This is my 127th letter from Lesotho! It is hard to believe that we are in our 16th year now.
In my last letter, I shared about the alumni reunion. Since then, many young people who either could not attend or did not realize it was happening have reached out to me. It is so touching to hear their stories, successes and dreams. I wish you could hear them for yourself.
We were pleased to host Danielle Nadon and her husband Heinz Keller for five days. They were such appreciative guests – delighted with everything. Heinz is the founder/owner of Keller Engineering, a large firm in Ottawa, who graciously volunteered to come and both advise on some facility repairs and build a long-term plan to maintain our buildings over time. As you can imagine, donors don’t really want to fund such endeavours. We need to save over time to ensure these valuable buildings are in good shape to host many more beneficiaries in years to come. Although most of our work occurs in rural villages, our two Centres have hosted over 65,000 visits in the past 11 years!
I visited with Their Majesties, King Letsie III and Queen ‘Masenate last week. People might confuse the King of Lesotho with the King of Swaziland (now called eSwatini) but they couldn’t be more different. I have spent a great deal of time with the Monarchs of Lesotho and they are fine, committed role models for their people. They have no role in the political turmoil in Lesotho, and are, in fact, prohibited from participating in political activities. Many of you will have met them in Canada, along with their daughter, Princess Senate, the eldest of their three children. The Princess joined our meeting as she is now finished high school and intends to attend university in Canada in the fall.
The Princess came up to our Centre in Hlotse for a four-hour meeting with six of our youth. We had an initial brainstorming session to plan a new initiative to engage Basotho youth to restore hope and actively vote for their futures, whenever the next election is called. As in most countries, it is a challenge to get young people out to vote, but so very important. It is lovely to have the Princess as an advocate and active participant in this initiative. The participating youth were ‘over the moon’ as they say here to have this close contact with the young princess. She is greatly admired.
It was fun to watch the start of the two new Pearl Programs this month. Between the two groups there are 100 grade seven girls who will come for training to prepare them for high school (which begins in grade eight in Lesotho). They are just adorable. When people purchase our pearl jewelry, the funds go to these year-long programs. We recently published a fabulous report about the impact of Pearls4Girls if you are interested in reading more about the program.
It is our custom to welcome a small group of supporters for an intimate ‘donor trip’ at this time of year. They spend all their time with our local staff and beneficiaries. I take them up into the mountains to meet our most remote and vulnerable participants. It is a chance to see rural Africa, virtually untouched by tourism or commercialism. As I write, this year’s group of seven women are in a session with our intensive Leaders-in-Training program on grief and loss, perhaps the most, emotionally-laden, yet popular sessions we do. It is an essential opportunity for these grief-laden souls to heal and move forward.
We also recently published a blog post about the impact of a special 3-day camp we hosted for 80 former Pearl Girls. The camp, which was funded by the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives in Pretoria, encouraged the girls to ‘Dream Big!’ about careers related to S.T.E.M. (science, technology, engineering and math). We were thrilled to see that 96% of the girls felt that the information they leaned at the camp would be very helpful to their future!
As always, the group is interesting and diverse. Sheryl Kennedy (Toronto) has been a sponsor of numerous children since the beginning of Help Lesotho. Her daughter, Nora Fleury (New York), was in early high school when her family became involved and has followed us through our own growth. Yvonne Williams (Ottawa) has travelled widely, lived in Zimbabwe, and is relatively new to the Help Lesotho family. Nona Mariotti (Kingston) is a valued driving force in the Kingston Grandmother Connection which has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for our grannies since 2006. Nona’s sister, Dianne Whitmarsh (Minden, ON), also is new to Help Lesotho. Sylvia Pennell (Edmonton, AB) is a behavioural therapist who has been a great support and sponsor since 2004 and a dear friend of mine for almost fifty years. Sylvia is staying longer to provide training sessions on children with challenges for our staff and teachers. Barbara Brindle (Toronto) is a managing partner of Hallmark RE/MAX Realty, the company that generously donates our office space in Ottawa. We are having lots of fun. Each guest is offering their talents wherever needed to build staff capacity and help with emerging needs.
There are still several spots left for the 2021 trip, so please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested. We can easily accommodate couples or those who want to share a room.
I close this letter with a quote from Lintle, one of our alumni:
“We are here because there is no better place than home where we know we belong. Help Lesotho gave and still gives each and every one of us that sense of belong and unconditional love. We also came to say “Mama we made it”; we are surviving out there because of the skills that were imparted in us”.
I send thanks from each of our beneficiaries and staff in both countries for your financial and emotional support for this work. I hope you know how desperately needed it is here.