It was the best gift ever! The weekend of February 14-16 we hosted our first Alumni Reunion. I have been excited for this occasion for over a year.
When Help Lesotho was first started, the overarching objective was to create a critical mass of well trained, knowledgeable, and committed youth as agents of change to foster a healthy, HIV-free and gender-equal society. This is the goal we strive for every day. We train youth about their rights and their responsibilities. We support schools, police officers, teachers and grannies so that they can support the youth. Since 2004, we have had over 40,000 graduates from our intensive programs – definitely achieving that critical mass we dreamed of. These young people are the reason I am here in Lesotho and why Shadrack (our Country Director) and our amazing staff in both countries always work above and beyond. They are our hope for real change in Lesotho.
Looking back, I also cannot help but mention that without the incredible support and trust from Laurence Graff and Sandra and Paul Hellyer, this kind of scale would never have been possible.
It is now our role to connect, encourage, motivate and focus these graduates for social change. This is a key priority in our 2019-2022 Strategic Plan and a constant on my mind. That said, it has been a struggle to stay in touch with our alumni as the youth move, change their phone numbers, have no money for data, become disengaged and depressed without support or jobs, etc. The efforts we have made to date to engage them have not been successful.
You may well have heard about the current political challenges in Lesotho, which are deeply disturbing and only serve to deepen our commitment to our beneficiaries. They need us more than ever and the country needs these stable, smart youth as voters and responsible citizens to lead the country forward. [Note – Help Lesotho’s work is not directly impacted by the political turmoil.]
In November of 2018, one of our child sponsorship alumni, Mamokete Rasethunts’a, a 2015 high school graduate (thanks to her sponsor, Jennifer North for making that possible!), reached out to me. Despite all of the almost insurmountable challenges this young woman has faced – to survive an abusive childhood, save her sister from forced marriage, grow up with no family support, get an education, pay for her university fees – she was determined to thank Help Lesotho for the chance to grow up, to develop her potential, and to make a difference. The gist of her communication was:
‘M’e Peg, I want you to know that I am brave. I can stand up and speak out against gender based violence. Help Lesotho has made my life and opened the gate of new hope to me and human kind at large. It is a blessing – an angel that was sent to raise the poor kids, mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. You cared for our wellbeing. I have been passionately trying to find a way to have an alumni reunion to thank you and Help Lesotho. As I write, we have gathered so many of us and told them about my dream. They love it they know how emotional I am when we talk of HL. I have never organized anything but if you will help me, I know that all your children will want to return to thank you and to share what Help Lesotho has done in our lives. … really – where would we be now otherwise????
I am so happy. I can’t wait to see you in real. May God bless you. At this reunion, you will know how much Help Lesotho has done in my country.
To make a 15-month story short, Mamokete and several of her fellow alumni friends worked with Kate, Shadrack, and ‘M’e Felleng to plan a reunion weekend and rally our alumni by every means possible: posters, WhatsApp groups, social media, word of mouth, texts and more. Alumni came from all over the country. Dozens slept over the two nights – a fabulous pajama party!
Our three large tents sheltered us from the beating 30-degree Celsius sun during the three-hour ceremony. The Centre property looked every bit the gorgeous sanctuary it was intended to be. Everything was perfect. We estimate between 200-250 participants were in attendance. The speeches were wonderful – a welcome from Ntate Shadrack, ‘M’e Maseretse represented former staff, ‘M’e Mampaka, Mamokete, Lintle Mathosi, Sr. Alice, and me. Three young men performed songs and poems. There was a band and a GIRL4ce performance. It was so emotional. I left like I was at my own funeral hearing the eulogies! Check out this video to see and hear a few special moments from the event.
The agenda was planned and executed by Mamokete and her friends. As I listened to each one, I so wished our donors could be there to witness the impact their support has made. It was touching and meaningful. One highlight was the speech from Likeleli Lekhanya, who was sponsored by Winifred Koneri to graduate from Paray High School in Thaba Tseka in 2016. Eighteen months ago, while at university, she took a taxi home with some friends. Tragically, her vehicle got caught in firearms crossfire. An errant bullet lodged in her spine. Paralyzed from the waist down, she endured weeks of hospitalization followed by depression and anxiety about her future. The doctors said she would never walk again. In front of her peers, she shared the painful journey from absolute despair to a return to hope and sense of purpose. She told us that the training she had received from our camps and sponsorship guided her back to a new understanding of our mantra: LEADERS NEVER GIVE UP!
Likeleli mastered her wheelchair, returned to school and is now a motivational speaker. A generous benefactor is paying for her to travel to Japan to get spinal surgery to capitalize on the slight movement that remains in one leg. This beautiful young woman challenged the audience to realize that if she can do this, they can too. It was a remarkable speech, inspiring to us all. I was so proud of her.
Our event was taped and broadcast on national radio and TV. The speeches and presentations were followed by gifts and a lovely lunch. At lunch, the TV producer told me that this is what her own teenagers need to be part of! We all spent the afternoon visiting, taking selfies with old friends, laughing and reflecting. Not a dry-eye or unaffected heart. Mamokete and I spent almost two hours popping corn for those who stayed the night on Saturday. It was so much fun. I loved seeing them so happy. I loved seeing so many young people I have helped to raise and am so fond and proud of.
The participants launched our new Alumni Room in the Centre, a special place to visit, network and access computers to research, apply for jobs/scholarships/schools and write CVs. We will have an alumni corner in our Pitseng Centre and Maseru Office as well. We are determined to keep these young people close to us and each other. When the next election is called here, and I prophecy it will be soon, we are ready to launch an initiative to mobilize youth to vote and provide education on how to choose a candidate.
In other news, we have partnered with Habitat for Humanity to build five two-roomed houses and 17 pit latrines for vulnerable households from our grandmother program in Berea. What a blessing!
In closing, let me emphasize that the speeches and conversations at our wonderful event included you! All the youth and former/present staff mentioned their appreciation for each person who has contributed to this massive group of young people who are the hope of this struggling nation. Without you, none of this could have happened.
I send the thanks of all who are here, all who wanted to be but could not, and all those who are better people because you cared.
P.S. If you would like a copy of our Strategic Plan, please let us know by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org