Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Mud, Mountains, and Gravity

Driving in Lesotho is a bit of an adventure. The roads are tortuous, often narrow, deeply rutted, and bulging with rock. The rainy season adds yet another nerve-wracking dimension – mud. Approaching a boggy section of road results in a bit of panic; mud is unpredictable and unforgiving. However, with families awaiting our arrival, the only choice is to persevere. Sometimes the crossing is successfully navigated and other times the mud, mountains, and gravity conspire to mire the vehicle. Unfortunately, the latter was my experience some days ago.

 a bit of a predicament

While traveling to the homes of Outreach clients, we encountered a particularly muddy and flooded section of road. We slowly approached the quagmire. I glanced at the staff, “This looks interesting.” I uttered, and proceeded with the utmost caution. The mud pushed our sturdy truck as if it were a matchbox toy. We found ourselves sliding down, skating off the road onto a swampy embankment that offered neither traction nor an opportunity for recovery. Not only were we stuck, we were perched at a very precarious angle. We nervously clambered out of the truck and phoned the office for help.

Villagers and shepherds to the rescue!
As we were waiting for a TTL vehicle to rescue us, Basotho from the surrounding villages came to investigate our situation. Soon, we found ourselves surrounded by several village men and nearby shepherds who discussed a plan to assist us. Some older boys appeared with a shovel. Two men appeared with trucks and promised assistance. We were overcome with appreciation. Together the villagers and a TTL driver successfully pulled the truck out of the mud. As I moved from villager to villager, shaking hands and offering thanks, I was struck by the humility of our rescuers. As I offered a sincere thank you and apology, each man in return thanked us for our hard work to help their children. They insisted that it was an honor for them to return the favor and assist us with our work.

Stories such as this one are but one example of the obstacles we face working in the most remote regions of the Eastern Highlands, especially during the summer rains. However, this is also a story of humanity and solidarity.

Neither people, nor trucks, nor maize were injured in the incident.
I can't say the same for my ego

Oh, and ‘M’e Nthabeleng…I’m fired from driving in the mud!

Monday, February 17, 2014


The first time I held her, it was as if I was holding a body filled with air. She looked to be about 7 or 8 months old, though her actual age was 14 months. For nearly 6 weeks, she yo-yoed between the TTL safe home and Mokhotlong Government Hospital, stricken with various maladies exacerbated by acute malnutrition. It was as if she was vanishing before our eyes, each day finding her frailer than the previous. I truly didn’t know how much more her fragile body could endure. Though we were afraid to utter the words, we all questioned her future.

Some weeks before the holidays, we noticed a slight change. Though she remained quite malnourished, illnesses were no longer repeatedly plaguing her. Her food intake and her ability to tolerate medications were improving dramatically. Slowly, her blank expressions took on a twinkle of hope; there was a noticeable sparkle in her eyes and intention behind her actions. We were cautiously optimistic. We watched her flourish, tentatively at first, then with what I can only describe as conviction. We breathed a collective sigh of relief and, as her weight and health continued to stabilize, we began to speak of reunification.

We frequently spoke of Lipuo’s miraculous recovery. We compared the illness-plagued toddler with the chubby, inquisitive, talkative, and very mobile little tot in our midst. The transformation was truly magical.

Last Thursday, 13 February, we said goodbye to Lipuo. In a span of a few hours the fierce toddler, who less than one day before stood independently for the first time, was gone. Her loss is tragic and we are reeling.

The safe home is subdued these days. We miss the incessant mishmash of high-pitched chatter from a certain little girl who appeared able to conquer the world.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Basotho Rains

Mokhotlong is a place of extremes: extreme elevation, extreme beauty, and extreme impacts from even the slightest environmental changes. Take, for instance, the rainy season.

In the arid mountain climate, rain is highly valued. Every summer the skies douse Lesotho with torrents of rain, watering crops and softening the dry earth. In recent years, these rains have grown heavier (one could say more extreme) and the effects have put a strain on every facet of daily life.

The growing season in the highlands is necessarily short. Late snows delay planting, and the risk of early frost pushes the harvest forward, sometimes by several weeks. Without rain, of course, these crops cannot grow, but oversaturation is a problem as well. Fields are damaged by hail, washed away by rushing rainwater, and yellowed by sitting too long in wet soil. Even TTL’s garden shows the effects of some of the rains we’ve received this season.

Failed crops mean more families struggle to feed themselves, especially in rural areas where food delivery is difficult. Rain also contaminates potable water sources, increasing illness. Just when many TTL clients need additional help, we face one more rain-induced barrier: the roads.

Normally this road is crossed by a shallow stream, easily driven through, but each summer the rains create a river and traversing the water is suddenly unpredictable.
TTL’s Outreach Workers must cross bridges, like the one pictured below, to reach some of our remotest clients. With each heavy rain, the river rushes over the road making it impassable despite our strong will and powerful vehicles, and we must delay appointments. This reality weighs heavily on our staff, since we cannot predict when we will next be able to reach these children.

Each season presents a new set of obstacles as we battle the effects of HIV/AIDS and malnutrition, but the work continues day after day. At TTL, we operate on our own extreme – determination – to support the most vulnerable children of Lesotho, rain or shine.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Ready, Set, Grow!

wire push car

It’s fascinating to watch children experiencing this world. Play is truly child’s work. Children in Lesotho create toys out of items considered rubbish in more developed regions. Devoid of prefabricated toys, the world of play fosters a mind-boggling amount of inventiveness. Balls are made of plastic bags or rubber bands; tires and rims are rolled along with sticks; intricate wire cars bump along the road. Items that the developed world would resign to the trash bin are transformed into toys in the most imaginative ways!

Often we see older children out and about, playing in their villages, but rarely do we witness much play in the early childhood years. Yet that is the period when play is so vital for adequate child development.

'M'e Nthabeleng providing caregiver
education during a safe home reunification

In an effort to promote integrated early childhood development, TTL has been working with caregivers to encourage play and interaction beginning at birth. In addition to performing a monthly developmental assessment of each child, the Outreach team provides individualized counseling to caregivers based on the child’s age and abilities. Caregivers learn appropriate play to promote physical, cognitive, emotional, and social development.

Over the past few months, we have worked to create tools to assist caregivers as they help the children under their care grow. With the new TTL child development cards, comprised of both pictures and words in Sesotho, caregivers will have a clear and handy reference tool. The Outreach team looks forward to utilizing these cards to help caregivers foster the growth of our clients and other children in the household. Together we can work to help these children develop to their fullest potential.

A caregiver reviews her early childhood
development tool
'M'e Kokonyana reviewing how caregivers
can support child development