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!
One 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.
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.