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.
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.
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.
It 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.
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).