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.
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.
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: