2022 Letter #7: Letters from Lesotho (142)
I am so touched by the number and responses of readers to my first letter. Thank you for following along and for caring so much.
Back in Canada, I reflect on my intense but productive trip. I had over 40 meetings, visited programs, hugged each staff, admired our new library and our two centres and ‘felt the Mosotho’ in me again after such a long hiatus. Knowing I will return for February and March 2023 made it all that much easier to leave so soon.
‘M’e Mamoletsane, Kathleen and I met with the World Health Organization, UNICEF, UNAIDS and UNFPA to discuss our CHANGE4ce Program to help build capacity in other organizations to provide better psychosocial support in building resilience and mental health. We are hopeful to move this initiative forward. We know that our training and experience in mental health would help so many organizations deepen the impact of their work.
I previously mentioned the new group of correctional service and national security officers in our Computer and Life Skills Program. They had heard about our program and made a proposal to their management to be allowed the time to attend the course. The first week, they were mostly speechless about the opportunity before them. Week two, their questions were meaningful with minds and hearts open. Each one will impact hundreds of wounded lives in their careers. Realizing that prisoners are not evil people but broken and struggling was a profound revelation. One said this was “like the family he never had where people get real love and care”.
One of our COVID initiatives was to mobilize our alumni to both keep them occupied with purpose and to provide support to children during the school closures. We developed and they distributed over 5,000 age-appropriate workbooks filled with COVID information, coping strategies, math and literacy activities, motivational pages and games. The alumni volunteers were trained and each supported a troop of children in their village – to listen, learn and comfort. It has been a great success. The guardians of the children have approached the alumni to learn how to better support the children under their care. Although thankfully the schools remained open for the 2022 school year, we continued the project with the volunteers supporting children after school and on weekends. COVID set so many children so far back both educationally and emotionally. The impact over the last year blew our expectations away. As you can see from the table below, a total of 108 volunteers reached 4,635 vulnerable children. On average, each of these children participated in 7 life-changing sessions.
“I have really improve on my self confidence because I can stand in front of many people and speak which was something that I wasn’t able to do before I start my outreach.” – Mafusi, volunteer
“Children are now seeing the light even those who are struggling they are trying.” – Chaka, volunteer
We are so proud of these young people that we are asking you for help to support a whole new cohort of volunteers. We are excited to launch a new project in which we will, with your help, recruit 100 new volunteers who will reach at least 4,300 children with tutoring and mental health check-ins. These young ones are desperate to get some help and to learn. This is the focus of our fall fundraising and we hope you will join us to make it happen. Please click here to learn more and stay tuned for additional information in the coming weeks.
Another project we are conducting is in its third year in the south of Lesotho on early and unintended pregnancy. UNFPA begged us to help in an area in which over 50% of the high school girls had fallen pregnant. That is not a typo or over exaggeration – literally more than half of the girls in high school in this region became pregnant. My heart aches for these girls and their dear babies. We are working with the chiefs, local council and community members to hold them responsible for protecting these girls. We are working with potential enablers and perpetrators, including the landlords of the tiny rented rooms rural children must live in to attend high school, taxi drivers (part of the essential transportation sector), bar owners, herd boys and teachers. We are proud to say that there has been significant progress. The taxi drivers are determined to protect their student passengers, educate new drivers, and to work with the schools to ensure students can only access taxi rides if they have a pass to leave school. Similarly, the landlords have stepped up to monitor their premises against perpetrators and ensure only those who should be in the rooms are. The main high school has reported a remarkable decline in pregnancy and has made a commitment to work with other schools to reduce truancy so that the girls are not enticed away from their education by the promises of food, jobs and ‘treats’.
Kathleen visited a school and spent a day each with the young mothers and a couple of grannies.
Going to their village, Kathleen visited a granny who had prospered under our program and who was able to grow enough food to feed her family and understand positive parenting.
The other was a different story. Our program officer had rescued two children whose mother had abandoned them. Their grandmother agreed to raise them. When Kathleen arrived, the grandmother was totally bedridden. At 84, she was giving the little food she had to the children and literally starving herself to death – so weak that she could not get out of bed. The children now care for her. This visit still haunts Kathleen. Our staff will follow up.
I had charged our psychosocial professional interns with reading Viktor Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning” and had a great chat with them on it, followed by a serious and quite wonderful discussion with all the male staff on a module on ‘Supporting Boys and Men’.
On Friday, Lesotho’s new Prime Minister was inaugurated. He paid for his own inauguration and put himself out on a real limb by making 20 promises of accountability in the first 100 days. The population is hopeful.
I write in hope that one or more readers would like to fund or to contribute to a new truck. The photo represents the one we need to purchase. As you know, we work up in the mountains on extremely rough roads (even using the term ‘road’ is a stretch!). The wear on a vehicle is enormous. We need to replace a 2012 Hilux Toyota double cab truck that has 309,000 KM. After three years of hunting and pecking, our very first truck was purchased by a corporate CEO who emphatically asked me “Well, what do you need?”. Within days the Toyota dealership in Maseru informed me that our new truck was ready to be picked up. I know this is a big ticket item, but I also have faith that someone out there can help this time around.
This partnership between you and our amazing staff has brought about more change and reached more people than we could ever have imagined – close to 260,000 people. The need is enormous but so is our capacity and our determination. We are on it!
P.S.: Our 2023 Help Lesotho Calendars are now for sale. Filled with beautiful and inspiring images, grab one before the start of the new year!
P.P.S.: We have some fun video footage from our trip that I would like to share with you. Below you can watch videos of grannies singing and dancing (taken by Kathleen) as well as our staff singing to welcome Kathleen and me to Lesotho. We’re also including a delightful compilation of resilience fun-day activities with children at our Hlotse Centre. Enjoy!