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.
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 starting their 6-month program.
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!
‘M’e Thoala with her 10-year plaque.
Ntate Motebang with his 5-year plaque.
‘M’e Mampaka with her 15-year plaque.
Staff and professional interns pose with their course certificates!
‘M’e Malefu with her 5-year plaque.
Ntate Thabo with his 5-year plaque.
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,
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.