The Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho is magnificent and the people are beautiful, but young people face so many obstacles that few can surmount the challenges to stay in school and become the leaders their country so urgently needs.
Primary schooling up to Grade 7 has been free in Lesotho since 2000. It was only in May 2010 that attendance at primary school was made compulsory.
Obstacles faced by Children in Lesotho
Despite free education up until Grade 7, children struggle to stay in school. Many have to walk two hours to school each way, arrive at school hungry and are unable to concentrate. They show up without proper uniforms, coats or shoes required to stay warm and healthy.
Children often wear thread-bare hand-me-down uniforms to school, and sit shivering in their poorly maintained classrooms. The lack of resources to maintain the infrastructure leaves poorer school classrooms often dilapidated with caved in roofs, broken windows, no heat and no desks.
In addition, school pit latrines (toilets) are often full and must be emptied or replaced, and without proper toilet facilities many girls will not come to school due to a lack of privacy.
Obstacles faced by Schools in Lesotho
Teachers also struggle in Lesotho. They have limited resources to work with, receive inadequate salaries, teach in overcrowded classrooms (sometimes up to 100 students per teacher) and at night they return to horrible housing conditions, where they must board away from their families, while teaching in rural locations.
Many teachers do not have the training to properly educate the children, and as a result the children suffer the consequences of a poor education.
When children reach high school, their families begin paying school fees which are prohibitive. You can imagine a family’s priority might not be sending their children to school when they can’t even afford to keep food on the table.
As a result, only 20 per cent of youth in Lesotho are able to attend to high school because of the costs involved, which forces children to sit at home or work informal labour jobs.
Often children are sent out to work in order to cover household expenses. Boys are sent to the fields to herd livestock, while girls work as domestics or take on more of their family’s household chores and responsibilities, so their caregivers can seek work.
Some children come from homes where a parent, sibling or relative is sick with HIV/AIDS and as a result, most children and youth must look after sick people. Other children belong to child-headed households, where most often their parents have passed away due to complications from HIV/AIDS.
What can we do?
The Schools Helping Schools Program was one of the first programs launched when Help Lesotho was founded in 2004.
Currently, Help Lesotho works with 17 partner schools in Lesotho (11 primary and 6 high schools) all of whom are in desperate need of support. Partner schools are chosen on the basis of leadership and commitment to providing children with the safest and most effective learning environments and strategies.
These schools are then partnered with 17 schools across Canada who provide support financially, but also friendship through project exchanges and other cross-cultural, relationship-building activities.
Thousands of Basotho children and youth have benefited from such support as classroom construction and repairs, uniforms and shoes, classroom supplies, textbooks, rain barrels, blankets and toothbrushes.
For many Basotho students, the friendship and tangible support they receive from their Canadian friends reminds them that they have not been forgotten. While providing financial aid in the form of desks, books and uniforms is critical, it is the restoration of hope for a brighter future that makes the biggest difference.
To find out more or to get your school involved, visit out website.
Support a Child
Another program Help Lesotho created to help youth reap the benefits of an education is the Child Sponsorship Program.
The program supports children in rural communities who are often double-orphans and have no other source of funds to pay the prohibitive high school fees needed after Grade 7.
The program is the only option for many of these children to continue going to school and achieve their dream of being educated and having a bright future.
The majority of sponsored children are girls due to their increased vulnerability to poverty and HIV/AIDS.
The Child Sponsorship Program is a combination of financial support for formal education and psychosocial support to help children grow up and become a leader, despite the odds stacked against them.
The children who are sponsored are held accountable to Help Lesotho to work hard and achieve good grades, receive life skills and gender equity training and are expected to act as leaders in schools, through regular visits with Help Lesotho staff. The children are also able to access greater support when challenges arise from trained Help Lesotho staff members.
The individuals who sponsor each child not only provide a promising future through education, but they demonstrate to each child that someone knows who they are, believes in them and will support them.
The children no longer feel alone, and children who are supported, thrive.
For more information on sponsoring a child, visit our website.