Greetings to you all,
I hope you are all well and safe. I woke this morning to a cloudy, relatively warm and very safe day, in Ottawa. I want to send a note to you all on what has been going on – with me, Lesotho and the organization.
- PERSONAL UPDATE
Firstly, thank you all for the messages of concern and support over the past week. To make a long, rather tortuous story short, I got food poisoning at a restaurant a week ago. Although not recovered, I decided Sunday to leave Lesotho while I could. Sylvia Pennell, a guest on our last donor trip, had remained to do some capacity building with our staff. Sylvia and I left Lesotho at 4:30am Monday morning to get across the border and drive to Johannesburg. It was so difficult to leave without saying goodbye to anyone but there it was. After the five-hour drive we spent the day in endless line ups trying to change tickets. Sylvia was able to get a flight out on KLM that night. I was not so lucky. I bought a ticket on Emeritus to Dubai, then to Heathrow. More endless line ups, and I eventually secured a ticket for two days later to Toronto and then to Ottawa. I stayed in a hotel in London near the airport, closeted in my room, from the crowd of international travelers. Heathrow is like a ghost town. 23 hours after leaving that hotel, I finally made it to Ottawa just before midnight last night, and now commence my 14-day self-isolation. I am well and grateful for the prayers and messages of encouragement. It has been a priority for me to get this update out to you as I know many are worried.
2. LESOTHO UPDATE
There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Lesotho currently, however, with few/no valid testing results (tests have to be sent to south Africa for results), there is no way to know. The World Health Organization has just stated that “Africa should prepare for the worst” and labelled Lesotho one of the most vulnerable countries with at least half of the population having pre-existing conditions (such as HIV or Tuberculosis), an unstable coalition government, a preponderance of households with large families living under one roof, a returning migrant population quickly returning home from South Africa potentially infected, and a healthcare system completely ill-equipped to handle an outbreak. Schools are now closed for a month and large gatherings prohibited. Thankfully students will still receive their school lunch – for many students, this is their primary source of food.
This virus will be particularly devastating for girls and women, not because they are innately more susceptible to it, but their roles as caregivers gives them greater exposure to the virus and their limited decision-making power in most relationships will inhibit their ability to make healthy choices. These girls and women need our support more than ever as they negotiate this stressful situation.
3. HELP LESOTHO UPDATE
Our work over the last 16 years has rebuilt hundreds of rural community support networks for our youth, grandmothers, young mothers and herd boys to replace those fractured or completely destroyed by death, fear and discrimination from the HIV/AIDS pandemic since in the 1990’s. We are, even today, developing alternative plans to continue to bolster these community networks so they are strengthened rather than diminished by this new virus threat.
- Tuesday, Help Lesotho staff all met to disseminate factual information about the virus, clarify protective measures of social distancing, hand-washing, and strategies to keep their immune systems strong;
- Our two community centres were temporarily closed this morning to limit exposure from congregating, especially to the stream of little ones who practically live there;
- Our intensive programs will continue for the next week or so as we assess the situation – these programs are so crucial to the participants and will be held in small enough groups to minimize exposure;
- Staff are united and committed to exploring innovative ways to keep in touch with their participants;
- Our Country Director, Shadrack, will evacuate to Kenya to be with his family while he can still get through the borders. He will work from there. Supervisors will work supporting their staff, tracking issues and beneficiary contacts, identifying patterns, etc.;
- Lesotho staff will continue their weekly meetings on Tuesdays via Skype to remain focused, motivated and in close contact. They will have access to real-time information to disseminate to beneficiaries;
- We will continue to adapt and support from Canada. The Canadian office is working remotely, and using the opportunity to tackle many of the projects we rarely have time to complete.
INTERIM BENEFICIARY SUPPORT STRATEGY
Help Lesotho staff have developed an outstanding expertise in psychosocial support. They know their beneficiaries intimately and have built trusting, therapeutic relationships. Without home facilities or internet to work from home, they will adapt with new methods of communication to work remotely. Using our extensive beneficiary databases, program staff will soon utilize popular special media platforms, such as WhatsApp, SMS and phone calls to provide psychosocial support to alumni and current participants in their programs. They will prioritize the most vulnerable to ensure that our beneficiaries have someone they trust to talk to about their feelings and fears. Our staff will communicate current news, common-sense health information, and squarely address concerns of people who may lose the little means of support they have. This contact will provide a life line to those who need it most.
4. MY REMAINING ‘LETTERS FROM LESOTHO’
I have two remaining ‘Letters from Lesotho’ covering my time until my sudden departure drafted and will send them out in due time. They will be out of sequence given this new crisis but may provide encouragement to us all. Stay tuned for Letters #4 and #5 in the coming weeks. These are unprecedented times and we have so much to be grateful for.
Again, I send my personal thanks for your caring concern. Help Lesotho is strong and focused. It is our intent to address this current situation with innovative approaches and effective support to all in our Help Lesotho family.
We are grateful for your ongoing support in these uncertain times. If you would like to make a donation, please click here.
I send each one a hug and my hopes that you and your families are safe and well.