Thursday, April 27, 2017

Superstar Sentebale

Training partners on finding potential donors during a
recent resource mobilization workshop.
My new role, as of my return to Lesotho, is still working half of the time as a Peace Corps Volunteer Leader and now includes working half of the time with Sentebale.

Sentebale is the Sesotho word for “forget me not.” The NGO Sentebale was founded by Prince Seeiso of Lesotho and Prince Harry of the United Kingdom. It was started over a decade ago after Prince Harry visited Lesotho for two months during his gap year between high school and university.

Before I began working with Sentebale, I thought very highly of the organization. I had an impression of Sentebale as being one of the highest functioning NGOs working in Lesotho. After almost two months with the organization, I am excited to say that my impression was accurate and the organization is even better than my initial impressions.

Sentebale’s mission is to support Orphans and Vulnerable Children. Initially this was in Lesotho only, however, in the last year they have expanded programs to Botswana and are looking at continued expansion. Sentebale meets this mission through three programs: Social Development programming, Clubs and Camps for HIV positive youth, and Youth Clubs for adolescence in various geographies in Lesotho.
Touring Mant'ase Children's Home for the organizational

While I am in awe of the other two programs, I am working directly with the Social Development programming, which includes herd boy programming, care for vulnerable children, and scholarships for secondary school students. Most of my work is connected to the care for vulnerable children.

The care for vulnerable children was Sentebale’s first programming effort when it started just over a decade ago. Currently, this program helps to fund nine residential care facilities for different vulnerable populations in Lesotho, especially children with disabilities and orphans who cannot live with extended family members in their home communities.

Interviewing the manager of Kananelo School for the Deaf
as part of the organizational assessment. 
My role, at the moment, is giving me really great professional experience combining my skills from working in non-profits in the US with the development work I have been doing the last three years. I am visiting each of the nine centers; conducting organizational assessments of each one. The centers also all have Sentebale-funded outreach programs, which I will be assessing in the near future. After these assessments are completed, I will be creating and facilitating capacity-building trainings for the staff at each center based upon the weaknesses identified in the organizational assessments.

In addition to all of that, I am helping with capacity-building workshops and camps for the children in some of the programs. For example, at the end of March, my counterpart and I conducted a Resource Mobilization (aka finding funding) Workshop for bookkeepers and managers of the centers with which we are partner. 
As difficult as leaving my Lesotho home village, organization, and family was, and as challenging as my initial entry into my new community was, I am absurdly excited about the work I am doing with Sentebale. I know that I am gaining experience and skills that will help in future development employment when my Peace Corps Volunteer experience comes to an end. Additionally, it is inspiring to be surrounded by such dedicated and professional staff doing so much incredible work in this country.
The resource mobilization team after three intense days of training. 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Easter Reunions

Family Photo-Mme Masekila, Abuti Mokhesuoe, Abuti
Thabo, Abuti Polau, and me. We are only missing
Abuti Sekila and my replacement, Ausi Mosa.
People often say you can’t go home again. In December, I stared at the familiar Boston skyline as my plane landed and agreed. After being gone for the last two and half years, people felt like home, but America did not.

Friday, however, I disagreed profoundly. The moment I got out of a car in Botha Bothe, a man greeted me by name. As I shopped for food, people did double-takes, exclaiming when they realized it was, in fact, me.

Once I finally made it to my village—after a three-hour wait for a taxi—the homecoming really began. Within twenty minutes, I had seen my supervisor and another woman I worked with, two of my best friends and my mother. Everyone greeted me with joy, hugs (These are not typical, which only made them even better), and celebration. As my mother and I walked home, people stopped us to comment on my return and to be sure I remembered them after my four and half months away.

I spent the entirety of the weekend wandering the village and visiting people. It was a more perfect reunion than I could have imagined. Between being in America and feeling disconnected in my new community, coming home was exactly what I did not realize I desperately needed. Seeing what has stayed the same and what has changed served as a reminder that life is dynamic and we are all moving forward.

A few weeks after my move, the long-awaited chickens finally arrived. The women and my replacement have already overcome a few big challenges, but now things seem to be going smoothly and their eggs are in high enough demand that there was a shortage the night before I arrived!

After dancing, we just had to pose.
Saturday morning, I learned my neighbor was having a feast. After making rounds in the village, I almost let shyness get the best of me, hesitating to arrive alone. It was foolishness because the second I crossed the gate into their yard, the host ululated with her hands up as if I were the guest of honor arriving. I ate a plate of meat and papa amidst greetings from numerous villagers. Then, like she had at the last party, the host insisted I go in the room with the other women for dancing. This time, however, I was not allowed to only watch. I too had to dance the traditional women’s dance: litolobonya. I am sure I did not do as well as
the women who have been practicing since childhood, but they assured me that I am Mosotho, so I must have been acceptable.

After dancing, I truly became a Mosotho woman at a party, helping to dish up meat and papa for the latecomers. Somehow, I was never allowed to work at parties when I lived here, but now I am permitted to help out.

Enjoying early morning coffee and photos
with the best.
This was the first time in over six months that my brother Thabo and I were in the village at the same time. Although we were all busy—Sekila with work, Mokhesuoe and Polau with soccer tournaments, Mme ‘Masekila with overnight church for Easter, and Thabo and I catching up with friends and family—we spent our evenings together laughing, talking, and watching James Bond movies (Thankfully, we have finally made it to the 90s, I prefer Pierce Brosnan to the earlier Bonds).

Although I mourned when Abuti Thabo left school to go to work in South Africa, I am even more proud of him now. He clearly takes pride in providing his family with much needed income. His income has even allowed Abuti Polau to commute to a better school, which has dramatically improved his English. Also, Abuti Thabo immediately enrolled in the mine’s educational program. He is a year from completing the program. This program will allow him to apply to any university in South Africa without having to do bridging courses. South African universities require Lesotho students holding the Form E certificate to do additional bridging coursework before they can even apply, so he is actually ending up better than he would have had he written his exams last October.

Construction and Growth
Abuti Sama's house is two small steps
from completion and looking great!
Walking through the village highlighted a million minor changes. Some of my favorite infants transitioned into children. Paths changed as a result of the summer rains. Houses that had begun being built before I left are closer to completion; others sprung up where previously there had been empty land.

As my reunion weekend drew to a close, I found myself struggling once again to say goodbye. Although it was a bit easier than when I departed in November, it was still surprisingly difficult. Abuti Thabo and I traveled to Maputsoe together, allowing us to put off the impossible inevitability. As I said each and every difficult goodbye, I promised I would see the person again; reminding myself how grateful I am to still be in Lesotho and how much more challenging this will be when I finally depart this incredible place. 

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Moshoeshoe Day

Police horses en route to Thaba Bosiu
in preparation for the
Moshoeshoe Day ceremony.
Every March 11th, Lesotho celebrates Moshoeshoe Day. King Moshoeshoe I is the father of the Basotho nation.

In the 1800s, Basotho were spread out throughout the land now known as Lesotho and Orange Free State in South Africa. Moshoeshoe was the chief of the Bakoena or Crocodile clan. He and his clan were living in the area of Bothe Bothe, including on Thaba Mopeli (a mountain near the camptown of Botha Bothe today) and at LiphofungCaves.

As Zulu clans were pushing west, they began encroaching on Basotho lands. Thaba Mopeli was proving itself to be difficult to defend as it did not have water on the top of the mountain. Moshoeshoe and his clan walked from Botha Bothe to Thaba Bosiu. Unlike Thaba Mopeli, Thaba Bosiu has natural springs on its flat surface, making it a better and safer place to build homes. It turned out that Thaba Bosiu was an unusually secure site to defend. The name Thaba Bosiu means Mountain of Night. It was given this name after Moshoeshoe and his warriors successfully defeated the Zulu warriors at night. Legend has it that they burned herbs that made their enemies hallucinate and think the mountain was growing taller as they climbed the steep, rocky path to the top.
Looking up Thaba Bosiu
Moshoeshoe was also able to unify the other clans and claim the land known as Lesotho. In doing so, he became the first King of the Basotho people. He eventually asked for the Basotho nation to become a protectorate of the British government as formal colonization of Africa was occurring in Europe. This move helped to protect Lesotho from the Boers (white persons of Dutch origin living in South Africa) and then during decolonization, it contributed to why Lesotho is its own country today instead of a part of South Africa.
Cultural Celebrations

Moshoeshoe Walk 2017
Photo from PCV Katie DuBose
Around the country, Moshoeshoe Day celebrations include Cultural Day Competitions or Sports Competitions for most schools. Every year there is also a Moshoeshoe Walk that starts two days before March 11th, in Botha Bothe. Ambitious participants walk 72 miles from the 9th to the 11th, ending at the Thaba Bosiu Cultural Center at the bottom of the Thaba Bosiu mountain. King Moshoeshoe I was buried atop Thaba Bosiu, so the official government celebration occurs there every year with a ceremony before everyone climbs the mountain and lays a wreath at King Moshoeshoe’s grave.

Posing with the new King Moshoeshoe I statue at
Thaba Bosiu Cultural Center on Moshoeshoe Day.
Like King Moshoeshoe I, I recently moved from Botha Bothe to Thaba Bosiu in Maseru. This made observing Moshoeshoe Day far more interesting as I reflected on having followed his path through Lesotho.

As for my own celebrations, a friend came over and together we walked the half an hour to the Thaba Bosiu Cultural Center after the just after the government ceremony had concluded. We posed with the new King Moshoeshoe statue and checked out the cultural village highlighting traditional building methods and lifestyles for each clan. Then, we relaxed and got burgers at a nearby restaurant while awaiting the arrival some friends that were ambitious (and crazy) enough to do the Moshoeshoe Walk. 

Despite having visited the Cultural Center multiple times during my time in Lesotho, there was definitely something special about being there on Moshoeshoe Day. 
In front of the traditional home of
my family's clan.
You should choose as your life's work whatever feels the most like play.
-Harvey Oxenhorn