2016 – Letters from Lesotho #6

2016 – Letters from Lesotho #6

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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.

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.

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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,

Peg

 

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2016 – Letters from Lesotho #5

2016 – Letters from Lesotho #5

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Lumelang,

Trip to Lesotho 2016On Wednesday, we bid farewell to our four special guests from North America, Gail Helmcken, Judith Manley, Jan Miller and Patti Giffin. It truly was an amazing experience to travel around Lesotho with them and see people, places, customs and landscapes through their eyes. They were such a pleasure to have. I marveled at their reactions to watching traditional dancing, hearing the unbelievably magnificent singing, and reading to the most adorable children you have ever seen.

  • They met young mothers and played with their babies.
  • They built key-hole gardens with grannies.
  • They watched a weaving demonstration by disabled women, and participated in our leadership training on sexual violence and grief and loss.
  • They heard grannies, children and youth open their hearts about their troubles and how they have learned to overcome them.
  • They traveled by horseback in the tops of these majestic mountains to one of the most isolated and poorest schools you can imagine.
  • They met a fine young man in Thaba Tseka, one of Gail’s sisters’ sponsored children, who is 17 years old and starting grade eight. He is over the moon to be able to continue his education.
  • They attended church in the middle of nowhere.
  • They were greeted by traditional chiefs, local councillors and villagers with grace and warmth.
  • They received a unique dance from a witch doctor.
  • They served grannies their special monthly lunch.
  • They learned a bit of Sesotho.
  • They laughed and occasionally cried.

This was only the second time I have led a group to Lesotho to experience the ‘mountain kingdom’. We feel this is an important way to show our donors the enormous impact of their funds. Yet regardless of what we say, visitors are never prepared for the depth of gratitude, the magnitude of our work or the gentle loveliness of the beautiful Basotho people. Our guests cherish the authentic activities with our staff and beneficiaries. It truly is a life-changing experience. We were all deeply touched by their passion for our work and the bonds they formed with the staff and beneficiaries.

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We have decided to do another trip next year to coincide with our Grandmother Conference, where we bring all 200 grandmothers from our Grandmother Support Program together from all over the mountains. It is five days of learning, sharing and empowerment. Guests of this next trip will have the unique opportunity to spend time with grannies at this inspirational conference in addition to visiting rural primary schools, touring the beautiful countryside, and meeting children and youth at our Leadership Centres.

If you are interested in joining me for the Mountain Kingdom Experience in 2017, please contact kate@helplesotho.org. It will be at the end of February 2017 for 12 days.

We have been working tirelessly to develop a measurement and evaluation database that will greatly increase our capacity to track our beneficiaries and most importantly – our impact. We hope to have Phase 1 complete this month. As you know, our work is complicated because we are encouraging change in human beings. Capturing such change is complex. Our database is now up and running and holding our most precious information.

For the first time ever, we have somewhere to input pre- and post- program survey information that will show the extent that Help Lesotho’s programs are helping vulnerable children, youth, and grandmothers to build their resilience, improve their self-management, and take action for the benefit of others. While data is rarely ‘exciting’, we are very excited!! Phase 2 of this project is to improve our reporting capabilities based on this data. With so many multi-faceted indicators, we require separate software to maximize the reporting capability for all this new information.

I am hopeful that someone out there will be as excited about reporting our impact as we are, and will want to help make this next phase a reality. We estimate needing $15-$20K, but will submit a more formal project outline to prospective donors. If you, your company, or someone you know is interested in helping, please reach out.

Graduation from Help Lesotho's programsFinally, this week we held the graduations for two of our most intensive programs – each lasting two months. Our ceremonies are very special and the attendees proudly come dressed in their finest! Ntate Shadrack gave a rousing speech at each group to inspire them to become leaders. At one, there were 85 Computer and Life Skills graduates, including the police I have been writing about. The chief of police was among them and I was petitioned to train more officers from other areas – hundreds of them! The very next day, in Shadrack’s mail box, there was a letter of appreciation from the Chief with a list of 19 more officers he is hoping we will accept for training. They were so appreciative and humble in their closing remarks.

The other group was 60 graduates from our Leaders in Training Program (LIT). This is our most intensive program, involving the entire organization to pull it off when we have so much else going on. As they ate their celebratory lunch, I was able to speak to each and every graduate. I almost had to leave twice to fight back the tears.

They were so appreciative – intently telling me how their lives have changed and how much they want Help Lesotho’s programs to continue and reach their families and friends. They praised and thanked the staff for their kindness and support. They repeatedly asked me to thank the donors who made this possible. They pledged to return to their families and communities to step up and speak out against injustice, gender inequity and violence against women. If you could have heard the men in their commitment to change to protect women.

Words fail me in describing how deeply I was touched.

I started this annual program in 2006 and estimate that we have trained over 500 youth to date. Imagine the cumulative impact of these fine young people all over the country! One young man tweeted during the day:

‘M’ Peg said, “we believe in you. We have put our hearts and souls into you; the best of everything we have has been offered to you”

Reflecting on today’s events @helplesotho ,

‘M’e Peg said to us “it’s all for you and now you need to go out and make it all for them”

A special thank you to all the Help Lesotho family for taking us through this journey that is LIT. Now it’s our turn!

I guess that pretty much says it all! Wishing each one well from Lesotho.

Peg[/fusion_text][/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_3″ spacing=”” center_content=”no” hover_type=”none” link=”” min_height=”” hide_on_mobile=”small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility” class=”” id=”” background_color=”” background_image=”” background_position=”left top” background_repeat=”no-repeat” border_size=”0″ border_color=”” border_style=”solid” border_position=”all” padding=”” dimension_margin=”undefined” animation_type=”” animation_direction=”left” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_offset=”” last=”no”][fusion_button link=”https://www.helplesotho.org/2016-letters-lesotho-4″ title=”” target=”_self” alignment=”” modal=”” hide_on_mobile=”small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility” class=”” id=”” color=”default” button_gradient_top_color=”” button_gradient_bottom_color=”” button_gradient_top_color_hover=”” button_gradient_bottom_color_hover=”” accent_color=”” accent_hover_color=”” type=”” bevel_color=”” border_width=”” size=”” stretch=”default” shape=”” icon=”” icon_position=”left” icon_divider=”no” animation_type=”” animation_direction=”left” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_offset=””]< Letter #4[/fusion_button][/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_3″ spacing=”” center_content=”no” hover_type=”none” link=”” min_height=”” hide_on_mobile=”small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility” class=”” id=”” background_color=”” background_image=”” background_position=”left top” background_repeat=”no-repeat” border_size=”0″ border_color=”” border_style=”solid” border_position=”all” padding=”” dimension_margin=”undefined” animation_type=”” animation_direction=”left” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_offset=”” last=”no”][fusion_button link=”https://www.helplesotho.org/letters-from-lesotho-2016/” title=”” target=”_self” alignment=”” modal=”” hide_on_mobile=”small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility” class=”” id=”” color=”default” button_gradient_top_color=”” button_gradient_bottom_color=”” button_gradient_top_color_hover=”” button_gradient_bottom_color_hover=”” accent_color=”” accent_hover_color=”” type=”” bevel_color=”” border_width=”” size=”” stretch=”default” shape=”” icon=”” icon_position=”left” icon_divider=”no” animation_type=”” animation_direction=”left” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_offset=””]All 2016 Letters[/fusion_button][/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_3″ spacing=”” center_content=”no” hover_type=”none” link=”” min_height=”” hide_on_mobile=”small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility” class=”” id=”” background_color=”” background_image=”” background_position=”left top” background_repeat=”no-repeat” border_size=”0″ border_color=”” border_style=”solid” border_position=”all” padding=”” dimension_margin=”undefined” animation_type=”” animation_direction=”left” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_offset=”” last=”no”][fusion_button link=”https://www.helplesotho.org/2016-letters-lesotho-6/” title=”” target=”_self” alignment=”” modal=”” hide_on_mobile=”small-visibility,medium-visibility,large-visibility” class=”” id=”” color=”default” button_gradient_top_color=”” button_gradient_bottom_color=”” button_gradient_top_color_hover=”” button_gradient_bottom_color_hover=”” accent_color=”” accent_hover_color=”” type=”” bevel_color=”” border_width=”” size=”” stretch=”default” shape=”” icon=”” icon_position=”left” icon_divider=”no” animation_type=”” animation_direction=”left” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_offset=””]Letter #6 >[/fusion_button][/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]