Ntate 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.
From 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.
While 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.
We 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.