Changing lives in Lesotho

| April 12, 2012 | 0 Comments
Children looking after children: Child-headed households are on the rise in Lesotho from the devastation of poverty and HIV/AIDS.

Children looking after children: Child-headed households are on the rise in Lesotho from the devastation of poverty and HIV/AIDS.

Lesotho persistently has the world’s third highest rate of AIDS, decimating the population’s social and economic structures. Imagine the loss of productivity.
This tiny land-locked mountain kingdom, entirely surrounded by South Africa, illustrates the development challenges of the aftermath of such devastating death rates (23.6 percent of its people are infected) which include poverty, increasing infant mortality and chronic unemployment. A great deal of money is spent on testing and treatment of the disease but equally important is the support for those who are left, especially the orphans.
Every person in Lesotho is either infected or affected by AIDS. Within its small population of close to two million, 200,000 children are orphaned. Thousands of grandmothers struggle to raise these children with few resources. Young people feel hopeless and disengaged, and everyone suffers emotionally.
Palesa, a 16-year-old girl, tells us her story of living alone, unprotected, and how her view of the world changed: “I thought I was nothing. I thought I could only be something if I were a boy. Now I know that I am wonderful and that these awful things that happen to me are not my fault. I am not bad because I am poor and alone. I know now that I can be a leader in my community and I can be loved.”
How to help? A small Ottawa-based NGO (helplesotho.org) is tackling that question in a way that is increasingly attracting attention. Help Lesotho is finding the balance between providing relief and sustainable development. It is confronting the underlying issues head-on and having a huge impact every year. We know we need to offer HIV/AIDS and gender-equity education and we have a strong plan to do that.
Help Lesotho has raised close to $8 million so far to benefit thousands of orphans, youth, child-headed households and grandmothers every year. The NGO provides simple relief in many ways — by providing shoes, uniforms, food and school supplies, for example. Its sustainable development approach is to invest in people and communities through psychosocial support, skills training, health education, mobilization, awareness-raising and capacity-building. Help Lesotho embraces the whole person in the context of everyday life, working with the same individuals, schools and communities over many years.
Through its two leadership centres, 10 communities and 17 partner schools, Help Lesotho addresses key challenges in the Lesotho AIDS epidemic. Three-quarters of its work is aimed at helping girls and women gain control over their lives and a greater voice in their home, workplace and community.
Male youth learn to analyze how gender inequity is disadvantageous for men, as well. Both genders are empowered to challenge unhealthy myths and traditional views of gender that fail to respect the rights of others. By helping participants make a difference for others, programs promote the sense of belonging so essential to human development and well-being.

Grandmothers and the orphans they raise meet to share what they’re learning.

Grandmothers and the orphans they raise meet to share what they’re learning.

Thabo, a 23-year-old man, writes: “Before [a gender conference he attended], I thought only men could make decisions and that my wife must do as I say. Now I know that women [make] good decisions, too, and I will be happier if I respect [my wife]. She will only tell me her hopes if I am kind. My children will only love me if I am good to them. I did not know it was bullying to beat a woman. I promise to be a good man and help my friends to be, too.”
Mats’episo, a 15-year-old girl, shares her story: “Before, I could only hope for help to pay my school fees. Now I will not spend years sitting at home, looking after sick people and doing all the housework. I will learn and have friends. I will be somebody and I will not be left behind.”
A 78-year-old grandmother, ‘M’e Matabang, tells her friends: “Before, I was waiting to die. The grandmother program has brought me to life. I am not so afraid of raising the young ones now. The education and food have revived my body and my soul. I can go on and I can help my neighbours. My hands are no longer empty.”
It is entirely possible to help from Canada. Each person can make a difference, each dollar matters. Lesotho is a small country. It is possible to have a huge impact. Help Lesotho provides programs including child sponsorship, six-day leadership camps, anti-AIDS school-based clubs, three-day gender conferences for young women and men, grandmother village support networks. Chose one to support and change a life.

Peg Herbert is an educational psychologist and founder and executive director of Help Lesotho

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