As I write my last letter about my time in Lesotho in 2020, I am conscious of the juxtaposition we are all experiencing of incredible gratitude for every good thing in our lives and our multi-faceted anxiety for our friends, families, colleagues and global neighbours.
This blog post contains a number of different elements:
- CURRENT SITUATION in Lesotho;
- OUR RESPONSE update;
- MY TIME IN LESOTHO; and
- A concluding, very sweet letter a special volunteer wrote to you all.
Thank you for caring about our work when you have so much else on your minds. We appreciate it more than you know.
April 13, the government of Lesotho released a plan to infuse money and support into the fragile economy which includes some food relief, small businesses support and some fee relief. How this will roll out is yet to be determined.
The heaviest burdens are fear, famine, gender-based violence and total loss of income. To date, there are still no confirmed cases of the virus. That said, only last Thursday a new lab opened to give the country its first capacity to actually test, financed by a mining millionaire from Lesotho, Sam Matekane. You may have read about the Canadian company, Spartan, that developed quick tests for COVID-19 with results within an hour. This type of testing has been used successfully in Africa for HIV for a decade so hopefully this will be available for African countries soon. It could make all the difference.
Winter is coming – as the nights get longer and colder, the need for kerosene, propane, candles, etc. increases rapidly.How the Basotho hate the cold! There are massive lineups in towns for such purchases. One wonders how it will ever be possible for our beneficiaries to secure such supplies or even pay for them.
- The granny food parcel drops went well and the grannies were in tears of appreciation. Many grandmothers have no phones or means of connecting with the world.
- As mentioned in my last letter, our staff were mobilized immediately to deliver remote psychosocial support to our past and present beneficiaries. In the last two weeks, they have already connected with hundreds of beneficiaries who were deeply moved that Help Lesotho had not abandoned them at this time of crisis. They have shared some feedback from their conversations:
- Most report high levels of stress. Their ability to earn even a little income has abruptly stopped – no work; no pay. Women have lost the little they make washing clothes or working in the now-closed factories, no buyers for the market/street vendors, etc. They ask how they will eat when there is no money;
- Police are severely patrolling so people fear going out even for essential reasons such as fetching water, checking on neighbours or visiting the health clinics. Many lack the understanding of why the police are patrolling and are scared;
- Those without radios or phones are highly susceptible to confusion, myths and misinformation. Those who have access to radio are better informed;
- Many people are unreachable because their phones have run out of data, or solar chargers don’t work on cloudy days, or those villages high up in the mountains have no service;
- HIV positive people know that they are at much greater risk but many are not going to the clinic to get their ARV drugs, on which their lives depend, for fear of the police patrols or because they do not have the transport money;
- Community conflict is increasing between the informed and the uninformed (practicing physical distancing vs not);
- Many girls and women, especially our young mothers, are stressed by the sexual pressures of male partners, especially those who recently returned from South Africa and are not self-isolating;
- Our herd boys have no information. If they have cell phones at all, they can only talk in the evening as the phones are charging during the day. They are so happy someone cares to know how they are;
- Some believe this is the end of the world. “There’s nothing we can do about it.” “We are all going to die”.
- Our trained young alumni leaders are fairly well informed and trying their best to share our information sheets and facts with their communities and to engage the deniers; and
- Without consistent, fact-based information, many youth, including some of our grade seven and eight Pearl Girls and Guys4Good, continue to socialize.
- We are investigating:
- How we can access more washable sanitary kits as this is an increasing issue for obvious reasons; and
- How we can help get food and airtime to beneficiaries in remote areas.
MY TIME IN LESOTHO
I left off telling you about the trip to Thaba Tseka with our donors. We really did have a marvelous meeting with the grannies and herd boys in their village. One of my great joys now is seeing the impact of our programs on the relationships between people.
Herd boys are now communicating in meaningful ways with the girls, with each other, and with their guardians and grannies. I met with Lebohang, the herd boy who went to Germany in late 2019. To my great delight, he survived the adventure of a lifetime and has now become a real leader in his area. He described to his community what it was like – such a universe away from this remote village in the middle of a mountain range.
Our visit with the young mothers was memorable. Their babies were spotless, comments direct and confident, strategies clear and operating well. The program provides small business ‘starter packs’. They canvas their villages to find niche items to sell. We give them vouchers to purchase the products in bulk and then, if successful, a second infusion. One young woman, Makarabelo, invited us into her ‘shop’ near our meeting place. We were truly moved by this girl and her group – survivors all!
[Staff translation]: When she was too young to remember them, her parents passed on. Her relatives deserted her and her three brothers, leaving these little ones to survive by begging for millie meal from the neighbours. At 15, she eloped, hoping for a new life. When her dear older brother passed, she became the sole supporter, just when her husband returned from his piece work in South Africa seriously ill. No income at all.
Dealing with AIDS and all that entails, she did get a chance – when she was selected for our Young Mother Program and its starter packs. Despite endless effort, her new found ability to provide for herself, her baby, her ill-husband and her younger brothers vanished when her youngest brother was attacked for refusing to go to initiation school. She overcame all this and built a successful little business with her starter money. A remarkable achievement. With her meagre income, she also cares for her cousin and her two children.
“The support I got from Help Lesotho facilitators, my peers and our support network made me a leader, made me feel loved and responsible. My little business now lets me buy food for my family and little brothers. Sadly, I had to use all my starter pack money for transport to take my little brother to hospital and then to the police station to report the case to the police. Due to a lot of responsibilities I am facing as a young woman, it is not easy at all, but I learnt a lot from Resilience and Relationships Modules which aided me to keep my family intact with all the troubles. It was hard at first to express how I feel to my husband, but now I do it with ease, and he is very supportive of me. He also went to the partners meeting which all Young Mothers partners were invited. After that meetings I saw a huge improvement on how he treats me compared to before.” – Makarabelo
Of course, now we worry what has happened to them during this lockdown. No one buys.
It was good to visit Majara School and the new classrooms Help Lesotho is building with funds from one of our previous trip guests and fundraising for furniture by Turnbull School.It is almost finished but I am anxious that the second half of the roof gets completed before the winter sets in. Everything has stopped with COVID-19.
We just launched a new program called Guys4Good, to mirror the Pearl Program for grade seven and eight girls. Unfortunately, the program started a week before the shutdown but will enthusiastically resume at the first opportunity.
The program’s supervisor, Mme Thato Letsela writes:
March 14 we had orientation training for 51 Guys4Good boys and 44 of their guardians. The latter turned up in larger numbers than expected, curious to see what a boys’ program looks like! It was sad to see how little these guardians knew about issues affecting boys. They confessed never discussing issues with them, thinking they were too young. They felt contributing to the boys’ learning was not their responsibility, but rather that of their teachers and Help Lesotho. At the mention of sexual and reproductive health, they were visibly uncomfortable. Through the discussions, they began to understand the relationship between their participation in their children’s learning and growth and the boys’ ability to make healthy decisions as they grow older. The idea of role modelling was totally new to them as well, to realize that the boys will copy their behaviour and that if they beat and insult their partners, the boys will too. They were shocked to realize that they had not been the kind of role models their boys need and had to accept blame if they did not behave. Some male guardians asked to be included in choosing the topics the boys would discuss and even help facilitate some.
After their guardians left, the very popular Self-esteem session with Mme Hlalefo provided a novel opportunity for self-reflection and discussions on positive self-talk. The boys enjoyed calling themselves Guys4good during the session as they felt honoured to have been the selected few to participate in the program.
That Saturday, March 14th, at the same time as these revelations were going on in one room, a Computer and Life Skills program in another, and forty hours before I slipped out of Lesotho in the night, there were 130 children at the Hlotse Centre playing basketball, soccer, puzzles, monopoly, chess, hoola hoops, watching an educational video, and playing on the swings! There is nothing better than hearing the sweet voices and laughter of such a large gathering of children!
As I close, I will mention the obvious – we still need your support! Thank you to all those who have already donated, and thank you in advance to those who plan to do so soon. If you can help, we would be grateful.
This is the season in our lives when our values and habits define us. How we react in a crisis is both a test and an opportunity. We are reaching out to as many of our supporters and beneficiaries as we possibly can. Because we care about you – not just as a donor – but as a treasured friend. Please let us know if we can help. We will continue to keep you updated. Hope to ‘see’ you at ‘Coffee with Peg’ on the 22nd.
One of our dear supporters asked me if he could write to you all. I am sure you will find this note from Merdon as touching as we did.
Thank you for reading this letter, for caring and for walking with us through this storm.
Dear Fellow Help Lesotho Supporter,
These very trying times bring into vivid focus the importance of recognizing what is important to you and recognizing the people who help make what you value possible. Help Lesotho is one of the things that is very important to me.
I have been a monthly financial supporter and weekly volunteer for Help Lesotho for 14 years. I have had the privilege of watching this special organization blossom into a world class charity. Continuing to support the work of Help Lesotho is very special part of my life. It is incredible to see how many of my follow supporters continue to be with me year after year. I have seen firsthand the impact that your faithful support has had in Help Lesotho’s success as an organization and the vital services that they provide to the people of Lesotho and for that I would like to express to you my heartfelt thanks.
It is difficult not to worry about the financial impact this pandemic will have on Help Lesotho’s funding and their work in this very vulnerable country. If Lesotho is not somehow spared the effects of this virus, the potential loss of life could be devastating. The work that we support in Lesotho will be more important than ever. I fear that this pandemic is going to severely impact one time donations. I have been blessed to not have been impacted financially. So as a monthly donor I am digging a little deeper and increasing my monthly donation.
Thank you again for your continued support of Help Lesotho.
I pray that you stay safe and are spared from the effects of this pandemic.