2016 – Letters from Lesotho #6

2016 – Letters from Lesotho #6

As I traversed the tarmac in the rain to the small plane that would take me from Lesotho to Johannesburg, the skies were foreboding with a steady rain.


So little, so late. I am haunted by the sight of the fields, especially in Thaba Tseka. Corn that should be shoulder height is less than a foot; fields that should be bursting with produce are unplanted or dying well before maturity. The sight of the dry streams and river beds, women washing in shallow muddy puddles, and children pushing wheelbarrows up and down the mountain roads to find water makes the issue clear and terrifying. As I leave, the nights are cooler; the mornings crisp. Winter will come – as inevitable as the sunrise and with it cold and hunger.

The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation recently issued a warning that the state of malnutrition for under-five-year-olds in Lesotho is critically high. According to the report released last week, the national malnutrition rate has risen to 33% of children suffering from malnutrition and 50% from anaemia.

I will miss the sound of cows, sheep and horses waking me up. I will appreciate my showers more. I will be more grateful for what I have.

A generous partner foundation in Denver, Colorado has purchased a brand-new computer lab for our Pitseng Centre with 22 new computers. It is so exciting to think of how this will revitalize the community and give students, youth and adults a chance to learn marketable skills. Of course, they will also take life skills during their two-month course – that is the deal! The chief and local counselors have already signed up! Discouraged and disengaged out-of-school youth, always so hard to reach, will have a purpose and a chance to change their lives and behaviour. Young mothers will begin to believe they can move on with their lives. We expect the delivery in a few weeks.

The community cannot wait – this is the most exciting thing that has happened since we opened the Centre in June 2008!

The past two months in Lesotho have been packed. What stands out the most though is the tremendous efforts our communities and beneficiaries expend to show how much they love and appreciate our work.  We get constant messages, letters and speeches from our beneficiaries of all ages – more grateful and heartfelt than you can imagine – to thank us – to thank you –  for caring so much about them and their lives.

One example is a speech a young woman made at the intensive Leaders-in-Training graduation last week:

Help Lesotho Leaders in Training graduateThe Help Lesotho staff have always seemed to understand that attitude is contagious. Thanks for your positive attitude when we found ourselves dwelling on the negatives of life. You help us count our blessings instead of our troubles. Your optimism was contagious, it gave us the courage to dream and the faith to believe that our dreams can come true. Thanks for the lessons about life. By your words and actions, you have taught us about love, discipline, hope, courage, responsibility and more. One of life’s greatest ironies is there’s so much to learn in so little time. That’s why we value the wisdom you’ve shared with us. You cared enough to teach, and we won’t forget.

Thanks for your care, your concern, your help and your kindness. Even in your busiest moments, you always made time for us. Through your words and deeds, you have taught us a lesson that will last a lifetime; the power of compassion. We will be forever grateful.

Thanks for listening to our dreams and thanks for believing in them. When we summoned the courage to confide in you, you supported us, you encouraged us and you trusted us. If you harboured any doubts, you hid them. Please know that your faith was effective. Because you believed in us, we can have faith and believe in our dreams, too.

— Ramotheba

When I meet our grannies, as old and poor as they are, they are dressed neatly in their finest Seshoeshoe dresses with gifts of song and dance. They are bursting with speeches to share what they have learned and their plans to make life better for themselves and their children. They write songs of thanks. They hold my hands as if ever to let them go.

Our Help Lesotho family is enormous and loving – it is amazing. Just one example was the reception we had at a mountain school a 50-minute horse ride up into the clouds. We were met by the entire community with traditional songs and dances. The 156 children in this tiny primary school wore the track suits we had provided last year – to replace their threadbare clothes. They wore the Toms shoes we had distributed instead of bare feet. 

I took our international guests to a VERY remote village to meet some grannies. The whole village turned up – a village of old grannies and children. One rarely sees a man or youth. The men have died or left and the youth have gone to seek work and a better future. With the help of our local staff, I had pressed upon them beforehand that they should not prepare food. The Basotho are so generous and hospitable but it is too painful to take food from their meagre supplies.  I struggle with how to graciously keep them from making these enormous meals when I come. After a wonderful visit, a spokeswoman from the grandmother group in that area handed me the equivalent of CAD $5 in small bills for us to purchase drinks in town to compensate for the lack of opportunity to provide us with a meal. I know very well how much that money represents to them and was almost in tears to accept – which I must. They gave us handmade pots and brooms. Such generosity is beyond humbling – the widow’s mite!

As I return home to Canada, I am racking my brain to think of more ways to engage people in this amazingly powerful work. It truly matters – and the Basotho are counting on us.

We so appreciate the few large donors we have. Their consistent, generous donations help to reduce our reliance on the often uncertain availability of grants and ensure we can provide the services we know are needed so badly. Finding more such large donors is a constant challenge that keeps me awake at night. I believe completely that if people could see our work they would be so happy to support it. This is what each person who sees our work in person tells me!They proudly showed us the repairs to the holes in the concrete floors of their classrooms. They ask for nothing. They cheered and made a public announcement when I told them they will soon be receiving solar lights for their dungeon-like classrooms and for every student to bring home, thanks to your generous support.

So much has been done since my first visit in August 2004, and so much is yet to be accomplished. I am very excited as we complete our strategic plan for 2016-2019. Our growth and implementation has been targeted and successful. We know what we need to do and how to do it. We are ready!

Thank you for walking this journey with us – it is such a privilege to do this together ….. and as this little mountain school says:God Bless Help Lesotho 2016

God bless Help Lesotho 2016!

With my love and appreciation,


Read Peg’s other 2016 ‘Letters from Lesotho’.

2016 – Letters from Lesotho #4

2016 – Letters from Lesotho #4

drought in LesothoNtate Shadrack and I recently spent a couple of days in Maseru for meetings, making various arrangements and sparing time to talk about our upcoming strategic plan. The founder of the Country Directors’ Leadership Forum of Lesotho since 2008, Shadrack chaired a meeting of its members.

World Vision Lesotho presented the latest stats about the drought, now called the “green drought” because although the recent rains sprouted the grass there will be no harvest to speak of. If the many people who are on antiretroviral drugs for HIV/AIDS do not have enough food to digest the drugs, the drugs will eat away their digestive system.

Corn stalks, normally shoulder length at this point, are barely a foot tall. Animals are emaciated. Food prices have risen 13%. 77% of people report they have had to borrow money to purchase food from loan sharks – predators on the poor. Watching the animals grazing on the quarter inch of grass that has grown in the past two weeks brings it all home, given that it is past mid-summer here.

 If you are interested, you can read more about the green drought here.  

Lecture on Help Lesotho's psychosocial approachFrom Maseru, I went to the small town of Roma to lecture at the National University of Lesotho to undergraduate students on Help Lesotho’s approach to delivering psychosocial support to vulnerable populations. It was special to meet the students and talk about our work. They were studying to be counselors and especially interested in our approach. Unfortunately, I cannot accept their invitation to return to speak to larger groups or to the faculty. There is never enough time!

Before I left Roma, I sat listening to the funeral music on the other side of a stand of trees from where I stayed in a little village. The music was transcendent. There are far too many funerals in Lesotho – this one for a young woman who had died of AIDS. She was a cook and supported 22 people with her meagre wage. She leaves behind a couple of tiny children. The place of music in this culture is impossible to overstate. Music permeates every aspect of life. Every meeting at our work starts with a song. Music is the living expression of grief, of joy, of hope and longing. The harmony is awesome and compelling.

This one little funeral, held in a tent by the side of the dusty road, was a testimony to the resilience of the Basotho people to keep going under the duress of more grief and loss that one can imagine. Where words are entirely inadequate, music takes over.

Herd boys in LesothoWhile I am in Lesotho, I often travel deep into the mountains by myself in a four-wheel drive truck. This is when I connect with the country the most.  I had to laugh – leaving Roma, one sign says there is 60KM to your destination; 45 minutes later, another tells you it is only 50KM to go. Forty minutes passes and the sign says 30KM. Bear in mind this is on switchback turns.

This land belongs to the herd boys, their cattle, goats and sheep. While rare to pass another vehicle, it is the norm to share the road with donkeys bearing sacks of maize meal, women carrying huge weights on their heads up VERY steep paths in the hot sun for hours, tiny boys shepherding animals and horseback men shrouded in threadbare blankets and face covers against the dust in the 30 C degree heat.

Going through one tiny village, I was totally enamoured of four little boys – first bathing together in a small tub by their hut and then sunning stark naked in the warm sun on a nearby rock. They were beside themselves with delight – laughing and splashing. It was all I could do to restrain myself from stopping to play with them. One can’t though – when one has the white skin that glows in the dark. It is never possible to be subtle or inconspicuous. I often feel my presence disturbs the natural order of things and so feel reserved to intrude where I have not been invited. The Basotho are always welcoming but non-the-less, I am a disturbance.

Welcome to Help LesothoWe are excited to welcome four guests – women who have come to participate in our work on the “Mountain Kingdom Awaits” trip.

Judith Manley, a dear friend for 25 years and a huge encourager for me, is one many of you may know. Her husband, John, was the Master of Ceremonies for our first big fundraiser in 2006 with Stephen Lewis as our special guest. John was also the MC at our Tenth Anniversary in Ottawa last year. I value their friendship very much.

Patti Giffin, from Atlanta, is also one some of you will know. She too is a long-time friend. You may remember her from when her husband, Gordon, was the American Ambassador to Canada.

Gail Helmcken, from Vancouver, is a retired teacher who has been a hugely enthusiastic child sponsor since the beginning and is so excited to meet the children in our programs.

Jan Miller, from Kingston, is a member of the Kingston Grandmother Connection (KGC). This group have been the largest funder of our Grandmother Support Program for the past ten years and without them, we could not sustain that program. The KGC has raised over $250k since the beginning and is such a large group of wonderful women – I think about 225 in their membership.  It is exciting to have one of them with us to actually meet the grannies.

It is a real honour for our staff and participants to host guests who care so much about our work that they are willing to leave their families and come to see it for themselves.

You see, although our work is fraught with challenges and heartache, we are surrounded by amazingly selfless, generous people. They, like you, walk this journey with us and we feel part of one family – donors, staff and beneficiaries. It is a real privilege.

Salang hantle (stay well)


PS thank you to all those who LIKE and SHARE our Facebook posts. This is a zero cost way to spread the work about the impact of our programs where they are needed most.

2016 – Letters from Lesotho #1

2016 – Letters from Lesotho #1

As I set foot on the soil of Lesotho last week, I started the twelfth year of my journey with the Basotho.

Before landing in Lesotho, there is a point when one can see the mountains from the small plane’s windows. Then I know I am home. This year, I was filled with trepidation about what that view might look like after months of drought. Thankfully, there have been short, gentle rains since Christmas. I felt enormous relief to see green on the mountains instead of the dull, hopeless beige I had feared.

Global partners, the World Food Program, and the Lesotho government are strategizing ways to help the more than 650,000 people who are at risk of starvation this year from the paralyzing heat and drought wreaked upon sub-Saharan Africa this year. Imagine the effect on our vulnerable populations – especially breastfeeding mothers, young children, HIV patients and the aged.

There were several months when our Centre had no water at all – even the town we live in had none. They had to import it from higher regions. It was incredibly challenging hosting hundreds of people for two five-day Leadership Camps, a three-day Alumni Conference and all our other regular activities.

The effects of the drought persist and are very real. The winter preserves are gone. Seeds shrivelled in the soil after the September planting. There is no time left for grain crops to mature before June’s freezing temperatures. There is hopefully time for one crop of vegetables, but nothing to eat before they mature and not enough to store for next winter.

As if to reinforce my relief, it rained on the drive to Hlotse from the airport! I arrived at home and the power went out. Welcome to Lesotho!

As I work, it is routine for me to hear the bells on sheep and cows. This morning I was treated to the grunts of a group of pigs as they foraged at our front gate! Life is never dull!

Our programs are in such demand that we have converted our two garages into classrooms. I walked into one garage yesterday during Saturday story time. It was packed. Half the children were from the nearby school for the deaf and the rest from surrounding villages. One young boy signed for the deaf children as ‘M’e Pontso read the story. Children clustered around our duplicate copies to follow along. One little munchkin was clearly thinking this was a bedtime story!

Help Lesotho classroomOne of my joys in returning each time is the staff. Our staff are all Basotho, with the exception of our wonderful Country Director, Shadrack. This year, two staff you may know have changed portfolios.

  • ‘M’e Mampaka who previously managed our Child Sponsorship Program all these years is now in charge of the Grandmother Support Program.
  • Ntate Makoti, one of our Leaders-in-Training program graduates, is now the Child Sponsorship Officer after two successful years interning under ‘M’e Mampaka.
  • ‘M’e Felleng, who managed the Grandmother Support Program, is now the Advocacy and Networks Officer – to address our ever expanding reach and scope.

Last year, we had almost 20,000 beneficiaries covering a massive geographical area. Last quarter alone, with no water, we reached over 4,600 beneficiaries with our programs!

Shadrack holds two-day quarterly staff meetings to build the team, share challenges and successes, review organizational information and plan ahead. There were 32 participants at the first meeting of 2016, including our grandmother leads from the villages. Staff came from all locations to participate.

Help Lesotho staff with 5 year plaques

We explored lots of issues and successes, but perhaps the most popular was the session on how our programs are designed and delivered to promote the cognitive development of our beneficiaries – and how it enhances our own. Great discussion and lots of interest. The staff were particularly touched as I told them of the sacrifices our donors make to fund these important programs.

I was delighted to present Five-Year Service plaques to ‘M’e Montja, our amazing cook and assistant house mother, and Ntate Motsamai, our wonderful driver.

There were tearful moments as they shared how much they value working at Help Lesotho and how they have grown as individuals. I look forward to my individual meetings with each staff to catch up. These are the people who make our work possible and such a huge success – they are an incredible group.

We have two new interns this year, funded by the Ministry of Global Affairs through our partnership with the Interagency Coalition on AIDS and Development (ICAD). Jo-Ann Osei-Twum (right) is from Brantford, ON and Sarah Otto (left) is from Ottawa, ON. They will be with us until August supporting programs and projects.

I was surprised to learn that I am not the only white woman in town these days. Risa Keene from New Hampshire is here with her husband, a physician, for two years. Risa, a speech therapist, will volunteer in our Centres for half of every week over the next year – working with the pre-school program, library and literacy work.  The staff have embraced her with open arms.

Wishing each one the very best, sala hantle.


PS On a personal note, in church this morning, an absolutely adorable baby cooed throughout and I became happily distracted with my anticipation of my third grandchild arriving next July to my youngest son, Abe, and his lovely wife Jessica! I wish every Basotho child was so blessed as this new babe will be.

Read Peg’s second Letter from Lesotho of 2016.