Author: helplesotho

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The Power of Knowledge in the Fight against HIV/AIDS

Correct information empowers people to make the best possible choices in all aspects of life. Conversely, incorrect or poorly communicated information can cause a degree of harm that can be worse than knowing nothing in the first place. It is time to stop focusing solely on access to education, and start working on improving the quality of education. Rightly so, education is often considered the ‘first defense’ to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. When people know how to prevent transmission and why preventing transmission is so important (ie. there is no cure for HIV), the majority of people will, to the best of their abilities, take action to protect themselves and their families. Knowledge gives people the power to prevent HIV transmission in the first place, thereby eliminating the need for medical interventions to mitigate the effects of the virus. The ‘knowledge is power’ principle has created a focus on simply getting children and youth enrolled in school as a key strategy to combat the spread of HIV. But is getting children and youth enrolled in school …

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Herd Boys in Lesotho

Young Thabo left school at nine years of age to tend sheep, goats and cattle in the treacherous mountain passes of Lesotho, in southern Africa. Despite his young age, he lived in complete isolation for months at a time, with only the company of the herd and two dogs. Thabo made the journey back to his family twice a year in the winter, so the animals could be checked, counted, and kept warm for a brief period. Thabo’s interactions with people were strained – he was accustomed to hitting and yelling at stubborn animals to express his displeasure and get results. If hitting and yelling worked with his herd, why not with people? In the solitude of the mountains, Thabo’s word was law. There was no one to ask permission from and no one to guide him about what was right and wrong. In a world where aggression was a survival tactic, he knew no other way. Sexual violence, rape, and physical abuse were acceptable. Thabo believed that it was his right as a man …

Puleng standing outside of her house

Trafficking Puleng

In early March 2016, 18-year-old Puleng became a victim of human trafficking. Like many girls in poverty-stricken Lesotho, Puleng was struggling. She was 16 when she gave birth to her son, working hard to eke out a living for herself and her older brother. Puleng was earning less than USD $5 washing clothes – it simply was not enough. So when her neighbor, a woman whom she trusted, told her of the opportunity to earn more money as a domestic worker in South Africa, Puleng jumped at the chance. But when Puleng and her neighbor arrived in South Africa the following week, things did not go as she planned. They were met by another woman who delivered an already terrified Puleng to some man’s house. Her sense of unease grew: the man was easily three times her age. To her astonishment, the woman told her she was now this man’s wife, and to do as he pleased. She protested, crying that she had come here to work, not to be married! Her cries fell on …

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I Am in Love with Gender Equity

As the Program Support and Communications intern at Help Lesotho, a Canadian NGO addressing issues of gender equity, leadership, community empowerment and HIV/AIDS, it was part of my duty to take pictures of the Leaders-in-Training Program (LIT) participants during their journey. The LIT Program is an intensive, 60-day training program that develops resilient young people (aged 18-30) in Lethoso to become a new generation of leaders by helping them change unhealthy behaviours and providing them with a safe environment to heal, learn and grow. LIT explores gender, sexual violence, HIV/AIDS, leadership, decision-making, communication, self-esteem and grief and loss. On the first day of LIT, I encountered a group of three young men and asked them, like I had asked everyone else, if I could take a picture of them. They silently stared at me for a few moments and then one of them said, “Wait, I’m drinking water.” As I waited, I began to see that he was purposely drinking slowly, relishing whatever power he thought he held over me by making me wait. When I realized what …

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Gender Parity in Lesotho: 10 Years Later

Post Written By Stephanie Vizi In 2006, married women in the tiny mountain kingdom of Lesotho, gained equal legal standing to men under the Legal Capacity of Married Persons Act. Now, any woman can legally own land, receive inheritance, and make her own decisions. Prior to 2006, women in Lesotho were considered legal minors. In 2003, the Sexual Offences Act was enacted to combat sexual violence. The Act officially defined all forms of unwanted sexual penetration as rape, not just vaginal penetration as it was prior to this Act. This act also gives legal rights and validity to men who have been raped. In addition, it states that marriage or any other relationship is not a legitimate defence to sexual violence. 10 Years Later It’s been over 10 years since these laws were put into place to protect women from gender inequality and abuse. However, implementation has been slow, especially in rural, mountainous villages, which accounts for the majority of the Basotho population. According to Thato Letsela, Help Lesotho’s Officer for Leadership Centres, “In general …

GG Post March 2016[3]

Boys in the GIRL4ce Movement

Written By: Sarah Otto, Help Lesotho Intern 2016 The International Women’s Day (IWD) campaign theme for 2016, #PledgeForParity, means that, “Everyone – men and women – can pledge to take a concrete step in achieving gender parity more quickly.” It is important to note that the IWD campaign highlights both men and women when they speak of taking the pledge, because gender equity will take the investment of both genders for it to become a reality. As an intern with the Canadian organization , Help Lesotho, in Lesotho, one of the first projects I experienced was the ‘GIRL4ce Movement (ie. Girl-force). The GIRL4ce Movement is doing its part in the fight for gender equity by engaging girls, boys, women and men on the issues of child, early and forced marriages (CEFM), girls’ rights, and sexual and gender-based violence. The GIRL4ce Movement empowers communities to address these issues by bringing awareness to the laws that affect CEFM so that community members can become advocates for themselves, and for girls and women. In Lesotho, CEFM is still a common practice and …

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Why We Can’t Fully Empower Girls and Women Without Engaging Boys and Men

By Stephanie Vizi Gender equality is not only a women’s issue, it is a human rights issue that affects us all – women and girls, men and boys. Everyone benefits socially, politically and economically from gender equality. When women are empowered, the whole of humanity benefits. Gender equality liberates not only women but also men, from prescribed social roles and gender stereotypes. The Harsh Reality of Gender Inequity in Lesotho: Lesotho has the world’s 2nd highest rate of AIDS Women are more vulnerable to contracting HIV—in the 15-24 age bracket, 1/4 of men and HALF of young women have HIV or AIDS. Based on GDP, Lesotho’s poverty level ranks #149 out of 184 countries Women are disproportionately affected by poverty, leading to: lack of education … human trafficking … prostitution …  depression … hopelessness 61% of women in Lesotho have experienced some form of sexual violence Powerlessness and vulnerability lead to sexual violence and abuse Patriarchal values and norms create power imbalances and limit women’s rights Stereotyping of girls and women as ‘lesser’ leads to: …

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Girls’ Camp: Creating the Leaders of Tomorrow

By Stephanie Vizi Seventy-five grade seven girls from across Lesotho gathered at Help Lesotho’s Hlotse Centre for a week-long leadership camp last June. The girls took part in life skills trainings, which focused on preventing teenage pregnancy, rape and HIV/AIDS. Help Lesotho staff facilitated sessions on the most critical issues facing young girls in Lesotho, such as rape, the lure of sugar daddies (rich older men who lavish gifts on a young woman in return for her company or sexual favours) and gender inequality. After days of trainings, the girls demonstrated their new knowledge through self-written skits, poetry and songs. They showed the consequences of inappropriate sexual relationships (STIs, HIV and early pregnancy) while exuding confidence and a newfound sense of purpose to spread the lessons of gender equality to girls back home in their villages. A daily question and answer period provided a chance for the girls to ask pressing questions anonymously to seasoned Help Lesotho experts. Spreading the Message A 24-year-old HIV-positive mother was invited to share about her experience with gender-based violence, …

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Help Lesotho Builds Local Capacity

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 …

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Leaders in Training in Lesotho

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 …