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World AIDs Day

When the Malealea Development Trust’s HIV Support Group marches down the street on the first of December, they call for attention in every way. They are chanting, singing, clapping, and dancing. They’ve made signs. They are wearing bright red shirts that proudly proclaim “HIV Positive!”

DSCN2472In Malealea, where a nearly a quarter of the population is HIV+, there is no room for stigma. There is only room for certainty and for treatment. They wear their status with pride because they are proud to know it. They are proud that they took the necessary plunge, got tested, and know the truth. Knowing the truth means that they can deal with it. They go to the clinic and consult with their doctor, they take their medications with care, and they can protect the ones they love from transmission.

The stigma surrounding HIV is harmful because it can prevent people from taking those necessary steps, increasing mortality by HIV due to lack of proper treatment and high rates of transmission. In Malealea, that stigma has been worn away by the MDT as they combat misinformation. HIV is not an indicator of sexual deviance and drug abuse – it can be passed from mother to innocent child, or between loving, but unknowing, husband and wife.

Every World AIDs Day, the support group takes to the streets for an MDT-sponsored fun-filled awareness and testing event. They march throughout the village and invite everyone to join. At the end of their march they gather at the Community Hall for a commemoration, remembering those who have been lost.

The local clinic is also invited. Counsellors set up a testing area and encourage everyone to find out their status. The clinic provides quizzes and games that test everyone’s knowledge about HIV and award prizes to the most knowledgeable. The support group and kids from a local Bible group perform dramas they have prepared that teach about HIV.

After, they share a meal together and play sports, emphasizing the link between maintaining good physical health and managing HIV.

The entire day emphasizes that it is possible to live a positive life when one is HIV+, but to do so you must know.

In order to reach new people in the community, the World AIDs Day 2017 march route has been changed. It will now end at the Botsoela Primary School, rather than the Community Center.

 

 

Back to Health & Well-Being, or explore our other key ares of focus: Community Development, Orphans & Vulnerable Children, and Education.

MDT Teaching Farm

IMG_3217The Teaching Farm is an invaluable practical learning space for our Key-Hole Gardens project and our Community Gardens initiatives. It is a place where fieldworker Tsotang Monyane can demonstrate his efficient farming techniques to our community members and then let them practice under his watchful eye.

Cultivating crops is the lifeblood of our people. We not only want everyone to have enough to eat, but to have enough to sell to generate an income. At the Teaching Farm we teach people how to amplify their efforts and increase their yields to achieve that goal.

We are also able to teach Conservation Farming techniques to community members. Soil erosion is our land’s major environmental problem, so farming techniques that combat erosion are critical.

Gardener Mathunya Mahale in the poly-tunnel , photo by Kelly Benning

The garden is tended full-time by our gardener Mathunya Mahale. The vegetables we produce here are sold to the Malealea Lodge and to people in our village. Proceeds are used to purchase the seeds that we sell to our Key-Hole Farmers and members of the Tsingawe Community Garden. These seeds are sold at a subsidy and allow those participants to increase their yields and generate an income.

The Teaching Farm is a collaborative effort supported by Africa’s Gift.

 

Support this initiative. 

 

Go back to Community Development, or explore our other projects: Health & Well-BeingEducation, and Orphans & Vulnerable Children

Children’s Day

It is early on a Saturday morning, and under the bright blue Malealea sky, children are skipping in droves to the Community Hall. For many, this will be their first Children’s Day. They’ve heard about if from their friends and they are wriggly with excitement.

They won’t be watching Saturday morning cartoons. They won’t be playing videogames or eating sweets. These children, ranging from ages 7 to 12, will be engaging in discussion about sex, safety, and self-esteem. It happens once a month and the kids love it.

MDT fieldworker Tsotang Monyane is in charge of the day. He is passionate about children and passionate about Malealea. He loves this land, he loves these people, and he sees the rampant problems of HIV and teen pregnancy as tragedies he feels bound to help reduce. He believes educating the children of Malealea about health and respect will drastically help with prevention. The only issue is getting them to listen.

The children sit in their seats around the perimeter of the community hall, little legs swinging back in forth in anticipation. Tsotang stands in the middle of the room, teases them, coaxes out a few laughs, and then with a mere wave of his arms he sends the hoard charging outside, sprinting two gleeful laps around the soccer field. He explains that kids are little balls of energy. They love to run, to be active and free. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that they listen better when they are a little tired.

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When they streak back into the hall, they are all smiles and hoarse coughs. The kids who finished first strut around with grins a little more refined and a little more triumphant than their slower counterparts. Tsotang claps his hands and motions for them to gather round. They clutch each other’s sweaty fingers as they form their circle.

Now it is time to stretch, to sing, to bounce around in a circle on one leg. Switch legs. Jump in the other direction. This is followed by more stretching. All the while Tsotang is cracking jokes. The children are bottomless fountains of giggles and mirth.

They play a few clapping games, followed by a game where everyone adopts a serious face while one child stands in the middle and picks out the first person from the circle who breaks and smiles. This game doesn’t last very long – they are all smiling.

It is then that Tsotang leads them all outside to begin the day’s discussion, a lesson he is calling the “Gender Stadium.” Under the bright, near mid-day sun, against a backdrop of Malealea’s glorious green mountains, Tsotang begins to question them about gender. What is the difference between sex and gender? What is expected of your gender? What if that doesn’t feel right to you?

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The kids are shy to answer at first. The topic is strange, and they do not know exactly what to say. He coaxes a few of the older kids to share, and from there the discussion becomes more fluid. The conversation moves to equality, to self-esteem, to HIV. Even the youngest among them are familiar with HIV. A quarter of the adults in their lives are positive. What’s clear is that HIV colors every aspect of life here. What’s less clear is how to prevent it.

Tsotang maneuvers into these more sensitive waters. He emphasizes their age – that they are far too young. That they cannot make decisions regarding sex yet. That no one older than them should be asking them for anything, and that if someone does they should immediately tell their parents or guardians. They discuss how one should never feel rushed, how many years from now when they are ready they will need to take steps to protect themselves. Protection entails keeping a healthy body, valuing that body, making decisions that only you want to make, being careful about selecting partners, and using protection when the serious decision to have a partner has finally been made.

In a society where HIV prevalence is high and sexual assault rates are higher, it is never too early to begin having these discussions. In a youth culture where teenagers are dropping out of school in droves bound to a hapless marriage by accidental pregnancy, the future of Malealea depends on children understanding how that happens. By the time these kids get to high school, perhaps they will remember what Tsotang told them every fourth Saturday of every month, between the running and the games and the shrieks of laughter.

They wrap up the conversation around noon and break for a shared meal. After lunch, there are more activities. Usually they play soccer together – boys and girls together in a shared “Gender Stadium.” Occasionally the MDT coordinates special events for the kids: concerts, plays, or other games.

 

Every December the MDT holds a Christmas Party in place of the regularly scheduled Children’s Day. This Christmas Party is especially for the orphaned children of Malealea. The staff decorates the hall festively with a Christmas tree and lights. They play games, sing carols, and feast, and each orphaned child is given a present. This Christmas Party is about making these children feel special and individually seen and cared for. It is about helping them find joy in the holiday, even when they have experienced such loss.

Children’s Day and the Christmas Party are all about caring for each child. The children are the future of Malealea, and the MDT will never forget that.

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How your support can help:

  • Any donations of funds can help us buy presents for the orphaned children at Christmas and bring some joy into their lives
  • Children’s Day is a high-impact and relatively low-cost event for us to hold. Funds can help us cover the cost of providing a nutritious meal for these children each month

 

Go back to Orphans & Vulnerable Children, or explore our other projects: Community Development, Health & Well-Being, and Education.

Malealea Community Center

The MDT constructed the Malealea Community Center in 2006 and continues to maintain the facilities, which include a large, multi-purpose hall, a small conference space, office, storage space, toilets, soccer fields. In 2016 we added a beautiful playground for our children. It is a hub of activity for our villages and an essential meeting place for a plethora of functions.

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  • When schools are closed, Computer Training classes are held here
  • The Children’s Library is located here and is open and staffed by MDT workers for two hours in the afternoon twice a week, even when schools are closed
  • The MDT hosts Children’s Day each month here, an educational, empowering, and fun event for all of our children
  • The MDT hosts the Christmas Party for the village’s orphaned children each year at the hall
  • The HIV/AIDs Support Group meets here each month
  • The Young Women’s Support Group meets here twice a month and their sewing machines and materials are stored in the office
  • On World AIDs Day, health professionals from the local clinic have come to provide HIV status testing and counseling to members of our community
  • We host Key-Hole Gardens workshops here once a month, helping the elderly and our physically vulnerable community members to feed themselves and potentially grow enough to sell
  • During large national or international events, community members can gather in the hall and watch the broadcast together on our satellite TV
  • Other concerts and cultural events are held here throughout the year

 

Support the maintenance of this critical institution.

 

Go back to Community Development, or explore our other projects: Health & Well-BeingEducation, and Orphans & Vulnerable Children

 

photo by Kelly Benning

Tsingawe Community Garden

Water is the great limiting factor in Malealea. The questions, “How much water do you have access to?” and “How long does it take to get there?” will entirely define your life. For the people of the village of Tsingawe, the answers were “Not very much” and “A very long time.” The tap that services the entire village of Tsingawe is hundreds of meters outside of the village, far beyond where anyone lives. To grow plots right outside their homes required a herculean effort, and many people just were not able to grow enough food to stay healthy, let alone grow enough to make an income.

The Tsingawe Community Garden is a communal piece of land with numerous garden plots and an orchard. The MDT constructed a reservoir within the garden, and this reservoir pipes to two water tanks in the orchard. Villagers can grow vegetables in their garden plots using water from the reservoir while the tanks make maintaining the orchard a cinch.

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MDT Field Worker Tsotang Monyane with a  Tsingawe gardener just before growing season

The MDT also provides subsidized seeds to members of this community, as well as lessons at the MDT’s Teaching Farm about how to increase yields by protecting soil from the sun using netting or mulching, from bugs by using a cocktail of bitter and sour herbs called Tea Pest, and from soil degradation by alternating tap-root and fibrous-root plants within a plot.

All of this assistance and leadership helps the people of Tsingawe grow enough to eat while freeing up more time for productivity in other sectors. The goal is always for people to be able to move above a subsistence life to a life earning income.

 

How your support can help this project:

  • We provide subsidized seeds to these gardeners to help them produce above a subsistence level. Any donation of funds can help us bear these costs.

 

Go back to Community Development, or explore our other projects: Health & Well-BeingEducation, and Orphans & Vulnerable Children

Elderly Care

Project Coordinator Mateke Rakojoana wants to help support the elderly in this community. This is a sector of our work that is new and expanding.

For now, Mateke distributes vitamins to community members who are over 70 each winter when it is most difficult to ensure that one is eating a fully balanced diet, especially at that age. The vitamin packets include vitamin C, calcium gluconate, gulf calcium gluconate, vitamin B, and MultiFit, a supplement that is supposed to help maintain a healthy appetite.

Mateke would like to begin a program that would provide physical therapy to the elderly. She is researching how to begin this project, and would like help from a professional. We are currently looking for a volunteer who could come and teach physical therapy techniques specifically for elderly people, to safely help them become stronger and stay flexible. Flexibility and strength are key for mobility and freedom.

Please get in touch with us or donate to help.

 

Back to Health & Well-Being, or explore our other key ares of focus: Community Development, Orphans & Vulnerable Children, and Education.

Social Care Worker

When you lose a parent, you lose your biggest advocate, defender, champion, and cheerleader. When you are a young child and you lose a parent, it can feel like losing your entire world. In a small community like Malealea where HIV colors all aspects of life, most families are living at subsistence level, and education is not free, many children’s futures are being put at grave risk.

Malealea does not have an orphanage. Each of the 39 orphaned children in this community is currently living with a guardian, most of whom already have children of their own, causing economic strain, and, in some unfortunate cases, neglect and ostracization.

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For 31 orphaned children in Malealea, Maphakiso Kelepa is there. Maphakiso is the MDT’s Social Care Worker and she has spent countless hours ensuring that each child’s needs are met, regardless of the economic situation of their guardian’s family. The MDT provides financial support for the children through a monthly food stipend and yearly school uniform budget. They also provide heavy winter clothes to keep them safe during the frigid winters of the Maluti Mountains, and collect donated clothing from the Malealea Lodge for the children to regularly pick through.

When it is time to progress from primary to secondary school, Maphakiso connects them to the MDT’s scholarship officer, Mateke Rakojoama. Additionally, there are a limited number of high schools in the area, so many students must move away to pursue their diploma. For orphaned students whose guardians live too far away from a high school to attend, Maphakiso finds appropriate housing for them and the MDT pays for their rent.

Parentless children are vulnerable because they have lost their strongest advocates before getting the chance to fully develop the ability to advocate for themselves. Because of this vulnerability, economic assistance alone is not enough. Maphakiso spends much of her time ensuring that these services are being used appropriately to support the growth of the child.

Maphakiso visits each family home every month to ensure that it is a safe space. She inspects the conditions of the home as well as the conditions of the child’s uniforms and clothing. She has conversations with both the guardians and the child, first together, and later separately. She has found that often the child can be too shy to speak their mind in front of the guardian, and discretion is of the utmost importance to make sure they are happy, healthy, and safe. When there are conflicts, Maphakiso counsels the family to try to reach a peaceful resolution. When necessary, she will involve the clinic, the chief, or the police.

The food stipends (R350 per month) are credited directly to the food store, not to the guardian families. Maphakiso visits the store at the end of the month to check the purchases of the family to ensure they are feeding the children balanced and full diets.

Maphakiso also visits each school attended by her charges on a quarterly basis. She meets with their teachers to discuss their attendance and performance. If any issues are brought to her attention, they discuss potential causes and strategies. Maphakiso will follow-up with that struggling student, giving them the care and encouragement they need and allowing them the opportunity to be heard.

Every child deserves to be heard and cared for. Maphakiso is there to do just that.

There are eight children who have recently lost their parents who are on the MDT’s stipend “waiting list” simply because the MDT does not have enough money to support them. Maphakiso checks in on these children at home every month as well to ensure they being treated well, but it breaks her heart to visit them empty-handed.

 

How your support could help:

  • Your donation could be the difference that allows us to support one of those eight children. No child deserves to be forgotten.
  • We are looking for volunteer counselors to train our staff on grief and conflict resolution. Any materials, lessons, or advice would be appreciated. Please get in touch if you would be interested in coordinating remote or in-person training.
photo by Kelly Benning

Income Generation Projects

In late 2014, Motaoane Chaka had an idea. It was so simple, so brilliant, he couldn’t believe no one else was doing it yet.

Aloe grows like a weed in Malealea. It is rampant. Omnipresent. Green leaves thick as thighs reach up into the sky as far as the eye can see.

aloe and tourists in the village, photo by Kelly Benning

Tourists are almost as common, and tourists tend to burn when they visit.

Motaoane’s idea was to make a healing aloe balm and sell it to these tourists.

He quickly discovered that the reason no one else was doing it was because even though the aloe was abundant and cheap, the other materials required for the execution of this idea were not. He and his craft collective Lehlaahlela would not be deterred, however. They found a supplier and got reasonable quotes, and then they applied for a microloan from the MDT.

In early 2015, the MDT sourced all of their materials for their initial rounds of production. Tourists visited. Tourists got sunburned on their hikes. Sales were great.

By 2016, Lehlaahlela had repaid its loan in full to the MDT. They have since independently expanded their range of products, using their profits to acquire different materials and experiment with new lotion formulations. They sell the range in the Handicraft store just down the hill from the tourist-haven The Malealea Lodge, and the store is a regular stop on the Lodge’s Village Tours.

photo by Kelly Benning
Motaoane Chaka at the Handicraft store holding Lehlaahlela’s new product: Prickly Pear Lotion

The MDT is a micro-finance resource for members of our community with ideas. It is important to support innovative entrepreneurs on a path to sustainability and self-sufficiency. The ultimate goal is for these entrepreneurs is for them to be able to successfully run a fully functioning and independent business that can only help to bolster our community. We provide monitored monetary support, as well as advising and assistance.

We frequently support the construction of agricultural irrigation systems. Projects like these drastically increase crop yields, while freeing up time spent fetching and distributing water for other productive activities. The increased yields boost sales revenue, and farmers are able to repay their loans.

We are currently working on a project to construct a sheep dipping tank for the entire village. Mohair and wool exports are important to our economy, and dipping tanks remove parasites and scabs from sheep, greatly increasing the value of our herdsmen’s wool. The community is collectively covering half of the cost while we fund the other half.

 

How your support can help:

  • Any donated funds could help us to financially back Malealea’s next entrepreneur. New businesses in our village bring in more money and ideas, and can boost employment.

 

Go back to Community Development, or explore our other projects: Health & Well-BeingEducation, and Orphans & Vulnerable Children

Supporting Children with Disabilities

Living a subsistence lifestyle while caring for a child with a physical disability is an impossible situation for parents to handle on their own, and yet there are forgotten families in our area who are struggling to do just that. In our rocky, highland terrain, independent maneuvering with a severe physical impairment is impossible. Children with disabilities cannot even get to one of our schools without help, let alone function at a high level in schools that lack the resources to accommodate them.

Unable to attend our schools, these children cannot suitably turn to work to support themselves. They are completely dependent upon their parents, who in turn must spend all their time simply trying to ensure the family has enough to eat.

The government of Lesotho has neglected these children and their families. Tello Moeketse, the director of the MDT, asserts that the government should prioritize these children. Public facilities are sorely lacking, as is the financial assistance the parents and guardians so desperately need. Left on their own, these children would have no future.

The MDT is supporting four such families. Three of these children live at the Phelisonong Residency and attend the Mamello English Medium Primary School there. This residential school is equipped to assist students with both mental and physical disabilities. It is located in Leribe. The MDT covers the families’ costs of transportation to and from the school as well as to and from medical appointments. The MDT also covers the costs of school uniforms and cosmetics. For two of the children, the MDT pays their school and residency fees. The third child is an orphan and the MDT successfully lobbied the government to cover her school fees.

The fourth child is attending the Saint Bernadette School for the Blind in Maseru, which was famously visited by Prince Harry in 2013. The MDT is also covering this child’s costs of attendance and room and board, as well as transport fees, uniforms, and cosmetics.

 

How your support can help:

  • Providing adequate services to children with disabilities can restore dignity to their lives, broaden the possibilities of their future, and relieve the family of impossible financial costs. Any funds you donate can help us lobby the government’s welfare department to secure more services for more suffering children. Donated funds can also help us directly support these children and more

 

Go back to Orphans & Vulnerable Children, or explore our other projects: Community Development, Health & Well-Being, and Education.

Young Women’s Support Group

In America they call it Girl Scouts. In the UK it’s the Girl Guides.

In Malealea, it’s the Young Women’s Support Group.

None of these groups are related, but they are all united by the same goals: celebrating womanhood and fostering an empowering community amongst girls through skill building, discussion, and fun.

In Malealea, these girls build their self-esteem while sewing reusable sanitary pads, rather than by selling cookies. The principle remains the same.

The group began as a collaboration with Africa’s Gift in 2011 with the hope that it would be a positive force against the rising social problem of sexual assault and abuse within families. There are about 25 girls, aged between 7 and 17, and they meet twice a month at the Community Center. The MDT purchases the materials (sewing machines, scissors, fabric, thread, etc…) and Africa’s Gift purchases the sewn sanitary pads and tablemats. The girls receive all proceeds.

MDT Administrator Manthabiseng Mokala runs the group. She teaches the girls how to sew while conducting discussions about confidence, self-worth, and HIV prevention. Sewing the sanitary pads was a deliberate decision to embrace the natural functions of the female body and reduce any stigma or embarrassment. These pads are also green, as they last for over a year and drastically reduce waste and cost.

 

How your support can help:

  • We are always in need of more materials. Any donations of funds could help us bear these costs.

 

Go back to Community Development, or explore our other projects: Health & Well-BeingEducation, and Orphans & Vulnerable Children