Letters from Lesotho #3 – 2023

Letters from Lesotho #3 – 2023

Greetings Help Lesotho family,

As I begin my work with this remarkable organisation, getting to know the staff and learning about the programs in more depth, it’s a pleasure to share my early observations with you. I lived the later 8 years of my childhood, age eight to sixteen, in Lesotho; the adopted daughter of Canadians. My mother was a teacher in the Lesotho school system, and my father an Anglican priest recruited by Bishop Tutu and then Bishop Mokuku to work from St James Cathedral in Maseru. Our years in Lesotho were very formative for my life and for my family. Returning now as a guest and a professional with Help Lesotho, is an absolute joy. I bring my competencies in leadership development, programing, and strategic management, and look forward to more defining years ahead.

It was a delight to meet the Help Lesotho team, and finally meet more colleagues in person, and put many names and faces together. It should not have been a surprise that an organisation expert in emotional heath and wellness would create such a bright welcome. It was nonetheless so appreciated to receive a welcome that was written, spoken, sung and danced! And that took place in the three offices of Help Lesotho – Hlotse, Pitseng and Maseru. Kea leboha and thank you❤️

I am so enjoying beginning to know staff, the arc of their professional journey, and their ‘Help Lesotho story’. Program Manager Ntate Sello Matsoso started as a participant in the Leaders in Training (LIT) program, and is now one of HL’s senior staffers and highly skilled in facilitation and program implementation. His perspectives, voice and leadership have reach and impact, and, together with other staff, are instrumental in shaping the program offerings of Help Lesotho. Finding himself in a woman-centric organisation, one of Ntate Sello’s callings is advocacy for the rights of boys and development of men. He challenges the notion that patriarchy just empowers men, when more specifically it advantages them problematically, often resulting in poor choices and decisions. He shares the example of herd boys, sent, sometimes as young as six, to look after the family’s animals, and thereby losing access to education, socialization and the provisions of the Lesotho labour code. All of these rights (and lack of access to them) shapes their future development. The Herd Boy program offered by Help Lesotho is an offering to enhance herd boy access and inclusion and has built on insights and skills of Ntate Sello and others. I look forward to getting to know all the staff through the opportunities and responsibilities we have ahead.

Julia and Sello

Visiting a partner community in an electoral district of Berea, I accompanied ‘M’e Felleng and ‘M’e Mamorena, Help Lesotho program officers, to observe a training day of the Safer Communities project. The goal is to create safer communities by building awareness of gender based violence with local leaders and service providers, and to widen the base of who will take action and respond in instances of violations.

Present for the training were community leaders, including village health workers, police, priests, teachers, and traditional authorities. As ‘M’e Felleng checked in about how the holiday period had been, several cases of abuse were raised. The discussion about how the perpetrator(s) intimidated those who should/would report was vigorous. Easy answers were not sitting at the surface, and the need to challenge norms was explored by the group. I was encouraged to learn that Lesotho’s legislature has recently (July 2022) passed a Counter Domestic Violence Bill with improved legal provisions for vulnerable people, and consequences for gender-based violence. However, we know that civil society and particularly community based programs such as Safer Communities are crucial.  Accordingly, these trainings raise awareness of rights and roles and responsibilities related to gender based violence and help increase commitment to provide action and support. Ultimately this learning group emerged with a strategy for response as well as plans for how to support for all involved.

Julia with PWRDF program group for safer communities

Safer Communities is funded by the Anglican Church of Canada’s Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF). This is of particular interest to me, given my father’s work for the Anglican Church, which was to build the theological capacity of people already in leadership roles who wanted to be self-supporting priests in their own communities. Some interesting parallels in the leadership development approach.

Country Director, ‘M’e Mamoletane and I have had multiple opportunities for meetings and travel, allowing for program and operational discussions, as well as some time to get to know each other. One trip was to the Pitseng Centre to meet team lead ‘M’e Thoala and understand more about the reach of the work. A highlight of the past year was onboarding and integrating a large group of children who were struggling due to a significant lack of adult support or guidance. The young students were testing boundaries only to be met by ignorance or harsh punishment. ‘M’e Thoala’s team designed intake sessions to get to know them each personally. They developed a system for not only monitoring their progress but also to start relating and connecting with a large group of young people as individuals, with individual needs for counsel and care. With her colleagues ‘M’e Itumeleng, ‘M’e Tapelo, Ntate Thabo, Ntate Peter, and ‘M’e Malehlohonolo, they move constantly between implementation and reflection so ongoing refinement of everything from programs, to resources, to grounds keeping continues to evolve, the impact of which is truly inspiring.

Julia and Mamoletsane
Julia at Pitseng

Flowers at Hlotse CentreIt has been great to be with ‘M’e Peg in Lesotho. One afternoon she took Ntate Thabo (Grounds Keeper) ‘M’e Mamoletsane and I to walk every inch of the Hlotse Centre; mapping all the property history and the evolution of buildings. Why are terraces installed behind the support centre? How have we used indigenous grasses to retain the soil and protect building foundations? How the water is separated, stored, conserved and used? How to monitor fences, surface rainflow, enviro loos, thatch, and inspection of buildings for cracks – she covered it all with us. We even learned about dreams for the land secured next to the Hlotse Centre to one day host an obstacle course for adolescents and youth. The care and consideration M’e Peg has given the Centre exemplifies her personal engagement and contribution. And as she described the role of the infrastructure she anchored it in people: “these buildings and grounds are lovingly maintained to create a sanctuary where people can play, express themselves and find healing”.

This year there are 55 diverse young people in the LIT (Leaders in Training) program. In this 60-day intensive program, this cohort of youth is developed as peer-to-peer agents of change in their communities. I joined them for several of their sessions over the past days and found them and their program inspiring. The group is keen, questioning, responsive and engaged. Building skills to navigate challenges such as suicide and grief, as well as finding ways to challenge ideas around healthy and unhealthy relationships and the rights of women, children, and vulnerable people.

I have thoroughly enjoyed different chats with the Leaders in Training group. We talked about role models growing up, playing a game to take different physical and then verbal positions on controversial statements mostly related to gender roles and expectations. As a cohort, they revel in the opportunity to differ, debate and have laughs while taking serious stands. Having delivered many leadership development programs, and as mum of an 18-year-old, I love the LIT content for participants. They are invited to normalize talking about difficult subjects and challenged to be part thereafter of breaking the silence. This space for skill building, introspection and goal setting promotes connection to self and ultimately contributions to community. I look forward to being with them again over this month ahead. 

Julia with LIT participants

As I consider my first days in Lesotho, what stands out for me, of course, is that this is also a period of transition. For individuals, transitions give us experience with change. When well managed (think rites of passage, ceremonies, celebrations) these transitions can usher us into a new chapter and new roles with preparation and confidence and a supportive community. For organisations also, transitions can offer the same, and in my view, this is wonderfully underway with Help Lesotho. While the team is delivering on HL programs, preparations are also underway to celebrate Peg as founder, leader and friend.

I am so pleased that I can join ‘M’e Peg this month, to hear her Help Lesotho stories, to be introduced to the HL family and to be brought into this rich community. Thank you for the opportunity to join the team and to help honour ‘M’e Peg. For ways for you to join the celebrations please stay posted for events in Kingston (April 13), Toronto (April 15) and Ottawa (April 22).

Julia signature

– Read Letter #2 2023 – 
– Read Past Letters from Lesotho – 

Letters from Lesotho 2023 – #2

Letters from Lesotho 2023 – #2

Lumelang (Greetings) to you all,

News of the winter storms across Canada makes me even more grateful that the rains have stopped this past week, unveiling the magnificent Maloti Mountains of Lesotho. Everything is green and lovely. I eagerly await the blooming of sloping fields of wild cosmos– nature’s dazzling display of pink and purple.I wish you had been in Pitseng with me this past week. This stunning valley rests at the foothills of the mountains, in which resides our smaller centre. I happened on a Grandmother Day, always a great delight, as is the opportunity to chat about their challenges and successes. They were bursting to tell me how much the program was changing their lives. Dear, dear souls!

I had arranged a meeting with half a dozen talented community leaders and retired professionals I have known for years. Three are former school principals from our twinned schools. We met in our ‘spiffy’ new library to discuss how they might involve adults and seniors in the village to come to the library for adult literacy classes, tutoring, book clubs, to be read to, discuss concerns and solutions, learn to use a computer, join an exercise class, etc. Although rare here for adults to believe they could/should continue to learn and grow, we talked about the urgent need to keep mature people stimulated and have a break from their tireless work to survive. We talked about cognitive decline and depression. Ironically, at the same time in the other building, the grannies were discussing dementia! They had such great ideas. They decided to call the initiative, ‘Matlafala’, which means ‘Stay Energized’ in Sesotho. A perfect name!


Our annual and remarkable Leaders-in-Training Program is in full swing. How they love these six weeks of support, building healthy friendships and resilience. One afternoon, the staff set up on the lawn to both divert and provide access to HIV/AIDS testing and family planning sessions. They started in the training room to hear from our partners, Phelisanang Bophelong HIV/AIDS Network and the Baylor College of Medicine, to learn of prevention and treatment before going out on the lawn to enjoy danceable music and activities designed to distract participants from focusing on who went to the tents for testing. It was really fun and lively – they loved it. Of the 55 youth who tested – all were negative! Isn’t that incredible. Our job now is to help them stay negative! Interestingly, one in five went for family planning advice.

On Monday morning, the staff put on a touching traditional welcome for Julia Thompson, Help Lesotho’s new Executive Director. Both Julia and the staff were delighted to meet each other after such long anticipation. The staff sang, made heartfelt speeches and gave Julia a traditional broom, a handmade gift and even messages from the beneficiaries. As they meet individually with Julia, both I and the staff are so happy to have a new leader who knows and cares so much about their culture and programs. Julia will be sharing her impressions in the next Letter from Lesotho and I know you will enjoy hearing her thoughts.

Friday, we welcome our special guests from Canada. Joanne Beveridge and Campbell Osler are two dear friends and supporters since the very beginning. All of you who receive Help Lesotho calendars will know Campbell Osler Realty, its key sponsor for 18 years. Finally, they will see our work firsthand. Jennifer Parr joins us for her nineth trip to Lesotho. Jennifer, our first board chair for ten years, remains a close friend who constantly volunteers her expertise for Help Lesotho. Deb Ruse returns to Lesotho and is a key member of the amazing Kingston Grandmother Connection which provides most of the funding for our granny program. Nicole La Prairie, also of the Kingston Grandmother Connection, and Varsha Koneri Grant, from Toronto, are both teachers and so looking forward to spending time with these adorable little ones here. We are excited to have them.

As the school year starts in January, we have all been very concerned about the disruption in the education of the students throughout COVID, as we are in Canada. January starts the new school year and as we review the results from last year, we are so relieved to know that our students in Help Lesotho’s Child Sponsorship Program have done really well. 85% of the kids passed last year – against unbelievable odds. School closures left them alone and without the social and emotional support that school provides. Many guardians can no longer scrap the funds together to pay school fees. Many students have no guardians but rather stay alone in tiny multi-person boarding rooms. Passing is a herculean feat and we applaud each one. Our analysis of the reasons they did so much better attributes it to a combination of increased psychosocial support from staff, more engagement of their guardians, access to our computers and libraries, and participation in our leadership camps after a two-year COVID hiatus.

There are so many stories. I share but two from last year; one of a beginning and one of an ending.

Khotso, high school student

Young Khotso lives with his mother, older brother and little sister. Without paternal emotional or financial support, his dream of attending high school was shattered. Reflecting on last January, when he was supposed to start his exciting high school journey, he said: “For those three months, I used to close myself indoors and I watch my peers wake up every day, all dressed up in new uniform to go to school. I avoided uncomfortable questions as much as I could”. All he wanted was to go to school and make his mom proud.

Khotso was deeply touched when his primary school principal believed so strongly in him that she paid just enough for him to join his peers at Khethisa High School in the second quarter, and bided time for his mother to plead for – and secure – Help Lesotho sponsorship from a wonderful donor in Canada. He feels truly blessed to go to school like other children. “I don’t need to be so afraid now when other children are expelled for school fees. I made a promise to make my mother and sponsor proud through my performance.” 

Khotso credits much of his success to the lack of worry, the care of the staff and to the Pitseng Centre library when he obtained position one in his class and eighth in his grade, despite missing the first term. Now in his second year of high school, he promises to work even harder. (Imagine his joy at the new library!)

On the other hand, 19 -year-old Refiloe graduated in December from our Child Sponsorship Program. “Without sponsorship, I wouldn’t never have attended, let alone graduated. I stay with my grandfather and grandmother. My father passed away and my mother left for South Africa for job hunting. She comes once in a year and we rarely communicate. We depend on grandfather’s elderly pension but he is sick. I am responsible for the collection of grandfather’s medication during his checkups”

Distance and workload meant that Refiloe moved to a hostel room close to the school, wracked with worry about her grandparents’ well-being and ability to manage on the little money they had to all share. “When I got a sponsor, I started to relax a bit and was able to achieve the outstanding results. I am so thankful to my sponsor as I was never expelled from school because of fees or not having books. The toiletry kit I received boosted my confidence as I was able to fully participate in school activities. My dream to study Law is going to come true because of the sponsorship I got at Help Lesotho.” She loved the life skills provided by Help Lesotho. She is now proud to say that her self-confidence and esteem are high to resist all the negative peer pressures. She is working hard to achieve her goals and choose friends with positive and supportive peers.

If you feel you could sponsor a student (or more than one!), you can change a life forever. It is a remarkable gift.

P.S. The team in Canada asked that I include a save-the-date for two of the Canadian retirement celebrations: Kingston, ON – Thursday April 13, and Ottawa, ON – Saturday April 22. Details to follow next week.


– Read Letter #1 2023 – 
– Read Past Letters from Lesotho – 

Letters from Lesotho 2023 – #1

Letters from Lesotho 2023 – #1


Today, it is not raining! I arrived back in Lesotho in the evening, in the dark and amid torrents of rain. The long dirt road into our centre from the paved main road was so saturated that the field was flooded. Ntate Motsamai’s ability to navigate the car was impressive! The rains this season are unrelenting, unprecedented and wreaking havoc – huts crumbling, bridges breached, gardens swamped and roads washed out. It has been raining most days and/or nights since I arrived. Most of the crops have benefitted from the rain and there is hope the harvest will be good. We hope the weather will improve for the visitors and events we have planned in the coming weeks.

I felt fully ‘at home’ once I heard the all-too-familiar sound of the sheep bells just outside the centre as I began working early one morning. Sheep are emblematic here. They graze on the sides of the roads as one passes, are tethered in the small yards of villagers, are the need for our Herd Boy Program, are integral to the traditional ceremonies of killing a sheep to mark a wedding, funeral, or rite of passage, and they provide protein for privileged families and the angora wool of which Lesotho is so proud.

boy with sheet in lesotho

This visit will be close to two months and atypical for me, as it is the last before I retire at the end of April. Next week, we are excited to welcome Help Lesotho’s new Executive Director, Julia Thompson, to Lesotho. Julia is as much looking forward to coming here and meeting our staff in person, as they are excited to meet her. Donors, staff and our board join me in feeling deeply grateful to have such an experienced, capable and compassionate person to lead Help Lesotho forward into this exciting new phase of the organization. Her weeks here will be filled with visits to programs, participation in staff and partner meetings, and keen listening to the beneficiaries as they share their stories. Julia will write a couple of these ‘Letters from Lesotho’ during her time here so that you can hear directly from her. I know you will look forward to reading of her impressions and stories of her experiences.

On March 3, we will welcome our donor trip guests for an adventurous couple of weeks, during which we will celebrate the opening of the new Pitseng Centre Library to which approximately 150 of you contributed! My eldest son Jesse will also visit Lesotho in March –a real treat for me. He will be here for the Pitseng event and stay for my retirement celebration before heading out on a daring bike trek in these incredibly challenging mountains. You can follow his training and journey on his Instagram page: Oopsmark.

It was wonderful to be so warmly welcomed by the staff – I love them all. Watching them grow in their professions and skills is a great joy. Our programs are in full swing and the centres are hopping with children, program participants, comings and goings. It was special that I arrived in time to participate in the quarterly all-staff meeting and listen to the plans for the next three months – so carefully constructed to incorporate any changes or lessons learned from our extensive program evaluations and feedback from participants.

Out of School boys in their program session

Out-of-school boys starting their 6-month program.

Leaders in Training program participants gather in classroom

First-day excitement for the 2023 Leaders-in-Training participants.

This past Friday was very special and indeed emotional. The entire staff, our wonderful Country Director, ‘M’e Mamoletsane, and I spent three hours celebrating together. Some staff and professional interns received their completion certificates for the intensive Psychosocial Support Course, others their CHANGE4ce Facilitation Certification and course certificates. Nine staff were honoured with their five-year plaques for faithful service, including Bo-‘M’e Tsoakae, Hlalefo, Shasha, and Malefu, and Ntate Thabo. As I gave each a long hug, many were shaking with emotion. Among those were our three security officers (Bo-Ntate Tokiso, Lefu, Motebang and Bereng) who, on shifts, protect and support our staff, and visitors, our centre, and our participants. I wondered if these dear men, fine examples of kind and caring males to all who comes into the centre, had ever been publicly acknowledged. (Later, one told me how proud his ten-year-old son was of him when he saw the plaque.) Two Senior Program Officers, ‘M’e Felleng, our Psychosocial Support Officer, and ‘M’e Thoala the Pitseng Centre Supervisor, received their 10-year recognition plaques. ‘M’e Mampaka received our first 15-year plaque. ‘M’e Mamoletsane and I told the stories of the amazing leadership, growth and contribution of each one over so many years. These long serving staff are the foundation and stability of our programs and are mentors who train, encourage and support the others.

At each juncture, representatives of various groups spoke about the learning, growth and accomplishments of which they are so deeply and rightfully proud. Standing in front of these amazing men and women, who have bravely embraced so much training I have thrust upon them, was inspiring. Our staff face human injustice and trauma every single day. They hold these stories in their hearts and feel the weight of the responsibility of so much trust on their shoulders. They live daily with the frustration and feelings of helplessness at not being able to address all the needs before them. I thought of the many hours of emotionally-laden, fruitful conversation in their discussion groups, the ways each supports the other in pairs and groups, and the passion they hold so dear for Help Lesotho, its impact and their growth as professionals. I admire them so much – and, in the end, I just couldn’t breathe!

peg with thoala

‘M’e Thoala with her 10-year plaque.                

Peg with Motebang

Ntate Motebang with his 5-year plaque.

Peg with Mampaka

‘M’e Mampaka with her 15-year plaque.

Help Lesotho staff with plaques

Staff and professional interns pose with their course certificates!

Peg with Malefu

‘M’e Malefu with her 5-year plaque.               

Peg with Thabo

Ntate Thabo with his 5-year plaque.

Help Lesotho staff with certificates

Help Lesotho staff and professional interns proudly display their plaques and certificates!

With each day and each meeting, the stories pour out. One was about a mom, who left three little ones with a 12-year-old to go to South Africa to work and never came back. The children tried to cook for themselves and suffered significant burns. When they were brought to the attention of our staff, the latter made various efforts to support them, introduce them to the social development workers, provide emergency relief and even ensure the processes are followed to get the children birth certificates. With support from the Ministry of Home Affairs or other relevant ministry agents, we help herd boys, grannies and young mothers secure identity documents for themselves and their babies to literally ‘exist’ in the country, and which are essential for them to gain access to orphan or old age pensions, medical assistance, death certificates for inheritance or insurance.

As I close, one of my great thrills over the years is to hear from our alumni. I just received this on LinkedIn and thought you might feel proud too.

Thank you for reading along – lots more to follow.

Best wishes and a hug from Lesotho,

LinkedIn Message from Help Lesotho alumni

P.S. Just as I finished this letter – the sun came out! Yeah!

P.P.S. I wish you could hear the laughter and excitement coming from the 100 grade seven kids in the Guys4Good and Pearl Girls programs who have just arrived to begin their new year of training. They are playing basketball before their session – just adorable.

Pearl girls and Guys4Good playing basketball together