Tebello’s Story

Tebello’s Story

Tebello is a bright and vivacious young woman who embodies the very best of Lesotho’s leaders of today! From the time she was in primary school, Tebello has been an active participant in Help Lesotho’s programs. Below you can read a touching tribute from Tebello to...
2020: Letters from Lesotho #4

2020: Letters from Lesotho #4

Greetings from my isolation to yours,

I am nearing the end of my total-isolation period after returning from Lesotho and am so looking forward to going for a walk!

I hope you are well and managing during this stressful period. You would be surprised at how much we think of our individual donors – always mindful of your role in our story.

If you did not receive my last epistle outlining my harrowing trip home and the situation as I left it – you can access it here. I was deeply touched by your many messages of care, thank you. Please forgive me if I have not answered yet. I will soon, once we have things in place.

I had originally planned to send this letter two weeks ago from Lesotho. So much has changed in these last two weeks…but I still want to tell you about the people I met in my daily activities there. Before I continue with my Letter, you might appreciate an update about what Help Lesotho is doing to mitigate this crisis in Lesotho.

CURRENT SITUATION: To date, there are no identified COVID-19 cases in the country but I am sure that is due to the lack of testing. Tests have to be sent to South Africa to get the results. The country is on lockdown from April 1 for three weeks with Basotho living in South Africa prohibited from coming home, a measure that will significantly reduce the transmission of the virus and hopefully some domestic violence. Last Friday, a shipment of test kits arrived, complements of a Chinese billionaire.  People are terrified, burdened with the still open wounds from the horrors of the AIDS pandemic. Among the salient factors are inadequate national health services, small crowded homes, loss of jobs in an abject poverty context, increases in isolation, domestic violence, and sex-trade activities for girls and women who cannot feed themselves or their children, virus myths and misinformation, and the fear of death of those with severely compromised immune systems.

OUR RESPONSE: Our staff inCanada and Lesotho have been working feverishly to prepare programs and processes that will support our program graduates and current beneficiaries. Our expertise in delivering the kind of psychosocial support our beneficiaries need most gives us an important opportunity to reach people who will most likely get no other support. It is essential to roll out our initiatives immediately to avoid the debilitating discrimination, stigmatization and myth culture that surrounded the first decade the AIDS pandemic. Our strategies will help thousands of people – directly to those beneficiaries we can reach, their families and neighbours. Some of the measures we have put in place in the past three weeks include:

  1. Distributing food parcels, including extra soap, to our grandmothers in Berea and Pitseng last weekend just before the lockdown;
  2. Developing a simple Sesotho information sheet on COVID-19;
  3. Developing and operationalizing a communications plan and supporting materials through which our program staff are reaching out to deliver psychosocial support to strengthen the hundreds of village support networks we have developed over the last decade;
  4. Mechanisms to provide staff with airtime to hotspot their computers as none have internet at home to work remotely;
  5. Set up WhatsApp groups of thousands of beneficiaries for positive messaging, information sharing and crisis management;
  6. Refreshing our beneficiary database of 3,000+ cell phone contacts, identifying the most vulnerable in each program group for priority contacting and schedules of contacts by phone, text, etc. These are adapted to those who have smart phones, non-smart phones (no apps) and those who have no phones, radios or other forms of information or who are illiterate. The latter group includes many of our grandmothers. For these individuals, we will try to reach their relatives;
  7. Developing and operationalizing messaging for staff to manage these communications, including phone scripts, Q&As on the virus, strategies for handling stress, fear, depression, communicating with children, and domestic communications under stress. We want to identify those households that may be perilous for girls and women as domestic violence tends to increase under stress; and
  8. Sending all staff home with large quantities of COVID-19 information sheets, one pagers on various issues (human trafficking, HIV/AIDS, anger management, communication, decision making, peer pressure, etc.), our booklets on pre-and post-natal care, sexual and reproductive health, etc. We have printed thousands of copies and each staff will use them as references and will distribute them (while practicing social distancing). The guard houses at each Centre have copies to freely give out.

With your help we can leverage the expertise, trust, stability and continuity we have built over the last 16 years to be a significant part of the current response and eventually the recovery process once this crisis has passed.

HOW YOU CAN HELP: Thank you for the many offers, here are some suggestions:

  • Help us with our cash flow: After building up this organization from nothing, we want to preserve and support our highly trained staff over this difficult period, who have no government support benefits such as unemployment insurance or government bailouts. If you can help us continue to keep paying our local staff and keeping the lights on, it would be most appreciated. Of course, all our budgeted spring fundraising events and plans are now aborted. We appreciate a one-time donation but if you feel you can start a monthly donation, this will give us the predictable revenue needed to enable us to continue planning our interventions for the immediate and long term periods.
  • Help us show our gratitude: One hugely impactful factor for our stability over this period is the donated Canadian office space from Hallmark RE/MAX Ottawa. Not having the burden of rent to pay is a tremendous relief. Would you write the owner, Ken McLachlan, and thank him?  ken@remaxhallmark.com. We are so truly grateful.
  • Encourage our staff and beneficiaries: If you would like to write a note of appreciate or support to our beneficiaries and/or staff, please do – it would mean the world to them. You can send that to info@helplesotho.org and we will distribute.

MY TIME IN LESOTHO

A teaser: although I am not yet at liberty to name the person, we had a surprise visit from a very famous celebrity ambassador who came to spend half a day with our young mothers. Had I known, I would have changed my blouse!!! Once we get the go-ahead- from the publicity people, I will tell you who. That said, the person was so impressed and touched by the conversations with our pregnant girls and young mothers, asked a lot of questions and seemed genuinely moved.

Our donor trip guests visited our grandmothers and young mothers in Berea. The grannies all came in regalia – Seshoeshoe and their colourful blankets. As the grannies shared about their lives, we became tearful by the story of one Nkhono (grandmother) who had birthed 11 children and now looks after 17 grandchildren. Even by Lesotho standards this is extreme. Some of her children have passed, leaving her to care for their little ones; other children are in South Africa either working or seeking work and leaving their children with her. Now, during the lockdown, those parents will be stuck in South Africa for an indeterminate time. I cannot imagine how she manages. She said that if it weren’t for the Grandmother Program, she would have given up. It is just all too much.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lB9wLD5mYjY&feature=youtu.be

Some of our young mothers brought us to visit their homes. The walk to and from, the conversations, and chance to see what these young women deal with was moving and troubling. For example, one girl showed us her one-room tin hut – made with scraps from old rooves. It was furnace-hot in there. No place to put their meagre items. A spot on the floor to build a fire for those painfully cold nights. No bed for the baby. She had to walk such a long way to get water, yet her baby was spotless. It was humbling to hear how appreciative she was for every little bit of support we were able to provide.

As there was so much to share, I will leave the rest for my final ‘Letter from Lesotho’ #5. I close with a note from one of our trip guests, Sheryl Kennedy Fleury, who came with her lovely daughter Nora. It is important to close on a positive note.


My daughter Nora, who was with me and works in the Arts in New York, met with the GIRL4ce troupe that performs dramas about gender violence and child early and forced marriage in communities around Lesotho. When performed, it opens up dialogue about this important issue – one central to Help Lesotho’s work, and is a powerful plea for everyone in the community to be part of the solution, not perpetuate the problems. Nora offered marketing advice and pre and post-performance exercises to manage the stress that such a performance engenders. Everyone’s talents were put to use. We were truly volunteers.

We shared our experiences. With grandmothers and young mothers, we talked about our children and grandchildren. With youth training on computers and in life skills session, we talked about our careers, especially as women, and with herd boys we talked about relationships and how girls and women like and deserve to be treated.

But our most important role was to visit the communities where Help Lesotho works, listen to program beneficiaries, ask them questions about our impact and how we can serve them better, hear their stories and provide compassion, understanding and a hug.

It was a trip of a lifetime. One I would highly recommend all Help Lesotho supporters consider doing. One I hope to repeat again. 

Sheryl

Read Letter #3
Read Letter #5

Peg’s Letters from Lesotho 2019: #4

Peg’s Letters from Lesotho 2019: #4

Lumelang,

Out my window I see three shepherds watching their flocks in torrents of rain, their heads covered with what we call balaclavas; their bodies by the traditional Basotho blanket. My heart goes out to them. I spent a morning with some of the herd boys in our program recently and feel such compassion for these boys relegated to such solitude and loneliness. More on that later.

Teachers have been on strike. After a three-week walk-out, schools will now be open for one week and closed for three in a rotating cycle until their grievances are addressed. As well as extremely low salaries, not paying principals (one principal told me she has been ‘acting’ principal for 15 years without compensation as well as teaching a full load) and not paying pensions, one of the contentions is the government’s failure to pay primary schools the M20 (CAD $2) per student per year they are allotted. The schools have no resources to continue. One is incredulous that children’s education in primary school is worth $2/child a year. For high school, the costs to the guardians, parents and grannies are nigh impossible.

With little or no income, these ‘guardians of the future of Lesotho’ have to find the funds to pay for medications, too many burials, schools fees, and the normal costs of living. They are eternally overwhelmed.

Our first donor trip guests have left after a wonderful visit. They were so appreciative, engaged and lovely to host. They want to come back!!! It is encouraging to have such talented, interested advocates. They spent all their time with our local staff and beneficiaries and were constantly and deeply touched by the need and the profound impact our programs have. Because of the internal coherence within and across our programs, all beneficiaries have the same vocabulary and concepts to talk about their challenges and strategies. This creates a foundation for family and community communication that is desperately needed to address these complex, emotionally-laden topics.

I am sure they would agree that one of the most impactful experiences here is attending a grief and loss session. Out of these fine, lovely participants pours a depth of suffering, abandonment and pain that is both crushing and desperately sad. To be a witnesses to the burden of this kind of devastation – pummeled on an entire population – one becomes overwhelmed themselves. Wrenching tears, confessions of misery and suicidal thoughts, terrible loneliness and loss – it is a graphic display of how much this country needs to heal from. Yet, watching them express, discuss and find really helpful strategies to address their pain is so positive and strengthening. To visibly see people heal in front of you is astounding. You may find this hyperbolic but I assure you it is not. This session is consistently one of the top favourites of all groups and ages of participants since 2006.

Our guests had so many incredible experiences but one they will never forget was an hour horse-back ride to a small – very small – and very poor school up in the mountains.

Majara has 153 students in three tiny, broken, stone classrooms. Because it is impossible to imagine unless you go there, I take guests as it demonstrates beyond anything I could ever say how isolated, poor and courageous these little schools are. Last year one of our guests was so touched that she bought hats, mitts and socks for the children just before the bitter winter. She has provided a generous donation again this year to do something special for them.

The school, Majara, had seven students last year who graduated from grade seven. Almost no one from this remote village has ever entertained the notion of being able to get an education beyond grade 7. Through our Child Sponsorship Program we are paying the school fees for two of these students. Hallelujah!!!!

We had the most wonderful visit with herd boys I have ever had. These boys had been in our program for six months already and now are doing community service to teach other herd boys about sexual health and gender based violence. The boys were so honoured and excited to have international guests visit them – to be seen – to be heard. They told us of their training. They danced and sang for us. It was inspiring and so much fun. We were all in tears.

We went from there to visit some of our grannies in their village. These dear souls are completing their two-year program cycle and thrilled that their grandsons, the very herd boys we just met, have had training in how to communicate, problem solve, and practice healthy hygiene. Almost before we got out of the trucks, they were bursting to thank Help Lesotho for helping these previously unmanageable boys to grow up and become aware of needs and rights of girls and women – including them!!!! They shared how much the boys had changed and how much this changes their lives – one less burden. It reinforced the impact of training various populations within the same villages at the same time. It meant so much to hear them so happy. I worry about them more often than I will admit.

I have been giving training sessions for our staff, professional interns and the CHANGE4ce trainees I spoke of in my first letter. I admire their openness to struggle to understand themselves, life and healthy ways to support others in their growth.

Tomorrow I will welcome our new board member, Ntate Thabang Mashologu, his wife Sarah and their two young sons. Thabang and Sarah recently moved from Toronto to Ottawa and we are very excited to have him on the board. As a Canadian/Basotho, he will be a huge help. Also coming on Monday is Help Lesotho’s Donor Relations Manager, Marlene Caicco, whom you may know. This is Marlene’s first time to Lesotho and she is so excited.

I want to give a shout out to my dear friend Elizabeth May, leader of the Canadian Green Party, for choosing Help Lesotho has one of her three favourite charities for donations in lieu of gifts in honour of her upcoming wedding. It is beyond touching. She has been an unfailing support since the first month this whole thing started. Bless her heart. I am thrilled she and John found each other.

In closing, I have two things I ask you to do to help us right now:

  1. The first is about our very special grandmother program. For the last three years, funding has been steadily decreasing. The entire program relies 100% on the donations from individuals and our grandmother groups, especially the Kingston Grandmother Connection and Grandmothers Helping Grandmothers in Fredericton. Last year, we had to cut several elements from the program to make ends meet. If this touches your heart, could you either increase your donations for this program or help us reach out to others who might? Everyone here sends their thanks for anything you can do to augment the revenue for these dear souls to get the support they need. We are starting a new group of 200 grannies in the program in June/July. It is my hope to raise at least $50,000 before then to ensure this new group of 200 grandmothers can have the full program. Please consider giving so these special grandmothers can get psychosocial support, the exact information they need to improve their health and family’s nutrition, seeds for their gardens, strategies to raise the orphans in their care, help to get registered as a ‘person’ with the government so they can receive their pensions, and the opportunity to build a support network in their villages. Believe me – we are all these women have; and
  • The second ask is that you help us raise awareness of our work by:
    • Clicking the SHARE button on our Facebook posts – especially my letters;
    • Forward my letters to colleagues, friends and family;
    • Write a note on your social media platforms (LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp) to encourage your friends to join our social media or visit our website (provide links)

Your support has not only changed tens of thousands of lives in Lesotho, but mine as well. Thank you so very much.

Peg Herbert, Founder and Executive Director

Read Letter #3
Read Letter #5