2020: Letters from Lesotho #5

2020: Letters from Lesotho #5

Lumelang,

As I write my last letter about my time in Lesotho in 2020, I am conscious of the juxtaposition we are all experiencing of incredible gratitude for every good thing in our lives and our multi-faceted anxiety for our friends, families, colleagues and global neighbours.

This blog post contains a number of different elements:

  1. CURRENT SITUATION in Lesotho;
  2. OUR RESPONSE update;
  3. MY TIME IN LESOTHO; and
  4. A concluding, very sweet letter a special volunteer wrote to you all.

Thank you for caring about our work when you have so much else on your minds. We appreciate it more than you know.


CURRENT SITUATION

April 13, the government of Lesotho released a plan to infuse money and support into the fragile economy which includes some food relief, small businesses support and some fee relief. How this will roll out is yet to be determined.

The heaviest burdens are fear, famine, gender-based violence and total loss of income. To date, there are still no confirmed cases of the virus. That said, only last Thursday a new lab opened to give the country its first capacity to actually test, financed by a mining millionaire from Lesotho, Sam Matekane. You may have read about the Canadian company, Spartan, that developed quick tests for COVID-19 with results within an hour. This type of testing has been used successfully in Africa for HIV for a decade so hopefully this will be available for African countries soon. It could make all the difference.

Winter is coming – as the nights get longer and colder, the need for kerosene, propane, candles, etc. increases rapidly.How the Basotho hate the cold! There are massive lineups in towns for such purchases. One wonders how it will ever be possible for our beneficiaries to secure such supplies or even pay for them.

Winter in the Mountain Kingdom. Photo credit:https://www.flickr.com/photos/lesotho/7165832201/

OUR RESPONSE

  • The granny food parcel drops went well and the grannies were in tears of appreciation. Many grandmothers have no phones or means of connecting with the world.
  • As mentioned in my last letter, our staff were mobilized immediately to deliver remote psychosocial support to our past and present beneficiaries. In the last two weeks, they have already connected with hundreds of beneficiaries who were deeply moved that Help Lesotho had not abandoned them at this time of crisis. They have shared some feedback from their conversations:
    • Most report high levels of stress. Their ability to earn even a little income has abruptly stopped – no work; no pay. Women have lost the little they make washing clothes or working in the now-closed factories, no buyers for the market/street vendors, etc. They ask how they will eat when there is no money;
    • Police are severely patrolling so people fear going out even for essential reasons such as fetching water, checking on neighbours or visiting the health clinics. Many lack the understanding of why the police are patrolling and are scared;
    • Those without radios or phones are highly susceptible to confusion, myths and misinformation. Those who have access to radio are better informed;
    • Many people are unreachable because their phones have run out of data, or solar chargers don’t work on cloudy days, or those villages high up in the mountains have no service;
    • HIV positive people know that they are at much greater risk but many are not going to the clinic to get their ARV drugs, on which their lives depend, for fear of the police patrols or because they do not have the transport money;
    • Community conflict is increasing between the informed and the uninformed (practicing physical distancing vs not);
    • Many girls and women, especially our young mothers, are stressed by the sexual pressures of male partners, especially those who recently returned from South Africa and are not self-isolating;
    • Our herd boys have no information. If they have cell phones at all, they can only talk in the evening as the phones are charging during the day. They are so happy someone cares to know how they are;
    • Some believe this is the end of the world. “There’s nothing we can do about it.” “We are all going to die”.
    • Our trained young alumni leaders are fairly well informed and trying their best to share our information sheets and facts with their communities and to engage the deniers; and
    • Without consistent, fact-based information, many youth, including some of our grade seven and eight Pearl Girls and Guys4Good, continue to socialize.
  • We are investigating:
    • How we can access more washable sanitary kits as this is an increasing issue for obvious reasons; and
    • How we can help get food and airtime to beneficiaries in remote areas.

MY TIME IN LESOTHO

I left off telling you about the trip to Thaba Tseka with our donors. We really did have a marvelous meeting with the grannies and herd boys in their village. One of my great joys now is seeing the impact of our programs on the relationships between people.

[Staff translation]: When she was too young to remember them, her parents passed on. Her relatives deserted her and her three brothers, leaving these little ones to survive by begging for millie meal from the neighbours. At 15, she eloped, hoping for a new life. When her dear older brother passed, she became the sole supporter, just when her husband returned from his piece work in South Africa seriously ill. No income at all.

Dealing with AIDS and all that entails, she did get a chance – when she was selected for our Young Mother Program and its starter packs. Despite endless effort, her new found ability to provide for herself, her baby, her ill-husband and her younger brothers vanished when her youngest brother was attacked for refusing to go to initiation school. She overcame all this and built a successful little business with her starter money. A remarkable achievement. With her meagre income, she also cares for her cousin and her two children.

“The support I got from Help Lesotho facilitators, my peers and our support network made me a leader, made me feel loved and responsible. My little business now lets me buy food for my family and little brothers. Sadly, I had to use all my starter pack money for transport to take my little brother to hospital and then to the police station to report the case to the police. Due to a lot of responsibilities I am facing as a young woman, it is not easy at all, but I learnt a lot from Resilience and Relationships Modules which aided me to keep my family intact with all the troubles. It was hard at first to express how I feel to my husband, but now I do it with ease, and he is very supportive of me. He also went to the partners meeting which all Young Mothers partners were invited. After that meetings I saw a huge improvement on how he treats me compared to before.” – Makarabelo

Of course, now we worry what has happened to them during this lockdown. No one buys.

It was good to visit Majara School and the new classrooms Help Lesotho is building with funds from one of our previous trip guests and fundraising for furniture by Turnbull School.It is almost finished but I am anxious that the second half of the roof gets completed before the winter sets in. Everything has stopped with COVID-19.

We just launched a new program called Guys4Good, to mirror the Pearl Program for grade seven and eight girls. Unfortunately, the program started a week before the shutdown but will enthusiastically resume at the first opportunity.

The program’s supervisor, Mme Thato Letsela writes:

March 14 we had orientation training for 51 Guys4Good boys and 44 of their guardians. The latter turned up in larger numbers than expected, curious to see what a boys’ program looks like! It was sad to see how little these guardians knew about issues affecting boys. They confessed never discussing issues with them, thinking they were too young. They felt contributing to the boys’ learning was not their responsibility, but rather that of their teachers and Help Lesotho. At the mention of sexual and reproductive health, they were visibly uncomfortable. Through the discussions, they began to understand the relationship between their participation in their children’s learning and growth and the boys’ ability to make healthy decisions as they grow older. The idea of role modelling was totally new to them as well, to realize that the boys will copy their behaviour and that if they beat and insult their partners, the boys will too. They were shocked to realize that they had not been the kind of role models their boys need and had to accept blame if they did not behave. Some male guardians asked to be included in choosing the topics the boys would discuss and even help facilitate some.
After their guardians left, the very popular Self-esteem session with Mme Hlalefo provided a novel opportunity for self-reflection and discussions on positive self-talk. The boys enjoyed calling themselves Guys4good during the session as they felt honoured to have been the selected few to participate in the program.

That Saturday, March 14th, at the same time as these revelations were going on in one room, a Computer and Life Skills program in another, and forty hours before I slipped out of Lesotho in the night, there were 130 children at the Hlotse Centre playing basketball, soccer, puzzles, monopoly, chess, hoola hoops, watching an educational video, and playing on the swings! There is nothing better than hearing the sweet voices and laughter of such a large gathering of children!

As I close, I will mention the obvious – we still need your support! Thank you to all those who have already donated, and thank you in advance to those who plan to do so soon. If you can help, we would be grateful.

This is the season in our lives when our values and habits define us. How we react in a crisis is both a test and an opportunity. We are reaching out to as many of our supporters and beneficiaries as we possibly can. Because we care about you – not just as a donor – but as a treasured friend. Please let us know if we can help. We will continue to keep you updated. Hope to ‘see’ you at ‘Coffee with Peg’ on the 22nd.

One of our dear supporters asked me if he could write to you all. I am sure you will find this note from Merdon as touching as we did.

Thank you for reading this letter, for caring and for walking with us through this storm.

Fondly,

Peg


Dear Fellow Help Lesotho Supporter,
 
These very trying times bring into vivid focus the importance of recognizing what is important to you and recognizing the people who help make what you value possible. Help Lesotho is one of the things that is very important to me. 
 
I have been a monthly financial supporter and weekly volunteer for Help Lesotho for 14 years. I have had the privilege of watching this special organization blossom into a world class charity. Continuing to support the work of Help Lesotho is very special part of my life. It is incredible to see how many of my follow supporters continue to be with me year after year. I have seen firsthand the impact that your faithful support has had in Help Lesotho’s success as an organization and the vital services that they provide to the people of Lesotho and for that I would like to express to you my heartfelt thanks. 
 
It is difficult not to worry about the financial impact this pandemic will have on Help Lesotho’s funding and their work in this very vulnerable country. If Lesotho is not somehow spared the effects of this virus, the potential loss of life could be devastating. The work that we support in Lesotho will be more important than ever. I fear that this pandemic is going to severely impact one time donations. I have been blessed to not have been impacted financially. So as a monthly donor I am digging a little deeper and increasing my monthly donation. 
 
Thank you again for your continued support of Help Lesotho.
I pray that you stay safe and are spared from the effects of this pandemic. 
 
Best regards, 
Merdon Hosking

Read Letter #4

Read Previous 2020 Letters from Lesotho

2020: Letters from Lesotho #4

2020: Letters from Lesotho #4

Greetings from my isolation to yours,

I am nearing the end of my total-isolation period after returning from Lesotho and am so looking forward to going for a walk!

I hope you are well and managing during this stressful period. You would be surprised at how much we think of our individual donors – always mindful of your role in our story.

If you did not receive my last epistle outlining my harrowing trip home and the situation as I left it – you can access it here. I was deeply touched by your many messages of care, thank you. Please forgive me if I have not answered yet. I will soon, once we have things in place.

I had originally planned to send this letter two weeks ago from Lesotho. So much has changed in these last two weeks…but I still want to tell you about the people I met in my daily activities there. Before I continue with my Letter, you might appreciate an update about what Help Lesotho is doing to mitigate this crisis in Lesotho.

CURRENT SITUATION: To date, there are no identified COVID-19 cases in the country but I am sure that is due to the lack of testing. Tests have to be sent to South Africa to get the results. The country is on lockdown from April 1 for three weeks with Basotho living in South Africa prohibited from coming home, a measure that will significantly reduce the transmission of the virus and hopefully some domestic violence. Last Friday, a shipment of test kits arrived, complements of a Chinese billionaire.  People are terrified, burdened with the still open wounds from the horrors of the AIDS pandemic. Among the salient factors are inadequate national health services, small crowded homes, loss of jobs in an abject poverty context, increases in isolation, domestic violence, and sex-trade activities for girls and women who cannot feed themselves or their children, virus myths and misinformation, and the fear of death of those with severely compromised immune systems.

OUR RESPONSE: Our staff inCanada and Lesotho have been working feverishly to prepare programs and processes that will support our program graduates and current beneficiaries. Our expertise in delivering the kind of psychosocial support our beneficiaries need most gives us an important opportunity to reach people who will most likely get no other support. It is essential to roll out our initiatives immediately to avoid the debilitating discrimination, stigmatization and myth culture that surrounded the first decade the AIDS pandemic. Our strategies will help thousands of people – directly to those beneficiaries we can reach, their families and neighbours. Some of the measures we have put in place in the past three weeks include:

  1. Distributing food parcels, including extra soap, to our grandmothers in Berea and Pitseng last weekend just before the lockdown;
  2. Developing a simple Sesotho information sheet on COVID-19;
  3. Developing and operationalizing a communications plan and supporting materials through which our program staff are reaching out to deliver psychosocial support to strengthen the hundreds of village support networks we have developed over the last decade;
  4. Mechanisms to provide staff with airtime to hotspot their computers as none have internet at home to work remotely;
  5. Set up WhatsApp groups of thousands of beneficiaries for positive messaging, information sharing and crisis management;
  6. Refreshing our beneficiary database of 3,000+ cell phone contacts, identifying the most vulnerable in each program group for priority contacting and schedules of contacts by phone, text, etc. These are adapted to those who have smart phones, non-smart phones (no apps) and those who have no phones, radios or other forms of information or who are illiterate. The latter group includes many of our grandmothers. For these individuals, we will try to reach their relatives;
  7. Developing and operationalizing messaging for staff to manage these communications, including phone scripts, Q&As on the virus, strategies for handling stress, fear, depression, communicating with children, and domestic communications under stress. We want to identify those households that may be perilous for girls and women as domestic violence tends to increase under stress; and
  8. Sending all staff home with large quantities of COVID-19 information sheets, one pagers on various issues (human trafficking, HIV/AIDS, anger management, communication, decision making, peer pressure, etc.), our booklets on pre-and post-natal care, sexual and reproductive health, etc. We have printed thousands of copies and each staff will use them as references and will distribute them (while practicing social distancing). The guard houses at each Centre have copies to freely give out.

With your help we can leverage the expertise, trust, stability and continuity we have built over the last 16 years to be a significant part of the current response and eventually the recovery process once this crisis has passed.

HOW YOU CAN HELP: Thank you for the many offers, here are some suggestions:

  • Help us with our cash flow: After building up this organization from nothing, we want to preserve and support our highly trained staff over this difficult period, who have no government support benefits such as unemployment insurance or government bailouts. If you can help us continue to keep paying our local staff and keeping the lights on, it would be most appreciated. Of course, all our budgeted spring fundraising events and plans are now aborted. We appreciate a one-time donation but if you feel you can start a monthly donation, this will give us the predictable revenue needed to enable us to continue planning our interventions for the immediate and long term periods.
  • Help us show our gratitude: One hugely impactful factor for our stability over this period is the donated Canadian office space from Hallmark RE/MAX Ottawa. Not having the burden of rent to pay is a tremendous relief. Would you write the owner, Ken McLachlan, and thank him?  ken@remaxhallmark.com. We are so truly grateful.
  • Encourage our staff and beneficiaries: If you would like to write a note of appreciate or support to our beneficiaries and/or staff, please do – it would mean the world to them. You can send that to info@helplesotho.org and we will distribute.

MY TIME IN LESOTHO

A teaser: although I am not yet at liberty to name the person, we had a surprise visit from a very famous celebrity ambassador who came to spend half a day with our young mothers. Had I known, I would have changed my blouse!!! Once we get the go-ahead- from the publicity people, I will tell you who. That said, the person was so impressed and touched by the conversations with our pregnant girls and young mothers, asked a lot of questions and seemed genuinely moved.

Our donor trip guests visited our grandmothers and young mothers in Berea. The grannies all came in regalia – Seshoeshoe and their colourful blankets. As the grannies shared about their lives, we became tearful by the story of one Nkhono (grandmother) who had birthed 11 children and now looks after 17 grandchildren. Even by Lesotho standards this is extreme. Some of her children have passed, leaving her to care for their little ones; other children are in South Africa either working or seeking work and leaving their children with her. Now, during the lockdown, those parents will be stuck in South Africa for an indeterminate time. I cannot imagine how she manages. She said that if it weren’t for the Grandmother Program, she would have given up. It is just all too much.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lB9wLD5mYjY&feature=youtu.be

Some of our young mothers brought us to visit their homes. The walk to and from, the conversations, and chance to see what these young women deal with was moving and troubling. For example, one girl showed us her one-room tin hut – made with scraps from old rooves. It was furnace-hot in there. No place to put their meagre items. A spot on the floor to build a fire for those painfully cold nights. No bed for the baby. She had to walk such a long way to get water, yet her baby was spotless. It was humbling to hear how appreciative she was for every little bit of support we were able to provide.

As there was so much to share, I will leave the rest for my final ‘Letter from Lesotho’ #5. I close with a note from one of our trip guests, Sheryl Kennedy Fleury, who came with her lovely daughter Nora. It is important to close on a positive note.


My daughter Nora, who was with me and works in the Arts in New York, met with the GIRL4ce troupe that performs dramas about gender violence and child early and forced marriage in communities around Lesotho. When performed, it opens up dialogue about this important issue – one central to Help Lesotho’s work, and is a powerful plea for everyone in the community to be part of the solution, not perpetuate the problems. Nora offered marketing advice and pre and post-performance exercises to manage the stress that such a performance engenders. Everyone’s talents were put to use. We were truly volunteers.

We shared our experiences. With grandmothers and young mothers, we talked about our children and grandchildren. With youth training on computers and in life skills session, we talked about our careers, especially as women, and with herd boys we talked about relationships and how girls and women like and deserve to be treated.

But our most important role was to visit the communities where Help Lesotho works, listen to program beneficiaries, ask them questions about our impact and how we can serve them better, hear their stories and provide compassion, understanding and a hug.

It was a trip of a lifetime. One I would highly recommend all Help Lesotho supporters consider doing. One I hope to repeat again. 

Sheryl

Read Letter #3
Read Letter #5

2020: Letters from Lesotho #3

2020: Letters from Lesotho #3

Lumelang,

This is my 127th letter from Lesotho! It is hard to believe that we are in our 16th year now.

In my last letter, I shared about the alumni reunion. Since then, many young people who either could not attend or did not realize it was happening have reached out to me. It is so touching to hear their stories, successes and dreams. I wish you could hear them for yourself.

We were pleased to host Danielle Nadon and her husband Heinz Keller for five days. They were such appreciative guests – delighted with everything. Heinz is the founder/owner of Keller Engineering, a large firm in Ottawa, who graciously volunteered to come and both advise on some facility repairs and build a long-term plan to maintain our buildings over time. As you can imagine, donors don’t really want to fund such endeavours. We need to save over time to ensure these valuable buildings are in good shape to host many more beneficiaries in years to come. Although most of our work occurs in rural villages, our two Centres have hosted over 65,000 visits in the past 11 years!

I visited with Their Majesties, King Letsie III and Queen ‘Masenate last week. People might confuse the King of Lesotho with the King of Swaziland (now called eSwatini) but they couldn’t be more different. I have spent a great deal of time with the Monarchs of Lesotho and they are fine, committed role models for their people. They have no role in the political turmoil in Lesotho, and are, in fact, prohibited from participating in political activities. Many of you will have met them in Canada, along with their daughter, Princess Senate, the eldest of their three children. The Princess joined our meeting as she is now finished high school and intends to attend university in Canada in the fall.

The Princess came up to our Centre in Hlotse for a four-hour meeting with six of our youth. We had an initial brainstorming session to plan a new initiative to engage Basotho youth to restore hope and actively vote for their futures, whenever the next election is called. As in most countries, it is a challenge to get young people out to vote, but so very important. It is lovely to have the Princess as an advocate and active participant in this initiative. The participating youth were ‘over the moon’ as they say here to have this close contact with the young princess. She is greatly admired.

It was fun to watch the start of the two new Pearl Programs this month. Between the two groups there are 100 grade seven girls who will come for training to prepare them for high school (which begins in grade eight in Lesotho). They are just adorable. When people purchase our pearl jewelry, the funds go to these year-long programs.

It is our custom to welcome a small group of supporters for an intimate ‘donor trip’ at this time of year. They spend all their time with our local staff and beneficiaries. I take them up into the mountains to meet our most remote and vulnerable participants. It is a chance to see rural Africa, virtually untouched by tourism or commercialism. As I write, this year’s group of seven women are in a session with our intensive Leaders-in-Training program on grief and loss, perhaps the most, emotionally-laden, yet popular sessions we do. It is an essential opportunity for these grief-laden souls to heal and move forward.

As always, the group is interesting and diverse. Sheryl Kennedy (Toronto) has been a sponsor of numerous children since the beginning of Help Lesotho. Her daughter, Nora Fleury (New York), was in early high school when her family became involved and has followed us through our own growth. Yvonne Williams (Ottawa) has travelled widely, lived in Zimbabwe, and is relatively new to the Help Lesotho family. Nona Mariotti (Kingston) is a valued driving force in the Kingston Grandmother Connection which has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for our grannies since 2006. Nona’s sister, Dianne Whitmarsh (Minden, ON), also is new to Help Lesotho. Sylvia Pennell (Edmonton, AB) is a behavioural therapist who has been a great support and sponsor since 2004 and a dear friend of mine for almost fifty years. Sylvia is staying longer to provide training sessions on children with challenges for our staff and teachers. Barbara Brindle (Toronto) is a managing partner of Hallmark RE/MAX Realty, the company that generously donates our office space in Ottawa. We are having lots of fun. Each guest is offering their talents wherever needed to build staff capacity and help with emerging needs.

I close this letter with a quote from Lintle, one of our alumni:

“We are here because there is no better place than home where we know we belong. Help Lesotho gave and still gives each and every one of us that sense of belong and unconditional love. We also came to say “Mama we made it”; we are surviving out there because of the skills that were imparted in us”.

I send thanks from each of our beneficiaries and staff in both countries for your financial and emotional support for this work. I hope you know how desperately needed it is here.

Peg

Read Letter #1
Read Letter #2
Read Letter #4

2020: Letters from Lesotho #2

2020: Letters from Lesotho #2

Lumelang,

It was the best gift ever! The weekend of February 14-16 we hosted our first Alumni Reunion. I have been excited for this occasion for over a year.

When Help Lesotho was first started, the overarching objective was to create a critical mass of well trained, knowledgeable, and committed youth as agents of change to foster a healthy, HIV-free and gender-equal society. This is the goal we strive for every day. We train youth about their rights and their responsibilities. We support schools, police officers, teachers and grannies so that they can support the youth. Since 2004, we have had over 40,000 graduates from our intensive programs – definitely achieving that critical mass we dreamed of. These young people are the reason I am here in Lesotho and why Shadrack (our Country Director) and our amazing staff in both countries always work above and beyond. They are our hope for real change in Lesotho.

Looking back, I also cannot help but mention that without the incredible support and trust from Laurence Graff and Sandra and Paul Hellyer, this kind of scale would never have been possible.

It is now our role to connect, encourage, motivate and focus these graduates for social change. This is a key priority in our 2019-2022 Strategic Plan and a constant on my mind. That said, it has been a struggle to stay in touch with our alumni as the youth move, change their phone numbers, have no money for data, become disengaged and depressed without support or jobs, etc. The efforts we have made to date to engage them have not been successful.

You may well have heard about the current political challenges in Lesotho, which are deeply disturbing and only serve to deepen our commitment to our beneficiaries. They need us more than ever and the country needs these stable, smart youth as voters and responsible citizens to lead the country forward. [Note – Help Lesotho’s work is not directly impacted by the political turmoil.]

In November of 2018, one of our child sponsorship alumni, Mamokete Rasethunts’a, a 2015 high school graduate (thanks to her sponsor, Jennifer North for making that possible!), reached out to me. Despite all the almost insurmountable challenges this young woman has faced – to survive an abusive childhood, save her sister from forced marriage, grow up with no family support, get an education, pay for her university fees – she was determined to thank Help Lesotho for the chance to grow up, to develop her potential, and to make a difference. The gist of her communication was:

‘M’e Peg, I want you to know that I am brave. I can stand up and speak out against gender based violence. Help Lesotho has made my life and opened the gate of new hope to me and human kind at large. It is a blessing –  an angel that was sent to raise the poor kids, mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. You cared for our wellbeing. I have been passionately trying to find a way to have an alumni reunion to thank you and Help Lesotho. As I write, we have gathered so many of us and told them about my dream. They love it they know how emotional I am when we talk of HL. I have never organized anything but if you will help me, I know that all your children will want to return to thank you and to share what Help Lesotho has done in our lives. … really – where would we be now otherwise????

I am so happy. I can’t wait to see you in real. May God bless you. At this reunion, you will know how much Help Lesotho has done in my country.

Mamokete

 

To make a 15-month story short, Mamokete and several of her fellow alumni friends worked with Kate, Shadrack, and ‘M’e Felleng to plan a reunion weekend and rally our alumni by every means possible: posters, WhatsApp groups, social media, word of mouth, texts and more. Alumni came from all over the country. Dozens slept over the two nights – a fabulous pajama party!

Our three large tents sheltered us from the beating 30-degree Celsius sun during the three-hour ceremony. The Centre property looked every bit the gorgeous sanctuary it was intended to be. Everything was perfect. We estimate between 200-250 participants were in attendance. The speeches were wonderful – a welcome from Ntate Shadrack, ‘M’e Maseretse represented former staff, ‘M’e Mampaka, Mamokete, Lintle Mathosi, Sr. Alice, and me. Three young men performed songs and poems. There was a band and a GIRL4ce performance. It was so emotional. I left like I was at my own funeral hearing the eulogies! Check out this video to see and hear a few special moments from the event.

The agenda was planned and executed by Mamokete and her friends. As I listened to each one, I so wished our donors could be there to witness the impact their support has made. It was touching and meaningful. One highlight was the speech from Likeleli Lekhanya, who was sponsored by Winifred Koneri to graduate from Paray High School in Thaba Tseka in 2016. Eighteen months ago, while at university, she took a taxi home with some friends. Tragically, her vehicle got caught in firearms crossfire. An errant bullet lodged in her spine. Paralyzed from the waist down, she endured weeks of hospitalization followed by depression and anxiety about her future. The doctors said she would never walk again. In front of her peers, she shared the painful journey from absolute despair to a return to hope and sense of purpose. She told us that the training she had received from our camps and sponsorship guided her back to a new understanding of our mantra: LEADERS NEVER GIVE UP!

Likeleli mastered her wheelchair, returned to school and is now a motivational speaker. A generous benefactor is paying for her to travel to Japan to get spinal surgery to capitalize on the slight movement that remains in one leg. This beautiful young woman challenged the audience to realize that if she can do this, they can too. It was a remarkable speech, inspiring to us all. I was so proud of her.

Our event was taped and broadcast on national radio and TV. The speeches and presentations were followed by gifts and a lovely lunch. At lunch, the TV producer told me that this is what her own teenagers need to be part of! We all spent the afternoon visiting, taking selfies with old friends, laughing and reflecting. Not a dry-eye or unaffected heart. Mamokete and I spent almost two hours popping corn for those who stayed the night on Saturday. It was so much fun. I loved seeing them so happy. I loved seeing so many young people I have helped to raise and am so fond and proud of.

 

The participants launched our new Alumni Room in the Centre, a special place to visit, network and access computers to research, apply for jobs/scholarships/schools and write CVs. We will have an alumni corner in our Pitseng Centre and Maseru Office as well. We are determined to keep these young people close to us and each other. When the next election is called here, and I prophecy it will be soon, we are ready to launch an initiative to mobilize youth to vote and provide education on how to choose a candidate.

In other news, we have partnered with Habitat for Humanity to build five two-roomed houses and 17 pit latrines for vulnerable households from our grandmother program in Berea. What a blessing!

In closing, let me emphasize that the speeches and conversations at our wonderful event included you! All the youth and former/present staff mentioned their appreciation for each person who has contributed to this massive group of young people who are the hope of this struggling nation. Without you, none of this could have happened.

I send the thanks of all who are here, all who wanted to be but could not, and all those who are better people because you cared.

Fondly,

Peg

P.S. If you would like a copy of our Strategic Plan, please let us know by contacting info@helplesotho.org

I want to support more alumni like Mamokete and Likeleli!

Read Letter #1
Read Letter #3

2020: Letters from Lesotho #1

2020: Letters from Lesotho #1

Greetings,

As my flight touched down in Lesotho at the end of January, I was, as ever, anxious to assess the rain situation,  after hearing about the devastating impacts of the ninth year of drought in the region. In practical terms, this means that there is such a long period without rain that people have no water and crops cannot be planted or come to maturity. Even when the rains do come, they are not sufficient to grow food for the needs of the population. This past December, the World Food Program reported that 70% of people in Lesotho would need food assistance to survive 2020 because of the lack of rain. Climate change is affecting all of us and in Lesotho, the rains are coming later every year. September-October is the spring planting season. The lack of rain parched the depleted soil to the extent that it was useless to plant. The first rains only came after Christmas. Vegetables were planted but it was too late to plant maize – the nation’s staple food. For those interested, this is the most recent report.

I could see the greening out the plane window and felt some sense of relief. At least there was enough precipitation for the trees and grasses to grow – and once again abate the erosion so threatening to Lesotho’s precious soil. After a two hour drive I arrived at our Hlotse Leadership Centre, which is looking beautiful! I was thrilled to see that the flowers planted as camouflage on our rather unattractive concrete block retaining walls have finally filled in after ten years!

It was delightful to be so warmly greeted by the staff. When I woke up in the morning, the children at the Centre were anxious to chat – despite my groggy, jet-lagged state! At first, there are only the small boys – girls must stay home to do the chores, sweep, fetch water, etc., only free to join the activities around noon. I loved their questions: How many hotels do we have in Canada? Is my home as big as the Centre? Are there wild animals in Canada? Does Canada have water? Are there fish in the rivers? …. and the inevitable question – Why did I start Help Lesotho? When one young lad realized Canada went up to the north pole, he earnestly asked me if that is indeed where all the presents are made!

This Centre is their second home where they are always welcome, treated as smart, thriving young leaders, and where their feelings truly matter.

I tried to imagine how one sweet young boy had found a single roller blade and somehow managed to ‘roll’ it along on these uneven, potted, stoney roads! Another walked so far to be here with almost no soles left on his shoes.

It is our practice to hold a two-day staff meeting upon my arrival. The first day we dress up. The second day, all wear their Help Lesotho staff golf shirts – looking very smart. I share how we raise funds in Canada, the results of our annual audit, strategies for skill development, and messages from donors and staff. The staff share their impact reports on their last quarter activities. Since July, we have reached over 10,000 people. Our Herd Boy Program received such accolades that one herd boy, Lebohang, and Ntate Sello, our Grant Implementation and Impact Manager, were invited to Berlin to present at the 30th Anniversary International Celebration of the Convention of the Rights of the Child for nine days in November.

What an extraordinary challenge/experience for Lebohang – from the isolated mountains of Lesotho – to flying in planes, sleeping in hotels, getting on the bus at the airport in Berlin, sitting in a car with a dog, seeing people kissing on the street, and so much more. A handsome young man with a fascinating story, our Lebohang attracted a lot of attention. I look forward to meeting him when I go up to the mountains in a few weeks.

We listened to a report about our Country Director, Shadrack Mutembei, and our Senior Capacity Development Officer, ‘M’e Felleng’s, presentation at the Southern Africa Regional Conference on Prevention of Violence Against Women and Girls on December 4-5 in Johannesburg about our Herd Boy Program as a unique example of success in involving marginalized boys in gender equity programs.

The staff sang so beautifully and gave me a thoughtful late birthday celebration and cake. We commemorated our senior accountant, ‘M’e Nthabeleng Posholi’s 5 years of faithful service to Help Lesotho. It is special to be together again and share our work.

There is a great deal to look forward to in the next couple of months. I will meet with staff individually, with my friend and co-conspirator, Sr. Alice Mputsoe, with old friends and partners and with the former St. Mary’s Girls – a six-year project, started in 2004, to educate girls sponsored by St. Bartholomew’s Anglican Church in Ottawa. We are busy preparing for our first Alumni Reunion this week, initiated and planned by our graduates themselves. We are expecting around 150 people. I can’t wait to see them – some I have not seen for ten years.

Thank you for reading along and accompanying me on this journey. We will catch up more in Letter #2. As I close, I want to thank those who collected the eye glasses I brought in my suitcase for our grannies– such a gift!

Best wishes to each one,

Peg

PS: It is a huge help if you share these letters with your colleagues, friends and families. We do not spend any money on advertising. Word-of-mouth is the most effective way for us to grow and share our impact. Many people do want to support work such as ours but they are unsure which organizations actually use the funds as they claim. This year, 91% of our revenue was spent on programs. Your recommendation and advocacy are needed to help sustain this work!

PPS: For those interested, this link takes you to a faith-based podcast I did with two Anglican priests in London, Ontario just before leaving Canada.

 

Read Letter #2