Motopi is a Professional Intern (PI) with Help Lesotho. As part of his role, Motopi oversees the Smart Kids Project, an initiative which equips volunteer youth alumni from Help Lesotho’s programs to provide education and psychosocial support to vulnerable children in their villages. To get a better sense of the impact of the project and the importance of our new 4300 Kids campaign, Motopi answered a few questions below.
What is the Smart Kids project all about? (Motopi) The project was started in 2021 during the covid-19 lock-down restrictions whereby children were going to school on weekly intervals or schedule. For instance, they would go to school only once a week and teachers would give them lots of homework for them to work on while they are at home. It came in place to assist these children with all their school because most of them are staying in child headed families or are living with their grandparents or guardians who are mostly not educated, thus making it tough for them to assist. In other words, this is a literacy project that aims at helping children in their school work and providing social-emotional support.
How important do you think this project is? (Motopi) This project has shown great importance to children both academically and psychologically as the Alumni volunteers do not only assist with home works but also provide basic psychosocial support by listening to children’s different problems and be their support system. It is important to mention that most parents or guardians are not always there to listen to their children’s problem such as peer bullying and thus making it difficult for children to seek comfort. The volunteers have become their support system in times where they give them comfort, space and time to vent about things that bother them, and also to celebrate their successes with them such as celebrating improved marks at school.
What kinds of positive changes have you seen in the kids? (Motopi) This project is not only seeing improved grades in those who are attending schools but it has ignited the spark for those who had dropped out to go back to school. It is attracting a lot of attention from children and parents to an extend in some communities, one volunteers is having over 50 children participating in their sessions because all nearby villages are encouraging their children to attend. For example, there are five volunteers of which each of them is seeing over fifty children in their sessions.
Can you speak about how imperative this initiative was while schools were closed because of COVID-19? (Motopi) During covid-19 lock-down restrictions, in the sessions, volunteers included covid-19 prevention measures such as social distancing, sanitizing or washing hands and putting on masks to keep them safe. They even created songs out of these measures just as to make sure that they never forget how to protect themselves, those around them and also where they can get assistance if they suspect that they are infected such as reporting to teachers, guardians and consulting with the doctors. This initiative did not only help to curb the covid-19 infections but also brought cohesion among children and parents in the communities. These children used the after school sessions as educational platforms where they would come together and help each other with school work and also shared their things with the vulnerable ones. For instance, some would identify that one of them does not have a uniform or school shoes and then they would give them their older ones.
How have things changed now that the schools are open? What is the reaction from parents and community members about this project? (Motopi) Support visits were started after the covid-19 restrictions were eased/removed which aimed at visiting volunteers in their sessions to assess the impact of the project on children. It is through these visits that we also conducted parents meetings to hear the take from the parents and guardians, and also assist them to further understand the project. Parents, guardians, community leaders, teachers and health workers showed that the project has being of create help for them because they do not have enough time to help children with school work as some are working nine(9) hours jobs such as factory workers who leave at 6:00am and comeback at 6:00pm already having to prepare for the following day. They also take the sessions as safe home for their children because even on weekends they know that their children are safe there with an adult. This also includes the fact that their children are able to share personal troubles with the volunteers and thus, making it easy for the parents to know them, work on improving their relationships and find mitigation strategies for the problems. For all these reasons, they hope the project will continue for many years to come.
What is the impact of this project on the alumni who volunteer their time? (Motopi) This work made the Alumni volunteers feel valued in their communities because parents recognized their assistance and deemed them as leaders. Most of these volunteers are unemployed, so they found these after school/weekend sessions giving them a purpose of waking up every day and get busy like other people. Some of them realized their potential in teaching career and they have gone to tertiary schools to pursue the teaching careers. Some have seen increased support from community members in their small scale businesses such as selling beauty products or vegetables. These volunteers are also getting psychological support through facilitation of PSS modules and One-on-One sessions from Help Lesotho staff as they are given opportunity to share their personal concerns and struggles through WhatsApp and phone calls.
What do you hope the future of the Smart Kids project looks like? (Motopi) I personally hope the project can be blessed with a good funding so that it can be big enough to cover all 10 districts because it has shown that most children are benefiting a lot from it. It has reduced the literacy gap between children attending private and public schools because it in at this platforms whereby they all learn the same thing and pull each other up. We are having children who are in grade 6 who cannot read or write but through this project we have managed to bridge that gap in the communities it is covering, therefore calling attention from those others that it does not cover and they are hoping that they can also get the similar assistance. As for the Alumni volunteers, there is a long list of them who also want to participate in this project as it does not only give them a purpose in life but also work experience in working with children.