Thank you for your responses to my last letter. I so appreciate your interest and encouragement.
As I write this letter, it is -30 degrees C in snow-enveloped Ottawa and a sunny +24 in late-summer Lesotho. Our worlds could not look or feel more different and yet, for the first time in my experience, be more similar in some respects. COVID has turned us all inward toward self-protection, wariness, and concern. We share the experience of living with an unusual and uncomfortable ambiguity – a longing to be free from this cloud, jointly binding us in our concerns for our physical and mental health.
Breaking news just in this morning – Lesotho will receive its first batch of COVID-19 AstraZeneca vaccines through the Covax initiative this month, enough to cover 3% of the population. Although it will take a long time to reach our beneficiaries, this is a concrete start. We are hopeful!
After the staggering number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 following the pre-Christmas influx from South Africa, there has been a puzzling and rapid decline in reported mortality and incidence. Lesotho is progressively opening up and we are resuming portions of active programming within the current guidelines. This week the Ministry of Education announced the schools will open after almost a year and all children will be promoted to the next grade. It will be several weeks/months before the schools fully open, but we are thrilled that students will be able to finally resume their studies.
COVID has flipped the typical communications somewhat. Normally, our activities focus on helping others, but over the past many months, literally hundreds of donors and beneficiaries have reached out to us to see how we’re doing and to encourage us! Little notes, cards, phone calls and text messages come daily. On the Lesotho side, you might be surprised to know that most of our communications with our beneficiaries are about appreciation. Of course, there are heartbreaking pleas for jobs, volunteer or internship opportunities, or food for their starving babies, but the percentage is much smaller than you might imagine and always with humility and gratitude: “Are you OK ‘M’e Peg, please thank all the people who help you”. There is Ntate Thabang, a villager in Pitseng, who does not benefit in any way from our programs who regularly sends me quick notes of thanks for all we are doing for his people.
One of my favourite things is hearing from our alumni. They often write emails, notes on our Facebook posts or send DMs on Twitter (@pegherbert or @helplesotho). They want to tell us how they are doing because they know we are wondering.
Motheba, a young woman I knew well while she attended high school, wrote a letter with ‘then’ and ‘now’ photos, in hopes that it would reach her former sponsor (who was, as you can well imagine, delighted to hear from her Basotho daughter after many years). It made my day to see the photos. Hearing of Motheba’s determination to create a better life for her and her daughter gives me so much hope. (Know I only share stories when I have permission. In general, alumni love to share.)
Dear Mary Stewart (of Kingston, Canada),
I am sorry we have lost touch. I was buying my uniform for my midwifery course and met a Help Lesotho staff. I was so excited to think I might reach you. I graduated very well from high school in 2015 and then graduated in nursing. I will be forever grateful to you for shaping my future.
I am really passionate about nursing and caring for the sick. The prevailing COVID pandemic challenged me to be extra careful and to be ready for unforeseen health hazards. My family and I are doing well, always taking precautions to avoid COVID 19 infection. It’s so sad here in Lesotho. We have lost so many from the virus but I strongly believe the vaccines will save millions of lives. I now have a beautiful 9 years old daughter, Refiloe, Fifi for short. Her dad left us when I was four months pregnant. Our cultural norms and values stipulate if a woman falls pregnant she has to be married. My relatives tried to force me into unplanned marriage but I refused because I believed that I have the potential to turn my weaknesses into my strengths. Surely I deserved a chance to make a difference for me and my beautiful daughter. This is solely inspired by Help Lesotho camps and the programs I attended. How are you doing with your family? I am sure you guys are growing up but still beautiful. I would love to hear.
I also heard from a fine young lad, Tsietsi, whom I wrote about 10 years ago, when he had already exceeded the grade seven education of his mother, graduating with first class from Sefapanong Primary School, way up in the mountains of Thaba Tseka. His father was a shepherd. He had come to the school to tearfully say thank you. He declared to all and sundry that his boy was brilliant and that if not for Help Lesotho his son would never be able to attend secondary school. Tsietsi’s family was destitute and hungry. They lived a 2.5 hours walk from the nearest high school. They had no electricity for evening studying. Anyone else would have given up. But not Tsietsi, he was determined to get an education no matter what. With the support of his sponsor, Nina Thicke, Tsietsi graduated from high school in 2014 against all odds. I have often wondered what became of Tsietsi and his sweet smile. It was a joy to hear from him last week when he shared:
“I am working at Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) since 2021. I am so happy to be able to help my family financially. It is widely known that the military training is the toughest training in the world, but I managed to defeat all training stress that I had. I am now able to help people that are in the same situation about how to manage stress, problems and as well encourage them in their life difficulties. Even during this time of COVID-19, I was able to talk to my fellow colleagues here that we are going to defeat COVID-19. I got equipped with self-esteem in Help Lesotho.
We have had a year with sorrows and problems in the family. My younger sister had an accident while at university. I was unemployed together with the whole family. We had all lost hope of her life. With God’s faith, she is alive even though she is disabled at the lower abdomen. If it was not because of Help Lesotho, I would have run mad. Help Lesotho equipped me with all life skills, helped me with school fees and at home as well. I am now a proud soldier of Lesotho. I am speechless with thanks.
It is humbling and inspiring to read their stories. These young people are brave to handle so much adversity with thanks and grace. We can’t solve all the problems in Lesotho and we can’t help everyone with their multitude of issues but we are making a lasting difference. Truly, the measure of our overall impact is in the longevity of the maturity and coping skills they learn with us and are able to apply during challenging times.
Aren’t you proud of them?
In closing, I am ever more thankful for the lack of bureaucracy and impediments in our organization, which allows us to pivot immediately, plan contingencies and operationalize new strategies within days. I realize this is much harder or even impossible in larger NGOs. Our supportive and flexible board of directors, donors, partners and staff are all of accord. This unanimous focus has been key to the initiatives we have employed over the past year – and which have deeply assisted thousands of people in desperate need.
I send each one of you a hug and my wishes that you are safe and well during these long, difficult months.
Thank you for reading and for caring.