Written By Stephanie Vizi, Help Lesotho Intern
Thirty days of intensive leadership training, plus 58 young adults from rural villages, equals radical change, healing and growth and a new generation of leaders in Lesotho.
Leaders in Training (LIT) is a program for youth to learn leadership skills, life skills, HIV prevention, sexual reproductive health education, and gender equity training. Youth are recruited from villages through the support of local chiefs and councilors annually for this life-altering program. The post-secondary educated, yet unemployed participants go through an application and interview process prior to the training to teach job professionalism.
This year’s training began on a sunny summer morning, participants dressed in their finest – to exhibit their professionalism of course – anticipatory excitement hanging in the air. Little did the 24 young men and 34 young women know Help Lesotho staff were about to turn their worlds upside down.
Ten years ago, Help Lesotho founder, Peg Herbert, set out to change a nation through developing a mass force of young leaders trained in the tenets of gender equity, social justice and life skills to stop the spread of HIV in Lesotho – one person at a time. After changing thousands of lives, through intensive leadership training, psychosocial support and education we continue to fight the same good fight, one young life at a time.
Learning to be Leaders
Each day, participants made their way to Help Lesotho’s Hlotse Centre in Leribe, Lesotho to learn about topics including, Modes of HIV Transmission, Contraceptive Use, Early Marriage and Sexual Violence, facilitated from a culturally-specific training manual by Help Lesotho staff, most often alumni of the LIT program themselves. Most participants noted trainings on Grief and Loss, Decision-Making and Self-Esteem as the most influential.
I taught a session entitled Healthy Relationships. The young people were thirsty for guidance, to connect, heal from their hurt and change their unhealthy behaviours, which contribute to the spread of HIV in Lesotho. They were open to changing their attitudes toward cultural norms including: the practice of multiple-concurrent partners, lack of sexual consent and the absence of contraception.
Flash-forward to LIT graduation day and you wouldn’t recognized the young people who started the training 30 days prior. Individuals were changed from insecure, bleeding hearts to confident, young leaders anxious to share what they learned with anyone willing to listen.
One young woman, Phori Bohlokoa, struggled to communicate with others and had lost hope because of the verbal abuse she experienced at home, but by the end of LIT, she saw her inherent value and realized she doesn’t have to accept the abuse from her relatives, “I almost committed suicide, my relatives made me feel useless. There are so many people who are going through even more than I am going through and I didn’t realize that, so I want to empower every single young girl.”
Lobiane Moshoeshoe, was married as a young man and throughout his short marriage he modeled the behaviours he learned at home. He abused his wife, neglected to include her in the decision-making process and never shared his feelings – eventually his wife left the relationship.
Today, Lobiane is an optimistic, open and friendly young man. Instead of harboring bitterness or blaming his wife for his failed marriage, he vows never to abuse women again and to teach his community about gender equity, “Before, I came here I knew that men were the head of the family and no woman could ever be the boss. Being here gave me a different a view, we have to treat women as our equivalents and they should be loved and respected.”
At the graduation, LIT participants took turns sharing testimonials on how the training impacted their lives. One by one the young people stood and spoke stories of alcoholism, rape, loss, hatred and pain. The room was a silent witnessing of the blossoming next generation of leaders ready to end the spread of AIDS, stop gender-based violence and take a stand for Lesotho’s vulnerable.