Monday, September 26, 2011

lesotho sun

There are days when the constant sun/wind combination in Lesotho starts to feel like too much.

This weekend I travelled with Nthabeleng just south of Maseru to Roma: the home of the National University of Lesotho. It was the annual graduation day at the university, and while I skipped both of my own university graduations, I was pretty excited to attend this one. A close friend of Nthabeleng’s was graduating and plus it was all anyone on the radio was talking about so it seemed safe to assume it was going to be a pretty big event. And it’s really no wonder - in a country where attendance rates in secondary school are only 16% for men and 27% for women, the fact that 2,700 people would be receiving university diplomas was a big deal.

We arrived at around 9:30 and the day progressed with lots of speeches, processions of graduates and the never-ending dancing and ululating of all the proud family members and friends in the crowd. It was great to see everyone dressed up in their finest for the celebration - which amongst the women was a mix of ‘western’ clothes, dresses made from traditional fabrics, and a smattering of classic bridesmaid dresses. The speeches all talked about the important opportunity these graduates have to support the development of their country, be entrepreneurs, and create job opportunities that will help bring their fellow Basotho out of poverty. While I have no idea how many graduates stay in Lesotho, and how many may choose to try their luck in South Africa or elsewhere, I am sure none of them lose their ties with their home. It is exciting to think that this group just might be the generation that will help to bring about some of the country’s much needed change, and at the very least they are a sign of progress.

But by about 2pm my excitement with the day was starting to wear thin. My water was long gone, I was covered with a thin layer of dust from spending the day in the middle of a field, and the hot sun was feeling pretty relentless. Luckily, the graduation came to an end about an hour later, but as we waited in the long-line of cars leaving the graduation, the sun continuing to beat down on the car, I had had about enough of the sun for the day.

And then there are days like today – when I remember at 4pm that I thought it would be a good idea to do a load of laundry over lunch time. And as I quickly pin up my washing on the line at the back of TTL’s property I know that even the last few hours of Lesotho sun accompanied by the wind off the mountains will be enough to give me clean dry sheets tonight. And that’s pretty amazing.

Friday, September 16, 2011


The three little ladies in the safehome have been having a pretty good day..

first there were cookies...

then some dancing..


and everyone was having a great time until I made them line up for a photo

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Yesterday I spent most of the day travelling to and from Thaba-Tseka with Nthabaleng and one of TTL's board members. The purpose of the trip was to meet with the District Administrator in Thaba-Tseka as part of TTL’s ongoing efforts to purchase a piece of land where a new Thaba-Tseka outreach office can be built. TTL began working in Thaba-Tseka in 2007 after we started receiving referrals from some of the clinics in the area that borders the Mokhotlong district. Since then, Outreach has been working actively across the Mashai district in Thaba-Tseka and TTL has been hoping to expand across the entire region. To do this, TTL needs to build a new outreach office in Thaba Tseka.

So off we went to Thaba Tseka to plead our case and see what could be done. After a quick 20 minute meeting, we were on the road again heading back to Mokhotlong. The three of us laughed at the fact that we would drive for over 6 hours today­ -all for a 20 minute meeting- but we all knew there really was no other way. Infrastructure in Lesotho, particularly in the highlands, remains poor. The government office in Thaba Tseka does not have email/internet, and based on the long line-up at the DA’s door, I don’t think he is spending a lot of time on the phone. Besides face-to-face is almost always more persuasive. All-in-all the meeting was positive, but no concrete results yet.

As we drove home bumping along the dirt road, the sky slowly darkened and I found myself watching the clock. My mind wandered between my grumbling stomach and what I could possible eat for dinner tonight; debating whether there would be enough time this evening to put a few hours into the funding proposal I’ve been working on; and most importantly, when would we finally hit the paved road – the first sign that we were almost back at the town of Mokhotlong.

Just before 7pm, my mind was brought back to attention by the ring of Nthabeleng’s phone. Assuming it was her family calling to find out when she would be home, I was not expecting what would come next. A few quick sentences later, Nthabeleng hung up and turned to me to say that Reitumetse had died. I found my mind racing, wanting to ask why, what could have possibly happened since we had left that morning. But the truth was I knew there was no real answer and there was really nothing else left to be done. The reality of the situation was that Reitumetse was born premature, exposed to HIV, and had not been receiving adequate nutrition for the first two months of her life. She had simply come to TTL too late. Preemies face a lot of challenges regardless of where they are born and rural Lesotho is not the most forgiving environment. And so beside some sighs and ‘ach’s we continued to drive in silence, bumping along the dirt path on the way back home.

Since then I’ve been thinking a lot about what Nthabeleng said during the meeting in Thaba-Tseka: none of us can say the children in Thaba-Tseka don’t require, and deserve, the same type of critical support TTL provides children in Mokhotlong. However, it is logistically impossible for TTL to serve all of Thaba-Tseka and establish itself within the region without have a base there.

Reitumetse was one of our clients from Thaba-Tseka. I can’t help but think that if she had been born to a mother in Mokhotlong, there is a chance TTL may have reached her earlier. Maybe we would have been put in touch with her mother when she was pregnant and we could have minimised Reitumetse’s exposure to HIV. Maybe Reitumetse would have been referred immediately after being born premature and TTL could have provided nutritional support to the family, rather than the water and sugar solution that she lived off of for the first two months of her life. The truth is, I know the same scenarios can and do occur in Mokhotlong. Even if Reitumetse had been a TTL client earlier, her fate may have been the same - sometimes nothing else can be done.

But despite all the ifs and maybes, I can only hope that things start to come together so TTL can build a centre in Thaba-Tseka. By expanding its reach and establishing TTL’s presence in the district it would make a difference. Reitumetse’s life was far too short and I can’t help but feel that she deserved a better chance. There are so many vulnerable children in Lesotho who deserve a better chance at healthy and happy futures -and at least I know that TTL does make some of those chances possible.

Reitumetse, 09/07/2011 - 14/09/2011

Born premature to an HIV + mother, Reitumetse arrived at TTL’s safehome on August 29, 2011 at almost two months old. Her mother has passed away due to HIV-related causes and her father’s whereabouts are unknown. On September 14, Reitumetse started to develop difficulties breathing and was admitted to hospital where she passed away that evening.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

first goodbyes

With so many new and exciting things that happen when you move somewhere different or start a new project, this week seems surprisingly to be marked by a lot of things ending. Some of them good (I have finally gotten over my first bout of head cold/sickness in Lesotho) and some of them sad (the lovely team of volunteer nurses –Eric, Mary and Marshall- that have been keeping me company will be leaving at the end of the week). It’s been great having them around the past few weeks. I think Khutliso our one boy in the safehome has enjoyed having some male playmates for a while and it’s been wonderful to have people around who can help explain some of the more in-depth medical issues to me. Some of you may have seen Marshall's blog about their experiences in Mokhotlong here:
Also by the end of this week, all but one of the kids who were in the safehome when I first arrived will be gone. Relekane – one of the most relaxed and sweet-natured toddlers I have ever met - returned to her family on Friday. Khutliso and Retsipile Lekhooa are also both due to be leaving by the end of the week. The departure of children from the safehome is a funny thing. I can’t help but a feel a bit (selfishly) sad that the babies will be leaving and I won’t be able to come and visit them in the playroom anymore. The medical volunteers and I also can’t help but speculate on how the other safehome kids must feel when one of their playmates leave. Lerato arrived at TTL only a week before me and so these three were also her first friends here. Lerato and Khutliso seem to have become particularly close, chasing each other around the playroom and sitting side by side at meal time. Acting like the big sister, Lerato has more than once returned a toy to Khutliso that one of the other kids had stolen (almost always that other kid being Retsipile). We all wonder how she will adjust once the others are gone.
However, above all else, these departures from the safehome are a time for celebration. The fact that another child – or in this case three- have become healthy and strong enough to return to their family are the critical achievements that make TTL such a successful model. Once home, they will continue to be supported by TTL’s Outreach team with frequent health checks as well as the provision of food and medical supplies. It’s by returning children to their families that TTL’s model remains a sustainable one. TTL brings resources out to communities, supporting families to raise healthy children while also providing that essential safety net, the safehome, for the most critical cases. And with each healthy child that leaves the safehome and later graduates from the Outreach program, TTL is able to shift resources in order to help that next child in a critical health situation. Because as Nthabeleng has been telling me from day one, we all know there are many more children out there that just haven’t been identified yet.