Khotsong (peace to you all),
As I prepare to leave Lesotho, there is much to share.
Staff has been holding meetings with the guardians of our sponsored children in various locations. Whether older siblings, single parents, grandparents or distant relatives, they implore us to thank you for the sponsorship you provide that allows their child to continue going to school. One of those mothers is 34-years-old with two children aged 16 and 13, the latter whom we sponsor. Her husband was an old man who cheated her into marrying him and then left her with three children, no job or skills and no hope. Despite being in a room full of strangers, she wept uncontrollably in thanks for the assistance Help Lesotho has provided in sending her youngest to school. She has no one else to turn to.
So many rose to humbly thank Help Lesotho for the sessions we are giving to help the sponsored children with their grief and loss and to recognize them as someone with a future – not a hopeless person sitting at home. Each in turn gave thanks for the school fees, the uniforms, the shoes – confessing to all that these items are completely beyond their capacity to provide.
The graduation from the Leadership in Training was this past week as well. Sixty new friends, fortified with knowledge, passion, hope and purpose. After two months together, they just don’t want to leave!
On Saturday, I drove to Maseru to visit with 20 girls who have graduated from our leadership programs, most of whom are now in university or college. We spent four hours together – laughing, encouraging each other, sharing challenges. I have known most of these wonderful young women for over a decade, through camps, gender conferences, leadership training and child sponsorship. Life is never easy in Lesotho and so I am even more proud of them for the integrity, determination and commitment they exhibit to keep themselves HIV negative, unmarried and pursuing their education. They have learned to wait – that women need to establish themselves before they submit to a relationship that could potentially deprive them of all they have worked so hard for. I endeavor to see as many as possible each time I come.
I first met Kananelo Molapo in 2006 when she was a tiny little thing in primary school. She is a double orphan who lived with her grandmother in a stick house. She got sponsorship from my next door neighbours and from that day, she has worked hard to succeed. She was in our Basotho Girls’ Leadership Corp throughout high school and is now doing exceptionally well in third year nursing. She is still tiny! She is a solid, smart and focused young woman who is exactly what we hoped our programs could develop.
Mat’sepiso Nceke, one of our first sponsored children in 2005 was living with her grandmother, was smart as a whip and a born leader. Pregnant at 14, she had a baby at 15 (a daughter who is now 13) and had to leave high school. She had another child, who died in infancy. Mat’sepsio forged on, eventually graduating from university as a teacher and has remained a single parent. There are many roads to one’s future but she is the epitome of our slogan: Leaders Never give Up!
In 2007, Sr. Alice, then principal of St. Charles High School in Seboche, advocated for me to include a young girl named Tebello Sarele in our camp. Her parents, both subsistent farmers, had love to share but no means. Thus with Sr. Alice’s insistence that this child was bright and worthy of a spot, Tebello joined our family. Each year, my mother, Dorothy Parnell, sponsors ten children to go to camp who could not go otherwise – now over 110 children – and Tebello was one of those girls. What Sr. Alice did not tell me was that this young lady had the voice of an angel! Listening to her sing is breathtaking! Tebello and I have kept in touch often as she graduated high school, then became a pharmacist, then an assistant lecturer at the University of Swaziland and now, at 27, an employee at a hospital in Maseru and a student in a Masters’ program. She is a wonderful mentor to younger women and an inspiration to me.
During my last days in Lesotho, Shadrack and I met with UNICEF, World Vision, UNFPA, and the Ministry of Social Development to plan a joint offensive against gender-based violence and child early and forced marriage with Princess Senate as the youth Champion. We are responding to several requests to submit proposals for funding and are hopeful. We tried to fit in as much as possible. In fact, I was interviewed in the car for the national newspaper on the subject as I left for the airport!
People often ask to use our modules. I have always refused because, given the sensitive nature of our programs and the vulnerability and depth of issues of our populations, I feel that without proper training in our facilitation approach, it is not responsible to allow people to use our modules. Our facilitators are carefully trained over many processes and years to handle the emotional trauma experienced by our participants and the raw truths that emerge during the sessions. In response to requests to share our lessons learned, materials and impact, we have developed an initiative called CHANGE4ce, which is a process to train facilitators in our methodology before they are allowed to purchase modules. Our first client is the Sawubona Project in South Africa, set to start next year. Hopefully, this structure will allow us to raise some funds and to train others in Lesotho and elsewhere to do the kind of intensive, emotionally laden work we are known and respected for.
These past months while I am in Lesotho, I am grateful for the Canadian staff who continues to manage everything in Ottawa. My thanks to Lesley Griffiths, Marlene Caicco and Taylor Holmes for being such a terrific team. Our exciting news is that Kate Lambert and Dave have adopted a newborn boy, Joel Parker Lambert. Kate will be on maternity leave until January 2019 but will still be looking after the child sponsorship file. We are delighted for them and know you will be as well. For those in Ottawa, I will be having a drop in for people to meet Joel so let me know if you want to come.
As I packed to leave, the days are cooler, and fall descends – and with it the Basotho fear of the cold. I don’t remember it ever being so cool at the end of March. Sitting in my 3” bath water, used for the third day in a row, trying to rinse the suds from my hair, the water stops. I vow that when I get home, I will be more appreciative of water and electricity – I will be more careful.
This has been an eventful season, with lots of wonderful visitors, graduations, encounters and surprises. Thank you for joining me and for caring so much about our work. On behalf of all our staff, volunteers and beneficiaries, I send you a hug and our gratitude.
Best wishes, salang hantle (stay well)
PS We are hosting a ‘Brunch with Peg’ on April 21 in Ottawa. There are limited tickets left. If you live nearby and can join us to see some photos and hear the stories of my trip – please reserve your ticket soon by clicking here.