POVERTY IS DEEP AND WIDESPREAD in Lesotho with 40% of the population described by the UN as being "ultra-poor". Between 60-70% of the population lives on less than $1-2 per day. 80% of the people live in rural areas where they depend on subsistence agriculture. Resources are scarce — a consequence of the harsh environment of the highland plateau and limited agricultural space in the lowlands.
Lesotho has the world's third highest incidence of HIV/AIDS infection with approximately one in three adults infected. The disease is taking a devastating toll especially among people in their most productive years — parents, farmers, teachers and health care workers. Left behind are children and the elderly who struggle to survive. It has been estimated that over 25,000 children are living with HIV/AIDS and that there are over 100,000 AIDS orphans. Life-saving ARV treatment is now available although coverage is limited but expanding.
In the foothills of the Maluti mountains a remarkable community is providing a home for some of the most disadvantaged people in society.
Physically and mentally challenged people are particularly vulnerable to poverty. Most are hidden by their families, marginalized and excluded from school and work. Since 2001, a committed group of disabled and HIV+ community members have given the disabled a safe haven. Since that time, Phelisanong has grown to embrace those living with AIDS, offering education, counselling, testing and treatment assistance, and support for those living with the disease and orphans it has left behind.
Activities at Phelisanong include:
- a pre-school, a residence, counselling and physical therapies for approximately 55 physically and mentally challenged and chronically ill children,
- a primary school to meet the needs of orphans and vulnerable children in the nearby villages alongside resident disabled children,
- an HIV/AIDS outreach programme in 19 remote villages in the area to raise awareness, encourage testing, facilitate treatment and to provide in-home care for those who are bedridden,
- a handicraft cooperative where youth, HIV/AIDS patients and the disabled learn vocational skills and share the income generated among themselves and with Phelisanong, and
- a 4 ha. organic farm where volunteers grow a variety of crops and raise chickens, pigs and rabbits which are used in the projectís kitchen, distributed to destitute families in the area and sold to help generate project income.
Since 2006, positively AFRICA has supported Phelisanong in several ways.
Chickens and pigs can provide much needed protein to the disabled/vulnerable children and other residents of Phelisanong as well as in the HIV/AIDS support groups in nearby communities. On three occasions, funds have been provided to support the Livestock Unit, specifically to purchase chicks, pigs and feed.
In early 2007, Phelisanong hosted a one-day conference in order to present HIV/AIDS support groups with current, clear information that would help dispel myths and stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS and with practical tools to encourage and strengthen support groups. positively AFRICA helped fund this ground-breaking conference that included 400 participants and 39 support groups.
“The conference was unprecedented and hugely important. It is powerful, beautiful, necessary and visionary. Let's bask in the beauty of what has taken place and feed the momentum of this community activism! What an amazing day!”
A short summary video was made of the conference and is available here from Youtube.
HIV/AIDS Support Groups
Four women (self-named the ‘warrior women’) from Phelisanong volunteer their time and travel weekly to the surrounding villages in order to (a) conduct workshops teaching basic facts about HIV/AIDS — how it is spread, symptoms, prevention and treatment and to encourage those who have been tested to create their own support groups, and (b) make home visits to bedridden patients often bringing soap, candles and food.
The four Warrior Women are the catalyst for much of the HIV/AIDS awareness and support work that occurs in the remote villages. The women devote so much time and energy to this outreach work that they have little time to work in their own gardens or to support their own families. There was a distinct risk that the women could not afford to continue their essential outreach work. Consequently, positively AFRICA provided funds in order to pay each Warrior Woman a small monthly stipend. “With the stipends they receive, warrior women have changed their life. They are healthy and strong and very motivated.”
Dignity/Personal Hygiene Supplies
Many of the disabled residents require intensive and constant care. With the direct help of six dedicated caregivers, Phelisanong has done a remarkable job looking after children and young adults who have no alternative place to live. As the number of residents increases and as more severely challenged people arrive, there is a growing need for additional support. For example, the caregivers spend an enormous amount of time simply washing bedding, clothes and diapers. Many residents are unable to fully participate in school or in other activities simply because they are not mobile.
Consequently, funds were provided to purchase much needed disposable and reusable diapers, rubber gloves, plastic pants, several mobility aids, a few replacement mattresses and a supply of feminine hygiene products. Now, residents will be more comfortable, care will be more hygienic and less mobile residents will be able to more fully participate in activities.
From its inception, the Phelisanong project has been highly responsive: introducing new programmes, expanding existing activities and reacting to emergencies as the need arises.
Phelisanong depends, almost exclusively, on volunteers who have had little similar experience and who have received very little training. The combination of vigorous programme growth coupled with limited volunteer skills has, quite understandably, resulted in several challenges in planning, accounting, financial reporting, budgeting, project monitoring and reporting, marketing of agricultural products, and overall management.
Consequently, funds were provided to strengthen management and administration and specifically, to introduce an enhanced accounting system, to train the project bookkeeper, to help Phelisanong develop budgets and grant proposals, to advise on project structures and human resource management, to monitor project spending, to support various income generating activities including the preparation of business plans, and to help meet donors’ reporting requirements.
positively AFRICA is dedicated to providing ongoing support for the extraordinary work of Phelisanong. As funds become available several additional projects are being considered. For example, additional support may be needed to:
- further strengthen the care that is provided to the disabled residents,
- encourage the livestock unit to become financially self-supporting,
- bring electricity to Phelisanong,
- further enhance the effectiveness of the HIV/AIDS support groups,
- offer an unique scholarship programme that may see physically and mentally challenged residents further their education beyond the primary level.
A very significant part of the Phelisanong/positively AFRICA story is the involvement of the Community Access Team (CAT) of the Garth Homer Society. The CAT consists of approximately 20 physically and mentally challenged young adults in Victoria who collect refundable recyclables from several locations (notably from Serious Coffee outlets). The CAT has generously donated the proceeds from their recycling programme to Phelisanong. To date, the CAT has supported the Poultry, Pig and the Dignity/Personal Hygiene projects. Furthermore, preliminary steps have been taken to build a direct and ongoing relationship between Phelisanong and the CAT (eg: photos have been exchanged, two young women have become pen pals, etc). The CAT involvement with Phelisanong and positively AFRICA is truly inspiring.
Bokoro School Dormitory
Bokoro is a small community near Tsime in the northern region of Butha-Buthe District. As in most areas of Lesotho there are very few employment or educational opportunities. Children who graduate from primary school often become quite disillusioned since there are no jobs and very few places available in secondary school. As a result, many get into trouble (eg: petty crime, unwanted pregnancies, drinking, etc.). The only secondary school in Bokoro was on the verge of closing in 2003.
Fortunately, a dedicated woman was appointed as the new principal. Under her extraordinary leadership, enrolment has risen, the quality of education has improved markedly and the students now have some hope. Still many young people are struggling with many problems. About 1/3 of the students are double orphans with neither parent living. Many more are single orphans and vulnerable children. Most cannot afford to pay the school, book and exam fees. Many have to travel long distances in order to reach the school. Few have adequate nutrition which affects their attendance and achievements. Poor living conditions are a significant impediment to learning.
To overcome some of these challenges, the school embarked on a plan to create two dormitories—first, one that could accommodate about 50 girls and later, one for boys. This would ensure that the most vulnerable in the community would have adequate housing, a balanced diet and a safe environment where they could learn. The dorm will benefit hundreds of students over the next decades.
Two dedicated positively AFRICA volunteers stepped forward and took on the monumental task of raising the funds needed to build the dormitories. However, since positively AFRICA did have an ongoing field presence in Lesotho or any experience with construction projects, it seemed wise to link up with an organization that had this critically important capability. Help Lesotho (www.helplesotho.ca) seemed like an ideal partner to implement the project. While the fundraising effort continues, the girls’ dormitory is at a lock-up stage and the finishing work is underway.
positively AFRICA supporters have made an extraordinary difference to young women who would otherwise be forgotten. It has given them hope and a future. The staff and students of Bokoro High School wish to say “rea leboha haholo” (thank you so much).
Many teachers are HIV+ (and often widowed) although few are able to openly admit it. On their meager salaries, they find it impossible to get proper medical attention, eat well and cover their daily living expenses. Still in some communities, teachers are spearheading local efforts to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and developing strategies to help those who are affected.
There are many schools in the area of Pitseng village. Conditions at the school are challenging. For example, one isolated school has a single outhouse for the entire school, many of the students are orphans, the buildings are crumbling, and there is no garden or other community food source for all those needing food and attending school.
With encouragement from positively AFRICA, the HIV+ teachers at one school initiated a teachers’ HIV support group. The Group chose the name “Anonymous Group” because members didn’t like to be known in the community by their status.
The newly formed Group aims a) to encourage people to get tested, (b) to help teachers and orphans to accept their status and be positive about it, (c) to help teachers and orphans live longer through better nutrition, and (d) to support/fund teachers and orphans to get treatment.
As the group evolved, members became more confident and optimistic.
“Togetherness has made a great difference in our lives. We are healed spiritually and we are strong in minds. Sometime back, we were discouraged and what we saw in front of us was death but now we are all courageous”.
As their first project, the Group decided to make use of land set aside by the school’s Principal to start a garden. positively AFRICAprovided funds to help the Group hire a tractor, buy seeds and fertilizer and, to hire labour during harvest. The output from the garden will be distributed to those who require food with any surplus sold to finance teachers’ and orphans health care.
In Butha-Buthe District, the Seboche Hospital caters to the needs of those that are living positively and the welfare of destitute babies who need medical attention. Health care workers visit surrounding villages to identify babies (and their parents) who require support. Whenever possible and wherever needed, vulnerable families are helped with food, clothing, school fees, etc.
A major obstacle for HIV positive individuals in the District to access care is the cost of transportation to the Hospital. This affects women and children especially, as men are the heads of households and more likely to have access to limited family funds. The hospital’s outreach programme would benefit from greater mobility. A small transportation fund provided by positively AFRICA allowed heath care workers to travel to the communities and support those requiring medical treatment.
Tsoanelo (Children’s) Care Centre
In the small village of Kanyane, near Leribe, an extraordinary woman used her personal funds to establish an orphan care centre in her “retirement”. The Tsoanelo Care Centre provides a safe environment for over 180 orphans and vulnerable children, some of whom are HIV+. Early childhood learning is enhanced, health of the children is monitored, meals and clothing are provided and the economic survival of destitute households is supported. Medical and psychological care is offered as well as two meals and an afternoon snack. The childrens’ caregivers (often grandmothers or older siblings) are helped to establish family and community gardens. Where possible help is provided to upgrade housing as well.
The Care Centre receives support through the Global Fund. However, in mid-2006 anticipated funding was delayed. As a result, and despite monumental personal efforts, the Centre was forced to close leaving all of the orphans without any form of assistance. Fortunately, a very generous supporter of positively AFRICA came forward and offered to provide interim funding to the Care Centre. This money was invaluable. It allowed the Centre to reopen and operate for over four months until Global Fund support was reinstated.
Tsepong Clinic Support Group
The Clinic at Leribe Hospital is called Tsepong — meaning “place of hope”. The clinic was opened with the help of the Ontario Hospital Foundation and a program called OHAfrica (see http://www.oha.com). Stigma was so great in Lesotho, it was anticipated that no one would come when the clinic opened its’ doors. Yet in 2006, when Peggy and Peter were in Lesotho, over 100 people passed through the clinic in a single day.
The support group approached Peggy and Peter with a proposal for a construction of a meeting room to replace the damp, mold infested area where they held their meetings and exercise classes. A few months later, while the two founders were creating positively AFRICA, the support group received funds for construction of beautiful meeting room, and the request was filled without positively AFRICA’s support.
The group holds a special place in Peggy and Peter’s hearts, as it was here that they first realized the power of their story — of living with HIV for twenty years, — of an HIV positive widow remarrying an HIV negative man — to instill hope in those who were newly diagnosed or widowed and feared that death was on their doorstep.
For more information about these projects, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.