By Stephanie Vizi, Help Lesotho Intern
Thirteen-year-old Retsilisitsoe Pone spends her Saturdays washing clothes in a stream and the only local water source that runs through Ha Majara, a village located in the mountainous district of Thaba Tseka in a small African country called Lesotho.
She carries the washing on top of her head as she climbs to her home, a small rondavel hut on the side of a mountain. She returns home to make dinner for her younger brother and sister. In a black, cast iron pot over a small fire she cooks papa, a staple starch of Southern Africa. Her nine-year-old sister, Retsepile, picks a few leaves of moroho (cabbage) from the family’s keyhole garden to eat with the papa. Their brother, Khosana, 11, is just returning from the fields where he works shepherding cattle.
Retsilisitsoe is the sole caregiver for Retsepile and Khosana. The grade-six student lost both of her parents three years ago and has been providing for her siblings ever since, with occasional help from relatives and a quarterly $75 cheque from the government. “Sometimes my siblings cry because there isn’t enough to eat and they are hungry.”
Building Local Capacity
The highlands of Lesotho are rural and underdeveloped leaving their inhabitants to often feel isolated and forgotten. The AIDS epidemic and cycle of poverty in Lesotho has left over 300,000 children orphaned and vulnerable. As the global AIDS epidemic is in decline in most countries, Lesotho’s rate of HIV prevalence has climbed to the second highest in the world.
Majara Village is one of 37 Thaba Tseka villages assisted in the BLC project, which began in schools in the form of clubs which provided life skills training, care plans and service provision to children and grew to include the whole household through psychosocial support, food security and hygiene training and economic empowerment. “The child is supported, but we are not leaving behind the caregiver to that child, because we believe if we empower the child and leave the caregiver behind then we are creating a gap where the child is empowered, but lives with someone who cannot provide support and therefore the project will not be sustainable,” explained Maseretse Ratia, Help Lesotho’s senior program officer.
Help Lesotho learned in order to support OVCs, you must support the entire household; essentially leaving no one in the family behind. “When one goes to Majara Village you find vulnerability in the whole household that prevents parents from providing the proper support to their own children,” said Ratia.
Forty-five women caregivers registered in the project’s Majara chapter. The women took the food security and economic empowerment training to heart and started a broom-making business and planted a crop of potatoes to generate income for their families.
No Longer Forgotten
Currently, the women meet in a weekly support group and have harvested their large potato crop. They established a partnership with a local hotel, which purchases 15kg of potatoes from the bo-mme (women in Sesotho) each week. The women will be trained by the Ministry of Trade on business skills, assisted in forming a cooperative and opening a bank account in order to properly manage their earnings.
The group decided to give a monthly allotment of vegetables from their gardens to assist the struggling Pone family. The children also attend the project’s Youth Empowerment in Schools (YES) Club where they are empowered through life skills trainings, including HIV prevention.
Retsilisitsoe learned how to care from her siblings by watching the women caregivers in Majara. She works hard in school and when she grows up she wants to be a police officer, “So I can look after the whole community.”