Lesotho has been locked down since March 29. The lockdown is slated to end on May 6.
To date, there are no identified COVID-19 cases in Lesotho, but this is likely due to a severe lack of testing. Only very recently was the country able to set up its own testing facility (previously all tests needed to be sent to South Africa). Basotho are terrified, burdened with the still open wounds from the horrors of the AIDS pandemic. Among the salient factors are: inadequate national health services, small crowded homes, loss of jobs in an abject poverty context, increases in isolation, domestic violence, and sex-trade activities for girls and women who cannot feed themselves or their children, virus myths and misinformation, and the fear of death of those with severely compromised immune systems.
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. During this time of uncertainty, we are developing alternative plans to continue to bolster these community networks so they are strengthened rather than diminished by this new virus threat.
- Help Lesotho staff are disseminating factual information about the virus, clarifying protective measures of social distancing, hand-washing, and strategies to help citizens keep their immune systems strong;
- staff also developed an COVID-19 information sheet in Sesotho;
- our two community centres are now closed to limit exposure from congregating;
- staff are united and committed to exploring innovative ways to keep in touch with their participants;
- our Country Director, Shadrack, has evacuated to Kenya to be with his family, and works from home there. Supervisors are working remotely while still supporting their staff, tracking issues and beneficiary contacts, identifying patterns, etc.;
- Lesotho staff 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;
- before the lockdown, food parcels were delivered to our grandmothers in Berea and Pitseng;
- we have operationalized a communications plan and support materials through which our program staff are reaching out to deliver psychosocial support to strengthen the hundreds of village support networks we have developed over the last decade;
- we have enhanced mechanisms to provide staff with airtime to hotspot their computers as none have internet at home to work remotely;
- we have set up WhatsApp groups of thousands of beneficiaries for positive messaging, information sharing and crisis management;
- we’ve worked to refresh our beneficiary database of 3,000+ cell phone contacts, identifying the most vulnerable in each program group for priority contacting and schedules of contacts by phone, text, etc. These are adapted to those who have smart phones, non-smart phones (no apps) and those who have no phones, radios or other forms of information or who are illiterate. The latter group includes many of our grandmothers. For these individuals, we will try to reach their relatives;
- developed and operationalized messaging for staff to manage these communications, including phone scripts, Q&As on the virus, strategies for handling stress, fear, depression, communicating with children, and domestic communications under stress. We are identifying those households that may be perilous for girls and women as domestic violence tends to increase under stress; and
- all staff have been sent home with large quantities of COVID-19 information sheets, one pagers on various issues (human trafficking, HIV/AIDS, anger management, communication, decision making, peer pressure, etc.), our booklets on pre-and post-natal care, sexual and reproductive health, etc. We have printed thousands of copies and each staff will use them as references and will distribute them (while practicing social distancing). The guard houses at each Centre have copies to freely give out; and
- Canadian staff are all working remotely, where we continue to adapt and support from our homes.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
- Help us with our cash flow: After building up this organization from nothing, we want to preserve and support our highly trained staff over this difficult period, who have no government support benefits such as unemployment insurance or government bailouts. If you can help us continue to keep paying our local staff and keeping the lights on, it would be most appreciated. Of course, all our budgeted spring fundraising events and plans are now aborted. We appreciate a one-time donation but if you feel you can start a monthly donation, this will give us the predictable revenue needed to enable us to continue planning our interventions for the immediate and long term periods.
- Encourage our staff and beneficiaries: If you would like to write a note of appreciate or support to our beneficiaries and/or staff, please do – it would mean the world to them. You can send that to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will distribute.
Thank you for your continued support!I