Peg’s Letters from Lesotho 2017: #5

Peg’s Letters from Lesotho 2017: #5

Dear Friends,

As I write, I can hear the children playing at the centre. Some of them are deaf but still make noises of happiness. There are students in the library poised with concentration and students in the computer lab trying so hard to learn this electronic world as fast as they can.

I think I left off as we were going to the graduation ceremony of the young mothers. As a mother myself, I still cannot imagine how difficult their lives are trying to bring these gorgeous babies up without support or resources.

It is deeply touching to hear the male village chiefs and councillors acknowledge and honour them and the importance of the program.

Two Canadian families are funding this program and they would be overwhelmed by the appreciation of these young girls. One young mother told us she was so bitter that she was forced into sex and now had to pay for the rest of her life by forfeiting her education, looking after a sick baby and going from house to house with a small bowl to ask for enough mealie meal to feed her child. She bravely told the group that this program had changed her – she now knew how to look after her baby and no longer had to beg for food. She had a garden and seeds for vegetables and the Starter Pack project had allowed her to generate enough income to feed them. That we should all feel such gratitude in having the most basic things of life – hope and sustenance.

We returned to the final days of the grandmother conference – a sight to behold. We had no water for the final three days of the conference. Feeding 140-150 people on site with no water is no mean feat! These grannies are wonderful! After two years in the program, it is still something to hear them discuss about the challenges of raising orphaned children in a new world where children have rights and choices but no opportunities.

During the GIRL4ce presentation on early and forced marriage – they called out repeatedly: “That is just the way it is in my village”, “This is too common”.

As we talked, they shared how they must take the lead in stopping this harmful practice. They are such good souls – doing their best. When I asked how many were brides in an early or forced marriage themselves, over 30% put up their hands.

A proud grandmother with her identification pieces.Another of their serious challenges is obtaining their identity documents, albeit birth certificates, death certificates of their spouse, making application for their senior’s pension (about CAD $50 per month). They spend lost days struggling to get to the government offices and queue all day in the burning sun – just to be ignored.

So, for this conference, we brought the government officials to them – nurses to take blood pressure and test for HIV/AIDS and blood sugar levels; government officials to register them for their pensions and other essential documents in this modern world.

They were delighted and so appreciative.

The grannies gave our Canadian guests the most delightful send off – with handmade flags, singing and dancing. They were so happy to have these Help Lesotho supporters join them. Everywhere the guests went in the areas where we work, they were greeted with such honour and welcome. It really is overwhelming – from people who have so little. The trip group was wonderful – so easy to have and so interested in our work.

In person, they could see how far we stretch our funds and how enormous is the impact.

Since they left, we have had fun emailing about our poor sheep that was gifted to us from Sefapanong – the group named her “BaBa”. She stayed tied up in our yard for several days and then was respectfully prepared for a feast for the staff yesterday afternoon. I confess, my conscience was relieved to no longer hear her bleating day and night!

One of our guests seemed haunted to realize we did not have enough funds to buy all the boys from the 2015 Herd Boy Program blankets and gum boots (rain boots). When you actually talk to these boys and see how threadbare they are and how important those boots are to prevent snake bites and other unmentionables, one gains a new appreciation for the impending cold and bitter winter. The herd boys from the 2016 program were so proud to show us their new blankets and boots, which solidified these simple items as essential components of the program.

As soon as this guest arrived home, I received an email offering to buy the remaining 121 boys each a new blanket and pair of boots. The boys will be delighted. Here we are deeply touched by the generosity of Canadians.

After the grannies left, we had the job of clean up!! Imagine how long it will take to wash 246 sheets and 123 pillow cases by hand, hang them to dry in the sun, fold and put away. Each of the mattresses will be aired and washed down with vinegar. This is the routine after all our camps and conferences, of which there are roughly 10-12 a year. Our staff are amazing.

The next day, I went to Maseru to spend a full hour in conversation with King Letsie III and Queen Masenate. Being just the three of us, we were able to have a fulsome chat about two of our initiatives. The first one is the Sanitary Kits that are made in Lesotho by girls here for girls. The kits last for three years and are environmentally and educationally significant in a land where HIV/AIDS is spread so often through contact with blood. This dovetails well with one of the Queen’s own initiatives to give every girl in Lesotho sanitary security. I am hoping we can partner.

The second was our new GIRL4ce Movement – a youth-led initiative of Help Lesotho – of boys and girls who advocate to end early and forced child marriage (an increasingly common practice here) and gender-based violence. They are an education-entertainment group with great branding, catchy songs, dramas, dances and poems to motivate communities to step up and stop these damaging practices. We will have the launch in a month or so and are working with their Majesties to find a date that would enable them to come. We hope GIRL4ce will become so cool that they will be invited to perform all over the country and be able to reach others through various media.

Unless girls are allowed to enter adulthood in safety and before having babies, so many other issues will not be solved.

My final piece of news is about our growth. At our Hlotse Centre headquarters, we are maxed out for space. Although it is large, we use every inch. We have converted our two double car garages into classrooms, put windows and doors on our lappas for more year-round space, reconfigured our offices and other spaces for multiple uses, it is still not enough. The demand for our programs increases monthly.

Help Lesotho's new computer container lab.We have been generosity offered another computer lab by a group in Denver.

The need for it is enormous but we have no where to put it and, given the year-long waiting list for this program, we were desperate to find a spot. Ntate Shadrack, our Country Director, and I made a presentation to the local council several weeks ago to ask for more land. These councillors know how valuable we are to their constituents and that we have never asked anything in return. Now we are.

After a long meeting, they unanimously voted to provide the new land we requested on either side of our existing property and to fix the horrible road to our Centre.

Step 1 complete.

Step 2 is to raise the $25,000 it will cost to put secure fencing up around this huge parcel of land.

Step 3 is to get the survey from the council and start the fence.

Then, we will pour the pad for the container and get it delivered. Another project that will educate thousands more! The new land will allow us to build new pit latrines – ours are full and after seven years of use by tens of thousands of people, this is not surprising.

We will need help with this new project so if you know any group or individual who would be willing to fund these improvements, please let me know. I know fencing is not a ‘warm and fuzzy’ impact but these are the nuts and bolts issues that allow us to reach those who need us every year.

Never a dull moment!

Love to you all,

As Help Lesotho’s Founder and Executive Director, Dr. Peg Herbert spends at least two months a year living and working in Lesotho. As a Canadian exemplifying what good international development looks like, Peg shares her experiences through ‘Letters from Lesotho’ so we can all get a glimpse of what makes Lesotho such a special place.

If you would like to connect with Peg about her letters:

twitteremail

 

Peg’s Letters from Lesotho 2017: #4

Peg’s Letters from Lesotho 2017: #4

Lumelang,

There is so much going on here that I hardly know where to start.

Our Canadian trip guests and I have been up in the mountains of Thaba Tseka since Thursday and came down on Sunday afternoon. It was a spectacular trip – the scenery is breathtaking and the welcome extraordinary.

On Friday, we rode horses straight up a mountain path for 50 minutes to one of our remote schools.

Our guests read to the children and then traced their little feet on a piece of paper so we would know what sizes were needed to provide a new pair of shoes for each of the 132 children.

It was a lovely visit – the children sang and danced for us and the community came out to welcome and participate. They are so grateful to be part of Help Lesotho’s family. When we partner with a school, its status skyrockets!

The road to the school and neighbouring communities was completely impassible for vehicles – creviced by rain and erosion. I told the local counsellor and the herd men who accompanied us that I would write a letter to the clerk of the council petitioning for a new road to use whatever influence I might have. A couple of people have died coming down to the hospital. One young mother ended up having her baby between the rocks half way down because she just could not make it to the clinic.

When we came down from the school, we went directly to the little store in town called ‘Pep’ – like a very small Zellers – to order the shoes and a pair of socks for each child. Now that is direct impact!

Saturday, we went to Sefapanong Primary School, twinned with Turnbull School in Ottawa, for a morning with the children. It was such fun. The children ran down the side of one mountain and up the other to welcome us with signs they had made. Our guests tutored the children in math, English and science. As I chatted with the principal, Ntate Lebina, the chief and numerous community representatives came over the mountains with a herd man and a sheep in tow.

The chief presented me with the sheep as a token of their profound appreciation to Help Lesotho and Turnbull School for changing the lives of so many in the area.

We have programs for herd boys, young mothers, grandmothers, teachers and the school partnership in that area. This year alone, Turnbull School raised enough to purchase math supplies for each student and classroom, in addition to uniforms for many of the 532 students at this remote school. We were very touched by the generous gift of the sheep but less enthusiastic about taking the poor thing home tied up in the back of the truck on the 5-hour drive. Now it is here at our Centre, waiting its destiny!

We had a chance to visit with one of the herd boy program graduates – he is a 22 year old handsome young man – in tattered blankets and frayed pants. He was articulate about how much the program had meant to him – that he got information about how to look after himself, how to treat women, how to be respected by others and the importance of herd boys valuing themselves. It was such a pleasure to speak to him. Frankly, it was the longest conversation I have ever had with a herd boy because they are so shy.

The program officer, Sello, who runs that program was once a herd boy himself and the impact of his leadership was evident. I so wished the Canadian family who had sponsored that program could be with us to see the results of their generosity.

Our entire staff has been preparing for the Grandmother Conference which started yesterday afternoon.

While we wish all 200 grandmothers from the two-year Grandmother Support Program could come to the conference, some grannies are not able to make arrangements for their orphaned grandchildren to be looked after by someone else for these few days.

Seeing 125 grannies arrive in their colourful blankets and Seshoeshoe dresses– singing, ululating and dancing all the way up the walkway into the Centre was extraordinary.

Some of these dear souls have never been out of their villages. Others had never been on stairs. Some are too old to climb the stairs; some are too frightened.

‘M’e Mampaka, our Grandmother Support Officer who is in charge of the conference, wore her Kingston Grandmother Connection t-shirt in honour of some of the Canadians who give so generously to the program. Our trip guests made beds on the floors for the grannies – 16 to a room – and served them dinner. What a happy crowd!

I was almost in tears to see them all together like that.

As much as our staff are totally prepared to run conferences such as this, there are always challenges. The cook told me there was sadly no meat available in town to serve the grannies. The water is off and on – I got up at 5:30am to quickly wash my hair before the grannies started their bucket baths. The lack of water may even further complicate the task of feeding these grannies three meals a day.

You have a very special opportunity to see a live broadcast from the grandmother conference later this week. On Thursday, March 16, I will be live with the grannies on Help Lesotho’s Facebook page at 12:00pmEST (6:00pm in Lesotho)! This is our first attempt to deliver live coverage of one of our programs – now we need to hope it does not rain so our internet connection cooperates! Details about how to view the live broadcast are below.

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We are leaving right now to go to the Young Mother Graduation for 150 pregnant girls and young mothers about a 30 minute drive away. It will be wonderful to celebrate all that these young mothers have accomplished over the last year – more on that later! This evening we will re-join the grannies.

Another good day!

Thank you all for caring so much about the Basotho – you would be so proud to see where your funds are going and how deeply appreciative the beneficiaries are.

My very best wishes,

Facebook LIVE from the Help Lesotho Granny Conference on March 16!

Tuning in for the live broadcast is easy:

  1. At 11:55pm EST on March 16, login to your Facebook account on whichever device you want to use. If you do not use Facebook, you can either create an account (it’s free!) just for this purpose, or ask someone you know if you can watch via their account.
  2. Go to the Help Lesotho Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/HelpLesothoPage/
  3. If you have not done so already, click the buttons to ‘Like’ and ‘Follow’ our page!
  4. At 12:00pm EST, a live video will start. If you do not see it, try scrolling down the page a little bit.

Note – You will not be on video! The grannies in Lesotho will not be able to hear or see you!

The broadcast will last approximately 30 minutes. During that time, the grannies will sing, talk with Peg Herbert, and answer questions (translated between English and Sesotho). You are encouraged to write questions and/or comments in the Comment box below the video. We will ask the grannies as many questions as time allows for!

If you are not able to watch the live broadcast at noon on March 16, you will be able to watch the recorded video of the broadcast anytime afterwards by visiting the Help Lesotho Facebook page.

As Help Lesotho’s Founder and Executive Director, Dr. Peg Herbert spends at least two months a year living and working in Lesotho. As a Canadian exemplifying what good international development looks like, Peg shares her experiences through ‘Letters from Lesotho’ so we can all get a glimpse of what makes Lesotho such a special place.

If you would like to connect with Peg about her letters:

twitteremail

 

Peg’s Letters from Lesotho 2017: #3

Peg’s Letters from Lesotho 2017: #3

Lumelang,

It is my custom when I arrive to meet individually with each staff. This is their time to use however they wish. They too are a product of the challenges our beneficiaries face.

When I first came to Lesotho in the early 2000’s, the life expectancy was 35. Now it is 46.

Each person has suffered so much loss. Some use their time with me to talk about their personal lives, get advice or a listening ear. Others talk about their professional goals and seek ways to grow. Some want advice on their children and relationships. Some confide issues that plague them emotionally. Giving everyone the opportunity to talk takes days but is a precious time for me personally and for each of them.

One of the new staff said:

“I still cannot believe – we all cannot believe the care and love we get at Help Lesotho. It is unbelievable to put us first, to put the beneficiaries first, that this is all for them. It has changed my life and putting this into practice changes everyone. They say – who are these people who are so kind and who honour us? ”

Another said,

“I am so grateful to have this job. Now I can put bread on my family’s table. Before this there were many times when there was none. I have two younger brothers and one younger sister for whom I must pay schools fees and see them launched into life.”

Another said:

“Help Lesotho makes my life to flourish!”

I think I am going to keep that line!!

Our new staff are struggling to handle the highly emotional content of our training sessions. Several wept at how touched they are by the pain our beneficiaries are experiencing and the joy of truly helping them.

One of our computer instructors spoke about an older man in our program. He is not clean or groomed, which is very unusual here, and has several disabilities – of sight, a tremor and he struggles to understand. Perhaps he has not gone to school. When a point is explained clearly and presented in a large font, he gets it and remembers it. He is trying so hard. He wants to learn computers so that he can write a story book. He was so grateful and excited to be selected for the program that he came three hours early the first day. He still comes two hours early every day to sit outside and contemplate this magnificent learning experience he is fortunate enough to have. He simply cannot wait.

Of course I had to meet him.

(Katiso with Thato Jr.)

His name is Katiso. He is 41 years old with cerebral palsy. He loves to write stories and volunteer at his church.

When one sees how hard it is for him to articulate his words so that others can understand, it becomes so much more clear why learning to type will give him a whole new world of communication and self-expression.

Two of our grannies died this quarter. There is so much sadness.

I leave for the airport within the hour to fetch our special guests who are coming to explore our work and this magnificently beautiful country with me. We have two guests from Toronto – Susan Richardson and Carmen Piche; one from Huntsville – Carol Gibson; and five from Ottawa – Hugh Dorward, Cathy Steele, Marianne Feaver, David Esdaile, and Jennifer Parr, who was our Board Chair for ten years and an enormous help to me for the past decade. I think this is Jennifer’s 5th or 6th time in Lesotho! She has a Basotho daughter, Thato, whom she sponsored as a child and who is now in university and a mother of a young daughter.

We have many exciting adventures planned and I so look forward to sharing my love of Lesotho with them. More on that later….

Thank you for the feedback on my letters, it is lovely to touch base with you and to know your thoughts.

My very best to you all,

Salang hantle

As Help Lesotho’s Founder and Executive Director, Dr. Peg Herbert spends at least two months a year living and working in Lesotho. As a Canadian exemplifying what good international development looks like, Peg shares her experiences through ‘Letters from Lesotho’ so we can all get a glimpse of what makes Lesotho such a special place.

If you would like to connect with Peg about her letters:

twitteremail

 

Peg’s Letters from Lesotho 2017: #2

Peg’s Letters from Lesotho 2017: #2

Greetings,

As I write, I am looking out the window as a group of children are, yet again, surreptitiously sneaking through the vertical bars in the gate beside the playground at our Seotlong Centre.

They are deaf children who live at a residential school across the field. Over the last couple years we have developed several programs for them and their teachers. Some of our staff are learning sign language to be able to talk with the children. You would be surprised at how little they are for their ages, developmentally delayed from malnutrition and illness. They are so thin that they can indeed successfully squeak through the 8” space between the bars in our gate. The Centre is closed for the day, yet they cannot stay away. This place is the one space in their lives where they are treated as equals, as valuable, as welcomed visitors.

It beacons them!

(I could not let them see me watching, but here are a few of them the next day when the Centre opened.)

I want to tell you about a young man named Tsita.

Tsita was 29 in 2015. School ended for him in 1999 after completing grade seven at the age of 14. There were no funds in the family for school fees to continue his education. Like so many young boys in Lesotho, Tsita became a herd boy, looking after cattle and sheep up in the mountains of the northern corner of Lesotho in Butha Buthe.

For 14 years, he lived an isolated life, wandering the mountains, without education or socialization. When his village chief called a gathering to declare that herd boys were being recruited for Help Lesotho’s Herd Boy Program, he saw his chance. This was the first opportunity he had ever had to better himself. He attended the Saturday classes faithfully for the full six months of the program, soaking up every word and idea, never minding that many of the participants were still children and he was not. He participated in a herd boy initiative to march in the streets of Butha Buthe to raise awareness of the need to end sexual violence against women. Tsita graduated from the program, proud and changed.

For 14 years, he lived an isolated life, wandering the mountains, without education or socialization.

(Tsita at Herd Boy training. He is the one wearing a black woolen hat with one red and three grey stripes sitting just behind the speaker.)

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In early 2015, our program officer selected Tsita to represent Help Lesotho’s Herd boy program at our 10th Anniversary Celebrations in March of that year. With lots of encouragement and support, he wrote and delivered the first speech of his life in front of the King and Queen of Lesotho, honoured international guests, his peers and national TV and radio. Despite almost paralyzing nervousness, he spoke bravely and passionately.

Below is his speech, followed by the story of a meeting I had with him exactly two years later.

My name is Tsita I live in a little village in Butha Buthe. I have been one of the participants in the herd boys training this year by Help Lesotho. The training has been indeed a life-changing experience. As herd boys we spend most of our lives looking after animals with no information about issues concerning us. Before I attended the Help Lesotho training, I used to be one of the perpetuators of violence against women. This was because it seemed normal to us as herd boys to beat and sexually violate women’s rights because no one took any action about 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 as herd boys we understand that women are human beings like us and they have similar rights and worth just like us. We are both equal creations of God and therefore we as men should stop abusing women and girls. Ladies and gentlemen, gender equity doesn’t imply that men should be inferior. It only means that both men and women should have equal opportunities and power in making decision 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. Where are we expecting them to live when we mistreat them? They are our mothers and wife. 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 reporting cases of women and girls abuse. This, I am making a plea to every man in Lesotho to make it their assignment in their communities. Enough with women and girls abuse in any form.

We young men should work together to end violence against women. 

I would humbly like to thank Help Lesotho for changing my life. Thank you.

Everywhere I went after the celebrations, no matter how remote the village, people were talking about this speech. Never had a herd boy taken such leadership or admitted publicly to being an abuser. People listened. Tsita became famous in his village. Peers who attended university weren’t even as renowned.

I too was deeply moved and read his speech to many people in Canada. He had captured not only the plight of the herd boy but their potential to be reintegrated into society as effective leaders.

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Two years later, in February 2017, I asked one of our staff to find him to meet with me. I saw this as a test of the real impact of this program.

Could a young man hold onto that change over time?

Tsita arrived exactly on time, sparklingly clean and beaming. I did not ask where he got the money for the 75-minute fare to come on public transport. He was now 31, still living with his mother, his brother’s wife and two children, and his deceased sister’s two orphans.

He could not contain his delight. He was so proud to receive the call that he told the entire village, “Help Lesotho still remembers me!”.

Tsita remains a herd boy, looking after cattle for hire for approximately CAD $20 (M200) a month. He said the program had changed him forever. He had been a harsh man, thoughtlessly abusing women sexually. He told me 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 (while he spoke, he proudly pulled out his testing card to show me that it was indeed up to date and indicated that he carries it with him always).

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 before he had been so shy that he never spoke to others and could not express what was inside but after he went through the program, he became confident and can now express himself. His face shone as he described how proud he was of himself now. 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.

When I asked what he would say to the donors if he could, he quickly responded that they must be very happy that they had given this program and that his life will be better, that he is a different man and he will make them proud.

As he talked openly and with great enthusiasm through an interpreter, Tsita kept repeating how proud he was of Help Lesotho, over and over again.

Needless to say, I was very moved.

I took him into the kitchen where we were feeding lunch to the 65 Leaders-in-Training participants and asked our cook, ‘M’e Muntja, to plate a REALLY big lunch for Tsita while the staff got the funds to pay for his transport both ways.

Indeed, as Tsita says, you would have been proud too!

Sala hantle,

Peg

PS. Shortly after the anniversary, we lost the funding for the Herd Boy Program. During a talk I gave upon my return from Lesotho in 2016, a long time child sponsor stepped forward to help. She and her family nearly fully-funded this program for two years (300 herd boys))! Without this incredible support, it is unlikely that we could have run the program at all. Here is the proof – one person certainly can make a difference!

PPS. We are also so grateful to the people who donated towards the Herd Boy Program and who supported our online ‘Giving Challenge’ in June 2016 to raise the remaining funds required. Together, you made it possible for herd boys to get the same support Tsita received, including new blankets and gum boots for all!

As Help Lesotho’s Founder and Executive Director, Dr. Peg Herbert spends at least two months a year living and working in Lesotho. As a Canadian exemplifying what good international development looks like, Peg shares her experiences through ‘Letters from Lesotho’ so we can all get a glimpse of what makes Lesotho such a special place.

If you would like to connect with Peg about her letters:

twitteremail