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Saturday, February 21, 2015

School Fees and Job Needs

The challenge of Lesotho's incredibly tough job market and high unemployment rate hit home a few weeks ago...


It was 5:15am, and I had barely woken up. Bleary-eyed, I greeted my mother and brother outside on my return from the latrine. A moment after I shut the door, my 'M'e "ko-ko'ed" which is verbal knocking traditional here in Lesotho.

Surprised and still half asleep, I invited her in despite my lack of coherency. She sat at my table, so I joined her.

In Sesotho, she proceeded to explain that she could not afford high school tuition for both Abuti Thabo and Abuti Mokhesuoe (see Lelapa Lesu for more about these fine young men) despite having a job selling snacks at a nearby school. She would have to go to South Africa to find a job that would allow her to pay for their tuition and all the other associated expenses like transportation, book rental, uniforms, and so on.

As she spoke, a few tears escaped and rolled down her cheeks, my heart breaking for her.

From that conversation to her departure, things were incredibly busy. She took Abuti Mokhesuoe to get supplies and uniforms. Registration was completed. Abuti Thabo and Abuti Mokhesuoe both turned in letters requesting government sponsorship of their school fees. (Here in Lesotho, if one parent is dead, children are considered single orphans. When both are deceased, the children are double orphans. In theory, all orphans-single and double-are entitled to sponsorship for secondary education from the government, however, they do not all know this and they do not all actually get it because of the associated paperwork required to make it happen).  I learned my youngest brother would be living with his grandparents in a neighboring village and walking to our village for school everyday.

Suddenly, only forty-eight hours later, my host family was spread out between three different homes, in three different villages, in two different countries!

My host mother has done an incredible job as a widowed mother training four boys for the past eight years. Through conversations and little things like the stunning tile in their house, it is obvious that life was very different before she became a widow, however, 'M'e Masekila never complains. She simply works diligently and pushes her boys to do well in all things.

She holds education in such high regard that making Abuti Mokhesuoe wait the two years until Abuti Thabo finished high school is simply not an option. In fact, she requires them both to attend a school a few kilometers further away than three other schools, simply because it is the closest one with computers and she recognizes that the ability to use technology is critical in the post-secondary world.

As for the government sponsorship, when Abuti Thabo dropped off the paperwork at the local Ministry of Education, he was told they would have the decision made by February 5. Now, a few weeks later, we are still eagerly waiting. Abuti Thabo is optimistic though, as the school cannot expel him for not paying his fees until the ministry announces their decision. He figures this way, if he does not get sponsorship at least 'M'e Masekila will have had time to earn enough money for the school fees.

This has been one of the hardest situations for me to handle as a PCV. I really want to just give my family the money for the school fees. This, however, goes against the way I am supposed to work as a Peace Corps volunteer. Instead, I am spending time looking at the options open to me when helping them, these, however, are not only limited but also take time to happen. Hopefully sponsorship will come through in the next week or so.

Update (March 9): As of Friday, March 5, we learned that both of my brothers qualified for the government sponsorship due to their status as single orphans. This means that my family will not have to pay the school fees for the remainder of their high school careers!! I am ecstatic and incredibly relieved to learn this despite it taking a month longer than promised to get the answer!

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