Monday, September 10, 2012

New Babies, Missing Parents, and Food Insecurity in Lesotho

Abandoned, exposed, malnourished – these are the words our outreach worker Mantja uses to describe the child she has just brought to the safe-home. Her words are succinct partially because of a language barrier but also because sometimes there’s nothing else to say.

It’s 6:30pm and we’re driving through the already dark streets of town so I can drop Mantja off at home after her eleven hour work day. She tells me the mother just left her village while her eight month old daughter, Tlotlisang, was at a neighbours playing with some friends. 

It’s hard to imagine and yet it’s a story that I’ve heard many times since I arrived in Lesotho a little over a year ago.  Mothers and fathers seemingly abandon their children in search of something better outside of the hard life in the villages – most often in hopes of finding some kind of income in South Africa.

This little girl joins another boy who arrived in the safe-home this afternoon.  Probably around 20 months (he has no health records), his mother has also left him to go to South Africa. His swollen legs and feet are signs of his severe malnourishment and protein deficiency. Tomorrow he will go to the hospital to be examined and tested for HIV exposure. But for tonight he’s eaten his whole dinner and is quick to crack a smile - the best signs we can hope for in a child’s first night in the safe-home.

This afternoon I also heard about a call Outreach received about a mother and baby who require TTL’s help. The mother and child are both critically ill and need to come to the hospital. M’e Nthabeleng sarcastically jokes that their treating TTL like an ambulance service. They should really be calling the hospital but everyone knows TTL can get there much faster and so tomorrow the Outreach team will go.  

Today was a day of celebration in the safe-home, three babies were being reunited with their families. And somehow just as quickly three new babies have come to replace them.

A month ago as we planned out the reunification schedule for the safe-home it seemed like we were soon going to be left with only a few little ones. I thought back to when I arrived last August and, after a busy July, there were only four babies in the playroom. I thought maybe this was a cycle the safe-home went through. But this year, I guess that won’t be the case.

Lesotho recently declared a national food security emergency. Another recent statistic identifies Lesotho as one of only four countries in the world where nearly 100 percent of the population is projected to remain food insecure for the next ten years. As always, it will be the most vulnerable – those living with HIV, orphans, and children under-five – who will suffer the most.

It’s a constant struggle to eke out any kind of livelihood in Lesotho – particularly in the highland districts. It makes me grateful that TTL’s Outreach workers – and all its staff – are willing to put in the extra hours to ensure each child receives the support it needs and help families through what can at times feel like an endless period of struggle against food insecurity and HIV/AIDS in this beautiful mountain kingdom. 

I originally wrote this post last Monday but after a busier than normal week am just finding the time to post it now. The third child who needed to come to the hospital with her mother is now in the safe-home. While she has not started to show signs of improvement as quickly as Tlotlisang and Seabonga, we are all hoping that this week will be better than the last.  

Seabonga - one of the safe-home's newest arrivals. Despite his poor health, he is always quick to crack a smile and laugh. His grin reminds me of Tsepang (below) a little boy who spent some time in the safe-home a few months back to recover from TB and malnutrition. Here's hoping Seabonga's recovery will be just as quick.