There can be something electrifying about starting a new adventure.
Throughout my 5km run this morning, I noticed a steady stream of people moving toward our centre, one adult and one small girl at a time, excitement clear on their faces. Occasionally, I stopped to say hello – to an old man limping with a walking stick and a timid child at his side, a granny and granddaughter, a teenage boy with his sister’s orphaned daughter, a sister with her small charge. Today is the gathering of the guardians of the grade seven girls who started our Pearl Program this month, headed by ‘M’e Neo. Many are dressed in their finest for this auspicious occasion – not knowing what to expect but realizing this is one of those rare chances in life that something significant could be possible. Some came as many as two hours early – travelling 60-90 minutes on foot, not wanting to miss a moment. The guardians will learn about the program, our approach, what the girls will learn and how they can support them.
The girls cluster together, not knowing each other well yet, being only their second weekend here, but somehow feeling safer in this new situation. They are making new friends. These girls will have a year of training and support to learn about their bodies, their choices, their rights and their minds before getting to high school. Some are so very tiny and timid – one feels protective.
The best metaphor I can think of is this empty room, filled with possibilities, awaiting their arrival and then seeing the room filled with expectant faces. These young girls have a new chance – to become a better version of themselves.
For those who buy our Pearls4Girls jewelry – this is where much of the money goes. When you wear those lovely pearls, think of these girls and how much you have contributed to their futures. (Learn more about Pearls4Girls – and shop! – here.)
I was touched yesterday when I asked one of our staff what might be on her bucket list.
She said she has been longing for years to sponsor a child.
She cannot think how she could but this is all she wants, other than to live to see her grandchildren grow up. I know that on her salary, this would not be possible. But it is a lovely thought. I asked her if she has thought of emotionally supporting a child through high school. She is wise, strong, kind and loving – some lucky child would thrive under her mentorship. Money is not the only solution.
Sponsoring a child has such a profound impact on not only the child themselves, but on their family.‘M’e Mokome, our Program Manager, met this week with the guardians of the sponsored children from various schools. She said that the majority of the children are being raised by grandparents, older siblings and extended family members and that for some, they have no relatives and are entirely alone. Many walked long distances in the rain to attend these meetings – in gratitude that their charges were going to go to school this year.
As the discussions progress, many mention that their families had been changed by the children themselves. It is the norm that our sponsored children attend our five day camps in December. The guardians said that when the children, formerly depressed and uncommunicative, returned from camp, they eagerly shared what they had learned and how the families could do things differently. They said that now they are all talking together regularly, without anger and resentment.
One grandmother, Tsepane, shared about raising a grandchild whose parents passed away after she was born. She said her granddaughter was so happy to go to school, even to walk the hour and a half each way, knowing that she can get an education.
M’e Mokome was visibly moved by the gratitude of these guardians who are doing their very best to raise other people’s children. It was inspiring.
We have been diligently preparing for our trip guests. The staff are excited. John and Lynn Graham return. John is our wonderful board chair and I think this is his fourth time. Our board members, Bill Austin and Mary Dawson are here for the first time. They are all from Ottawa. Bill’s wife, Julie, joins us with her daughter, Lisanna, from the Yukon. Sandra Hellyer, from Toronto, comes for the third time. She and her husband Paul have been huge supporters since day one. Jean McNabb comes from the Guelph area. Over ten years ago, Jean started the Amazin’ Mamas group which caters luncheons and weddings to raise funds for our granny groups. It is so exciting that she can be here to see the impact herself. Her friend, Barbara Bonner also from the Guelph area, is with us for the first time and we look forward to getting to know her. I leave early in the morning to fetch them from the airport.
In preparation last week, I went on horseback to visit four grannies who will host them for an afternoon. ‘M’e Thoala, the Pitseng Centre Supervisor, ‘M’e Thato and I had a great afternoon. Both ladies were terrified to be on the horses but in the end very much enjoyed the experience. This is really the way to see Lesotho. It is incredibly beautiful with vistas that vary constantly.
There are multiple programs going on at once here – even as I write. Each one has important successes. Each day I learn something new we have done to help our beneficiaries and reach more people.
For example, during the herd boy program, as well as having them test for HIV and STIs, we were able to help the boys to register to vote!
The deaf children who frequent the centre every day are so happy that they are playing with hearing children – as their lives are isolated in a silent, unwelcoming world. Our famous Girl4ce Movement has done nearly 50 performances since ramping up and been on the radio three times and on TV advocating to stop child early and forced marriage and gender-based violence.
Sadly, we are not going to be able to meet our budget this year. There are almost no funds coming into Lesotho and so we have been unable to raise much money here. For various reasons, our fundraising is below expectation this year. Shadrack and I are meeting to see what we can cut. We always run so lean that this is a terrific challenge. When we cut from a program, we are well aware that individuals will suffer. This is only the second time since 2004 that we have not met our budget. We have four months to our yearend on June 30 and we will live in hope that the funds will arrive. You can imagine how hard this is.
Despite our inevitable challenges, every day the impact here is visible, exciting and gratifying. I hope you know that.