Canadian grandmother honoured for work to promote mental health in Lesotho

Apr 17, 2023

Peg Herbert began a non-profit in her Ottawa basement that is now being recognized for impacting over 274,000 people in Lesotho.

Dr. Peg Herbert, a practicing counsellor and educational psychology lecturer at the University of Ottawa, upended her life in 2000 after meeting one of her students, a nun and school principal from Lesotho, the mountainous kingdom landlocked by South Africa.

“When I first learned about Lesotho, it was during the height of the AIDS crisis in Africa,” said Herbert. “Nearly an entire generation was lost in a matter of years, leaving behind an enormous cohort of children and youth.”

Herbert traveled to Lesotho in 2004 and experienced firsthand the impacts of HIV, poverty and gender-based violence, and the compound effects of depression, hopelessness and grief. Her background in social work, academia and counselling gave her a clear vision on how she could help.

“When people are equipped with coping strategies, decision-making skills and self-esteem, they can take the necessary steps to move forward through trauma and challenges”.

The mental health needs are significant, with Lesotho having the highest suicide rate Africa according to the World Bank. Herbert’s approach to providing psychosocial support as a means to building resilience was well ahead of the curve, with Global Affairs Canada’s feminist approach finally recognizing the pivotal strategy in 2021.

Herbert’s resulting efforts, in constant partnership and communication with community leaders, quickly became Canada’s largest nonprofit in Lesotho: Help Lesotho. An all-local staff of 45 work across six of Lesotho’s 10 districts building resilience, providing mental health support and delivering life skills education for adolescents, grandmothers caring for orphaned grandchildren, pregnant and nursing young mothers, herd boys, police officers, and community leaders.

King Letsie III honouring Peg Herbert with a special gift at Help Lesotho’s facility in Hlotse.

Peg with graduated of Help Lesotho leadership programs

At an event on March 17, 2023, more than 500 people gathered to celebrate Peg Herbert. Herbert is pictured with graduates of various Help Lesotho leadership programs.

Work celebrated by generations

Herbert is being honoured in both Canada and Lesotho in advance of her retirement as Executive Director, with Help Lesotho now in its 20th year. More than 1000 program alumni, international partners and community leaders attended the Lesotho celebrations in March 2023 to pay tribute to the multi-generational impact of Help Lesotho’s programming.

Herbert was recognized by Lesotho’s constitutional monarch, King Letsie III, on March 17; “Underpinning all Help Lesotho’s remarkable achievements is all the love and commitment that Mother Peg is known for,” said the King, speaking in Sesotho, outside one of Help Lesotho’s two community centres.

Herbert’s legacy lives on through Help Lesotho’s ongoing impact under the leadership of Executive Director Julia Thompson.

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