I have been in Lesotho almost two weeks now, arriving just 30 hours before our first guest! Ken Rutherford, a retired businessman from Toronto, came for a week to explore our approach and learn from our staff and beneficiaries. He was a great guest and is looking forward to returning.
It is lovely to be back – to see staff and once again realize how many people are part of the Help Lesotho family. I am deeply touched by their welcome – signs everywhere and happy wishes.
The past months have been unusually hot and no rain has fallen. This is the cycle of climate change. Even the Cape Town reservoirs are close to empty causing stringent water rationing. Just as I arrived, it started raining. My third night here, we had one of those horrific thunderstorm Lesotho is so famous for. It brought such heavy, impenetrable sheets of water that not even the persistent bolts of lightning could illuminate the air.
As I lay in bed listening to the deafening torrents of rain hit the tin roof immediately above me, I thought of the herd boys marooned out in the mountains, frantically trying to shelter their animals. I had images of isolated grannies with holes in their thatch roofs. I recalled the makeshift one-room concrete block homes of many of our beneficiaries – the ones roofed by scrap pieces of tin held down strategically by large rocks.
How did they get through the night? Were the children wet and cold? Had there been enough rain to soak through the ground and saturate the tragically thin mats so many sleep on?
I will never know, but it breaks my heart knowing they are out there in the blackness, having to bear the powerful winds and the rain of these intense storms.
I also thought of Ken, our visitor, sleeping (for his first of two nights) at the Pitseng Centre. The thunder would be louder, the storm more intimate, the solitude more profound. He was a trouper, as I knew he would be. The days have been lovely and warm but these storms have become nightly events, pounding the rigid soil, creating ruts and fissures. I do think the water is gradually seeping in and hope it continues to rain, but more gently. Municipal water is infrequent and we are often forced to rely on our well, which is difficult with so many people here every day. On wakening, one always wonders – will there be internet, water, and electricity for the day?
In my feeble attempt to get some exercise, I was out this morning for a jog – after the storm last night. It must have looked hilarious – a comedy of obstacles. The only white woman within miles, dodging cow poop, puddles of water of indeterminate depth, rocks, and huge ruts. Along my route I was met by cows, sheep, herd boys/men, groups of grannies, gaggles of little ones, deaf kids waving, and the occasional vehicle. I greeted each person I passed, as is the lovely custom here! A beautiful former sponsored young woman stopped me for a hug. She has graduated from high school and the university nursing program. There are no jobs so she is working at the pharmacy in town. I love reconnecting with our alumni, and we planned to meet again before I return to Canada.
Now, as I write, the cow bells from the field in front of our Centre are so loud it seems as if these bovines will come directly in the door any minute!
Our 2018 programs have started, some in our two Centres, others in the villages. Every day there are multiple programs going on simultaneously.
Last weekend was a two-day training for the Pearl Program. Although there is a new group of grade seven girls starting this month with the beginning of the new school year, this training was for last year’s group for a refresher as they start high school. It was lovely to see them. Children come to the Centre for games and students to use the library. The GIRL4ce troupe was performing out in a village to inspire people to fight gender-based violence and child early and forced marriage. Busy weekend!
A new young mother program group has been recruited and the grandmother support program reconvened for their second and final year with us.
There are computer classes and life skills class running in both centres. One is for new graduates from high school to prepare them for university which starts in August – a heads up chance to succeed. Another class is for youth who dropped out of school, and the last is for community leaders, including police, local counsellors, and government officials.
Our annual intensive leadership training program began with 65 carefully selected young, talented youth. We had the most applicants ever this year and many from great distances. I hear them laughing as they wait for the afternoon class to start, filled with pride to be chosen, making new friends. Their hearts are so heavy with worries about their futures and to laugh with abandon is such therapy.
This is truly a happy place.
I had the opportunity to chat with these youth. Predictably, several asked what made me choose the Basotho, which of course led to the founding story. As I was in the telling, I had an epiphany. The children who had touched me so deeply in 2004 when I first visited Lesotho – tiny, beautiful children who had been brutally orphaned by AIDS – were these kids in front of me. They may not have been the exact children but they would have been about the same age. They were those children who were trying to survive when HIV/AIDS had no treatment or testing, when death permeated each village, family and heart.
Knowing that we had accompanied them in this journey, into their young adulthood, seeing them looking so mature and grown up was a visual representation of how much time had passed, how long I have been in Lesotho and how many tens of thousands of people have been helped.
It is good to just stop once in a while and review the big picture. It will be a joy to watch these youth continue to grow over the next couple of months through our program.
Speaking of the founding story, my dear friend Sister Alice came for a long, quiet visit this week. It was wonderful to reminisce and catch up. She looks terrific and I assured her so many continue to ask for her. She is on a two year secondment from her school to work on convent matters. It was a wonderful visit. As a total aside, she informed me that there is only one dialysis machine in the whole country and it is in our town hospital just down the road. Every once in a while, one example explains it all – how hard life is here and how much work is yet to be done!