2016 – Letters from Lesotho #5

2016 – Letters from Lesotho #5


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.

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.


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.