us in the rural communities during this pandemic but only Help Lesotho do that.” – Mathab
These phone calls revealed that most people were deeply concerned about starvation as a result of the loss of income nearly all vulnerable families experienced during the lockdown. In response, our Caring4Caregivers’ initiative raised enough funds to provide more than 1,230 families (more than 5,000 people!) with a substantial food package including maize meal, cooking oil, sugar, salt, beans, lentils, fresh fruits and paraffin fuel. One village chief noted, “You reached the people who need this support more than anyone else. The package contained the items that were truly needed.”
The COVID-19 pandemic exasperated Lesotho’s already high rate of gender-based violence (GBV). With people forced to stay home in cramped spaces and mounting tensions from job loss and decreased income, many women experienced abuse. In response, Help Lesotho launched the ‘GBV Blitz’ to inundate people with the key message:
Using billboards, radio spots, newspaper ads, social media posts, paper handouts, in-person community engagements and compelling performances by GIRL4ce (Help Lesotho’s youth-led edu-tainment group), the GBV Blitz reached more than 70,000 people.
One of the biggest consequences of COVID-19 has been the missed school time for students. The vast majority of students do not have the technology – let alone the electricity – to do online supplemental learning. Help Lesotho initiated two new projects to help vulnerable students:
Imagine Graduation Campaign:
Donors stepped up in a big way to help 132 bright students who would be unable to graduate at the end of 2021 without paying the $190 CAD national exam fee. Their families are eternally grateful for the help after COVID-19 reduced their capacity to cover basic needs. The campaign ensured that all 132 students received self-directed workbooks to help them catch up on schooling missed during the lockdowns. The students also received psychosocial support and study resources. The students are graduating at the end of 2021 – just image what their futures hold!
After being out of school for so long, many primary students were struggling to remember even the simplest concepts such as their ABCs. Help Lesotho designed three levels of workbooks with fun and educational activities for primary students. The workbooks only require pencils and pencil crayons – both of which are provided by Help Lesotho. Thanks to funding from various partners and donors, Help Lesotho distributed more than 3,000 educational workbooks in 2021! In many rural villages, we also have alumni from Help Lesotho leadership programs volunteering as tutors. The alumni volunteers work with primary students on their workbooks and homework in addition to providing simple psychosocial support. We’ve seen tremendous results on all sides – alumni volunteers feel empowered as they see their value in helping others, students are feeling more confident about their school work, and parents and teachers are relieved that their students are finding learning fun once again!
As of August 2021, nearly all programs have resumed normal operations. Participants wear masks, wash their hands, and stay outdoors as much as possible. Help Lesotho continues to share information about COVID-19 and the vaccine at every opportunity. Program participants are given ample time to ask questions, clarify myths and develop strategies for managing their stress.
Overview: Annually, 60 youth participate in this intensive six-week program to foster behaviour change, build resilience, promote healthy decision-making and self-management and foster leadership in a new generation of young leaders in Lesotho. 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. Leaders-in-Training (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.
At the end of the 2021 program, 95% of participants assessed the program as ‘Excellent’ (5% as ‘Good’).Outcomes:
Outcome #1: Youth increase their resilience
Percent of participants who increased their confidence
Percent of participants who felt ‘very confident’ at the end of the program
I feel confident asking for help
I feel confident standing up for my rights
I feel confident making good decisions
I feelt confident setting goals and working towards them
I feel confident communicating my thoughts and emotions
I feel confident that others see me as a role model
I feel confident that others can rely on me for help
Outcome #2: Youth improve their knowledge and attitude toward HIV/AIDS and gender equity
All participants said they improved their knowledge and have a healthier attitude towards HIV/AIDS and gender equity (on average, 17% ‘agreed’ and 83% ‘strongly agreed’).
Participants reported these areas as the most significant changes:
Realizing that people with HIV can live long, healthy lives
Understanding that people in relationships (even marriages) still need sexual consent
Learning that there is no need to be scared of people with HIV – and that everyone has a role to fight against discrimination
Outcome #3: Youth learn skills and strategies to help their community and apply the strategies
96% of participants gained useful skills and knowledge
100% of participants are applying skills and knowledge from the program in their daily lives
100% of participants are applying skills and knowledge from the program to make positive changes in their communities
The skills and knowledge I have gained have changed my life. I now have self-esteem and I can make my own decisions regardless what others think about me.” I learned that I am actually a leader, but for the longest time I have eased my potential to exercise this particular skill. I am now in touch with my inner-self I understand myself better, my values and principles. I now want to continue with the skills I gained to empower and educate other people. I will bring positive change.”
Did you learn strategies to help make positive changes in your community?
If YES , are you applying these strategies?
Leaders-in-Training Participant Profiles:
“The opportunity I had with Help Lesotho’s ‘Leaders-in-Training’ program was a great chance for learning and professional development. I consider myself a very lucky individual as I was provided with an opportunity to be part of it. I am also grateful for having a chance to meet so many wonderful people and professionals who led me through this period.
The modules made me reflect on myself and people around me, how I handled challenging situations and dealt with them. I gained self-confidence and started respecting myself and be who I am again.
Modules like rape, sexual assault and domestic violence made me realize how women go through challenging matters and cannot even report because of lack of knowledge, the fear of being judged and self-blame. Now that I know better, I will raise awareness and make them see their worth and help them regain their self-confidence.
I perceive this opportunity as a big milestone in my career development. I will strive to use the gained skills and knowledge in the best possible way.” – Kelebone, 26
“My name is Lerotholi Edward Mota, aged 24. I have a diploma in teaching secondary sciences majoring in biology and chemistry and I am currently working as a private high school teacher. Both my parents are deceased and I live with my cousins and younger brother. I enrolled in Leadership in Training program from March to April 2021 with courage from a friend. From deep within as a person I never thought the program with its modules will bring the good out of me. The sessions helped me to unfold and I got to know the real me through the self-awareness, self-esteem and role model sessions.
I learned that our Basotho culture plays a huge role in making men bitter and cruel because they are not supposed to cry or express grief even over the loss of a loved one. All this anger is making our families more dangerous.
I want to help others, especially boys and men, to express their emotions and build better coping mechanisms.
As a young teacher dealing with children and teenagers, getting to interact with Help Lesotho staff and facilitators helped me boost my self-esteem, behaviour and personal traits that will help me to do my work with ease. The program helped me sharpen my communication skills and equipped me with skills in building healthy relationships. I am now able to know and take responsibility for my own decisions and take a clear stand for what I believe in.”
As part of the Help Lesotho’s 2nd GBV Blitz campaign in 2021, youth in Lesotho were encouraged to submit poems using the theme: What does it mean to ‘Do the Right Thing’ to stop gender-based violence in Lesotho?Read the two winning poems below! Each winner received a smart phone and will have their poems published in the national newspaper.
Afrika u hloretseng?
Ke hlorisitso ke hona ho hloka phomolo Bosiu le motseare tsebe li tletsee molumo Molumo o otlang pelo Seboko sa phohomela Poboli ea mehla Sello sa basali ba Afrika
Ba Ila basali ba Afrika ‘Mele e tletse metopahali le mabali Metoahali le mali Ekaba ba sentse kae basali?
Afrika theola moea mofumahali Ke o theola joang ho qhalahang mali? Serata ngoana ke seota ‘m’ae U le rate joang lesea u khakhatho ‘m’a lona? Lea etsa’ng masea lea amoha bophelo? Lea etsa’ng masea lea qhaqha lippeloana? Kana sello se ha le se utloe na? Ruri sa tsuonyana ha se hlomole phakoe.
Ho senyehile kae maapara-kobo? Ho senyehile kae majara-furu-ka-mahetla?
Tsohang banna ba Afrika Robelana tlhokou le fate litsebe Le tle le utloe le se utloelle
Thehang ke hona e be lethoethoe Nkang malebela ke le loma tsebe Hlobolang bohlorisi le apare bohlokomeli Nkang lihlomo tsa lona le eme moleng oa ntoa Le loanele mafumqhali le lese ho a loantsa Sireletsang masea le nene ho a siteloa
Tsohang banna ba mobu oa selokoe Haba se bolokoe Haba se bolokoa ke hona ho sireletsa mafumahali
Tooana tse mesana, matsoara-thipa-ka-bohaleng Ha o baballow mobu peo e tle e behe ha lehholo Baballang basali le bana Ho tloha molokong ona ho isa ho ee lekholo
Nka be ke re ‘ea khaola ea ea’ Empa ha e khaole Kajeno E Kobile Hlooho, e laba-labela khotso Khotso Khaitse ea Moshoashoaila.
A war that can be won
Brutality has won the war against our women and children Violence runs its course in the ruins of our homes
When will it end? Men, when will we stop? Have we not shed enough blood? Have we not caused enough death?
Moshoeshoe tsoha fatshe lea timela Moshoeshoe tsoha barali ba Basotho baa fela Demoralised by the very warriors of our land Lord lord? Carest thou not that we perish?
What has this world come to? For the men who are to protect us Are the very first to abuse us Who can we turn to? Who can hear our pleads? Our mountains are filled with the cries of our mothers, sisters and daughters
And if you say “but it’s not me” then you are part of the problem You see it, you call it out, Not saying it is as bad as advocating for it
I am tired I am tired of being part of a virus that decimates the very species that gives life to the world we live in All they want to do is grab, hit, and smash I am tired
This has to stop We need to stand tall We are the voice of the voiceless
Let us come together as one to fight against the abuse of our women and children One heart One voice One goal We can win this war.
This is my 5th and final Letter ‘from’ Lesotho of 2021. I hope you are well in this protracted suspended animation we are experiencing. I am reading ‘The Plague’ by Albert Camus. The parallels are incredible and generate reflection on how idiosyncratically we are handling this unprecedented experience in our own lives. It has been enough time for major events to have left us without closure or condolence. In my life, the normal rhythm of being in Lesotho to truly ‘touch’ our staff and their work, my mother’s passing and the birth of my youngest grandchild have each affected me deeply. The isolation has given me premonitions of old age or serious illness. I long to have the chance to be available for my neighbours, friends and family and those who need a listening ear. My mental list of what I will do post-COVID is remarkably simple.
As this will be my final 2021 Letter ‘from’ Lesotho, there is much to share.
It was so special to see so many of you (on Zoom!) on Tuesday to hear from our Program Manager, Ntate Sello, about our programs for boys and men. You may remember the stories in my previous Letters, especially the exciting adventure of one of our herd boys traveling to Germany to share about the Herd Boy Program. The increasing interest in this work with boys and men is exciting because it is the real key to gender equity. We recorded the conversation so you can listen to my chat with Ntate Sello and ‘M’e Mamoletsane about how we tackle behavioural change with boys and men and about what new initiatives we are working on.
I asked Ntate Sello to tell us a bit more about himself.
“I grew up with my younger sister and my parents. Unlike most of the boys in Lesotho who drop out of school at an early age for herding animals, I was fortunate to attend school and herd animals during the weekends and after school hours. As the elder boy in the family, I had to find ways to provide for my family and I felt I was a deputy father to them. I found it very tough. I did not get a chance to play much with other children because I had to do my studies during the night because of my family duties. It was like that until I was admitted to a university in South Africa where I enrolled in Engineering. I was broken hearted when I had to come home before the end of my first year because my parents could not pay for the tuition fees. I did enroll in the National University of Lesotho for a BA in Social Work in 2007. A few months before my final year exams in 2012, I lost my father but still managed to graduate with my degree. Despite the degree, I felt hopeless and struggling to provide for my sibling and mother. Because of a friend’s insistence, I enrolled in the Leadership in Training Program at Help Lesotho in January 2013. I had never heard of the organization. Those two months changed my life forever. I got an opportunity to become a professional intern and was nominated several times to represent Basotho youth in international forums in numerous countries. Before the year was out, I was offered a program officer position to focus on herd boys and other male-oriented programs. All these brought a wider perspective to more learning and application of skills I have acquired over the past years. Today I am in charge of a number of programs including herd boys and donor funded projects. I was thrilled to talk to our donors on the Zoom on Tuesday. Thank you for that opportunity. I am so proud of the young men we help.” – Sello
‘M’e Mampaka, our Senior Grandmother Officer, just returned from Thaba Tseka and her visit to our grannies there. Although it is only fall, the nights become terribly cold for these dear souls. She told me that: “Grandmothers could not stop thanking Help Lesotho so much for the support to them. Because of donors to this program, we were able to give them masks, blankets and healthy meals for 4 days. They have had such a hard time during this long COVID period.”
The schools in Lesotho have finally re-opened! Primary students have been sitting home for over a year. My educator heart breaks to think of these children missing fundamental development and learning opportunities during such formative years. Many of the little ones have had no chance at all to learn to read or write, and there is no one at home who can help. The youngest ones barely remember going to school at all, let alone anything they previously learned. We are providing masks and sanitizer to help rural primary schools resume safely.
During the lockdown in early 2021, we piloted a program for our Professional Interns to work with children in their community. Rather than children coming to our Centres, we went to them to do simple educational activities and share information about COVID-19. That initiative has now expanded to include 40 youth who previously completed a Help Lesotho program. These alumni applied and were selected as volunteers to help children in their communities through tutoring, educational games, story times, and psychosocial support.
Each volunteer received a backpack filled with three levels of primary activity booklets, pencils and pencil crayons, COVID-19 information sheets, a COVID-19 children’s story, and simple resources they can use to provide psychosocial support to children (mostly just asking questions and actively listening). The alumni received training on how to interact with children safely and are equipped with sanitizer and extra masks. In the first week alone, these fine and most willing youth reached 476 children!!! To say these children are craving stimulation is an understatement! One villager shared:
“This is a brilliant idea. The pandemic has actually affected our children’s education. Help Lesotho with its Alumni Volunteers is doing a marvellous work. We are so grateful as we are not teachers and do not know how to help them.”
At the high school level, the changes to the educational system are so reactive that it is difficult to follow. To make the impact of COVID-19 even more challenging, Lesotho is in the process of changing high school from a 5-year to a 4-year program. Students will graduate after grade 11. Some schools are choosing to advance students to the next grade now, despite them loosing an entire year of education. Our Child Sponsors have been amazingly patient and supportive as we navigate the myriad of challenges. As expected, but heartbreaking nonetheless, we lost several female students to early marriage. We can only hope that the education and coping strategies they previously learned will help them make healthy decisions for themselves and their families in the future. Our communication with students and schools over the past weeks has highlighted an area of significant need – and we need your help to address it.
Next week, we will kickoff our spring campaign, focused on raising funds to help as many students as we can graduate from high school in December. These students have a very short runway to overcome an entire year without teaching or learning. Their families or caregivers are expected to find the $190 CAD to pay for the exam fees at a time when they are the least able, given that COVID-19 deprived them of any chance to earn money and the cost of essential goods have risen significantly.
If you are already keen to help these students and give the campaign a jump-start, here is the link.
In addition to the staggering demands of constant pivots due to COVID, our organization is undergoing a significant number of changes. Our fabulous Country Director, Shadrack Mutembei, officially leaves Help Lesotho at the end of the month after ten incredibly successful years. We will all miss him dearly. Our new Country Director, ‘Mamoletsane Khati, officially takes over – for which we are so grateful. In Canada, our Donor Relations Manager, Marlene Caicco, and her family are leaving us after 4.5 years to move to South Africa to do direct development work. I know many of you have grown fond of Marlene and will miss her compassionate communications, as we all will. We have hired Zara Jennings to start mid-May, a talented young woman for the position so you will have a chance to meet her over the next months. You will be delighted to know Kate Lambert has been promoted to Director in recognition of her valuable contributions to the workings of Help Lesotho. In addition, we have two new board members, Zaida Bastos and Shola Iyoho, who will add a huge amount of African program experience to our governance. And finally, we are doing a complete overhaul of our human resources materials and processes and a total review of all our programming content. This ‘refresh’ is a huge amount of work but will set us up in many ways for increased capacity to help more people, in ever deeper ways. You, as our donors, are so supportive that we feel we can tackle these strategic initiatives and adjust to the changes with your encouragement. I hope you will visit our website to meet our team and our new board members.
In closing, I want to thank you for following along with me on these letters, even though I was unable to be in Lesotho this year. The readership has been enormous and it makes us all proud that you care so much to know what is happening. Our ‘Coffee with Peg’ Zoom series with Lesotho staff, our United in Prayer, your notes and emails have kept us connected and perhaps, even drawn us closer together. We are touched and invigorated by your trust. Twelve months ago I made numerous hypothetical projections, not knowing how we would manage during this pandemic. Because of your faithful support – we are doing OK and continue to help thousands of people. It is a remarkable story of the goodness of people’s hearts in such an uncertain time. We don’t know what the future holds but we do know that together, we are doing something really special.
I send each of you a hug – and would love nothing more than to sit down with you for a glass of wine or coffee to spend time with you.