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Men’s Support Group

Under a relentless sun in the middle of a dirt road connecting one remote village to another, six men sit with their pickaxes abandoned beside them. They are breathing heavily and dabbing at their brows, but all of them are listening intently as one of their number speaks.

Men's Group discussion - photo by Kelly Benning“We all agree that you need good health to work, and we all agree that if you are a man you must work. So why, then, are men so unlikely to go to the clinic for help when something is wrong?” he asks, and the rest of them scratch their heads in thought.

One suggests that it is because men are stubborn. When men have problems, they swallow them inside. Another suggests it could be the fear of knowing.

“But what is the consequence of not knowing?” a listening MDT staff member asks.

In unison, they all answer simply, “Death.”

The conversation advances to HIV, and later, to the abuse of women.

photo by Kelly Benning
Fighting Soil Erosion & Degradation: these rock formations let water by while trapping soil behind

These men are herd boys, meaning they spend a good part of every day tending to their animals. Each left school at a very young age, as most herd boys must, and each also married extremely young after accidental pregnancies. While their flocks are grazing, they are working together on an anti-erosion project for the soil, and during their breaks, MDT staff members Tsoteng and James lead discussions with them about gender roles and life skills, supplementing the education they were never afforded.

The stakes for these conversations are high. Men are dying when they avoid the clinic out of pride. HIV is spread and severe emotional trauma is inflicted every time a man sexually assaults a woman. And men are suffering emotionally as well, when they swallow their problems and turn them into secrets.

This Men’s Group encapsulates our holistic community development philosophy. We support projects that increase the productivity of our people, while also developing their emotional and critical thinking capabilities and encouraging openness of ideas.

Moroke speaks, photo by Kelly Benning

This group is relatively new, but progressing quickly. One of the men, Maroke Sekoboto, says that he feels as though the men of Malealea are living in the dark. They fear knowing the truth. He longs for men to break down the binds of stubbornness. But he has hope now that they will soon come out of this darkness if they continue to work together to learn more about themselves and their world.

As the sun continues to shine and they pick up their pick-axes to continue their work conserving Malealea’s land for all, hope feels like the most important thing in the world.

 

Support this initiative.

 

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

Computer Training

When Manthomeng clicks on the cartoon paperclip that has appeared in her inbox and a picture of her flashes up on screen, she gasps, as does the group of nine other 20-to-50-year-old seventh grade teachers crowded behind her. She has just opened a document attached to an email for the first time… but now comes the hard part.

IMG_2132“So, what do you do if you want your colleague to see that photo as well?” Glenn Jones, general manager of the Malealea Lodge and an MDT Trustee, asks.

She struggles to remember the word. It’s Khotso Au who reminds her – it’s time to forward the email.

She has done this before. The entire class has, in fact, but it has been a week since they were last able to touch a laptop, and until six months ago they had never even seen one up close before. Khotso, the pioneer of the MDT’s computer training program, believes the teachers will benefit greatly from learning the basics of computing, but it requires patience and practice.

Watching the adult class’s struggles with recall underscores the importance of the other branch of Khotso’s program – training young students. Khotso walks the MDT’s seven donated Chromebooks to five different schools, once per week. At each school he breaks the classes into groups of two-to-five students per laptop, and guides them through the innerworkings of Gmail, Google Docs, Sheets, and Presentations. They practice browsing the internet and are amazed by the information so readily available at their fingertips. With enough exposure, kids thrive with computers. They are comfortable clicking around and figuring things out for themselves when they forget an exact procedure.

The MDT will be acquiring 10 new laptops in the coming months which will more than double the amount of hands-on practice time each student will get, but students in the larger classes will still have to share.

IMG_2639The effects of consistent practice time are immense. This is Poloko Kotobe. He absolutely loves computers. He walks himself to the MDT office to visit Khotso on a regular basis, both to express his wish for computer lessons every day, and to get regular practice logging in and browsing.

To wrap up a voluntary lesson Khotso held during a school holiday at the Malealea Community Center, Khotso asked each student to logout, log back in, navigate to Gmail, send their friend an email, and then send a reply. Poloko successfully sent his email a full 10 minutes before the rest of the class was ready. He began helping his fellow classmates so that he could receive a message to which he could reply.

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Khotso’s high school had 30 computers and gave intermittent lessons, but he really became comfortable when he took the computer module for his secretarial studies major in college. Today he spends much of his time experimenting on the computer and developing his lessons. He is a comfortable and commanding presence with his students.

He believes in the empowering impact of computer literacy in today’s world. He wants to teach his students the skills they need to be innovative entrepreneurs and lead Malealea into the future.

It all begins with forwarding an attachment. It all begins with the sharing of ideas.

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How your support can help:

  • Students must share laptops during lessons. The MDT is looking to acquire more laptops and safe storage equipment for them so that each student can maximize their time working with the computer. The more time they have, the more proficient they can become.
  • Internet access is scarce in Malealea. The MDT has to purchase airtime by the megabyte. Any donations of funds could help us with this cost necessary to providing the lessons.

 

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

 

Nutritional Support Program for People with HIV & AIDs

To manage HIV, doctors prescribe many different kinds of antiretroviral drugs, but they all have something in common: extremely severe, life-altering potential side effects. People can feel nauseated, weak, depressed, develop ulcers, or experience a host of other unpleasant symptoms. The alternative, however, is not taking the medication – letting the HIV run wild, degrading the body and ultimately claiming another victim’s life.

To mitigate the side effects and to ensure effectiveness, patients must take their medications exactly as their doctor has prescribed. For all regimens, getting adequate nutrition for the body is crucial. For HIV-positive people in Malealea, that can be easier said than done.

There are about 530 HIV-positive people living in the 21 villages we at the MDT look after. All 530 of these patients are eligible to collect three bags of E’pap per month from our office. E’pap is an instant porridge that requires no heat for preparation. The powder simply needs to be combined with water or milk and it is ready. Each bag is 500 grams, and a serving is 50 grams, so each person receives 30 servings per month. This is about one serving per day, and each serving is about 740 calories. This amounts to be a significant portion of their daily caloric need.

Of the 530 eligible recipients, 32 are aged 17 or younger. The average age is 42.

Each month, about 300 of the eligible recipients come to collect their E’pap. Many people leave Malealea to work and cannot come to collect that month. Our standard distribution day is every Tuesday, but someone is in our office every single day of the week for people who cannot make it on Tuesdays.

This E’pap, calorically dense and simple to prepare, reduces a great strain on the lives of our HIV-positive community members. It protects them from the medication that protects them from their condition.

 

How your support can help:

  • Any donation of funds can help support the cost of this program and keep another person well fed, healthy, happy, and productive

 

 

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

Malealea Secondary School, photo by Kelly Benning

Scholarship Program

Mateke Rakojoana - Project Coordinator and Scholarship OfficerMateke Rakojoana was raised by her mother alone and her mother worked very hard. When Mateke was in the final year of her free primary schooling, it was unclear whether or not she would be able to continue studying. Her mother would do whatever she could, but food was expensive. So was school.

Mateke’s teacher selected her as one of five vulnerable and gifted students from her primary school by her teacher to be sponsored by the Malealea Development Trust. The MDT sponsored the next five years of her secondary schooling, paying her school, book, and exam fees, and it was in secondary school that she fell in love with the machinations of business. She graduated from high school in 2007 and continued to college where she studied accounting and marketing. After earning her diploma, she taught business for a year, and then came to work for the Trust. She works as the MDT’s Project Coordinator and Scholarship Officer, holding the hands of vulnerable children like she once was through their continuing education.

photo by Kelly Benning, HIV Support Group
Mateke now leads the HIV Support Group

Mateke is currently saving to go to university while she works. She once dreamed of being a bank teller, but now she isn’t so sure. Perhaps she will continue helping her community grow with her work at the MDT, or perhaps she will discover another passion. What she does know is that entertaining those different ideas is only possible because of the education she received.

Now she is giving these possibilities to a new generation. For vulnerable children, the MDT pays their school, book, and exam fees. For orphaned children, the MDT covers all of their fees as well as the cost of their uniforms.

Forty-four students attend the Malealea Secondary School. Twenty-two of those, fully half, are there because they are sponsored by the MDT. Without these scholarships, the school would be half its size, and those twenty-two kids would be at home. Instead, they are in the classroom surrounded by peers studying not only math, science, and English, but also advanced agricultural techniques, business skills, and development studies.

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The students’ struggles are not over once they are able to attend school. These vulnerable children often struggle to complete their homework because they are occupied by home labor once they are finished the school day, or because they haven’t eaten and can’t focus.

Due to these challenges, some of the sponsored students struggle to maintain motivation. They do not know what a secondary education will help them to achieve, given the environment in which they grew up.

Mateke gathers them over their winter holidays in the community center, along with a host of other graduates who pursued radically different courses – business, medicine, law – and shows them that the life they know is not all that there is, and through their schooling they can discover more than they ever thought possible.

 

How your support can help:

  • Every donation of R1500 (just over US$100 or about €92) can help change a child’s entire life by sending them to school for another year

 

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

HIV/AIDs Support Group

MDT Project Coordinator Mateke Rakojoama was a teacher before she joined the staff, and when she is leading, that shows.

She is standing at the front of the Community Hall, facing a group of about 30 people, most of whom are women much older than she is, all of whom are HIV+. She has asked for five volunteers and at first no one budges, but Mateke will wait.

IMG_1324A few of the women finally gather in the middle of the room and form the tight-knit circle she has called for. One person stands in the center and she urges the other women to crowd around her even closer.

She then instructs the woman in the center, standing as rigidly as a board, to let go. To relax all of her muscles, to release all tension, to make no effort to stay up right. Slowly, she sways into the other woman, who push back gently against her. Her face melts. She was once perplexed, but now she is at peace.

After a minute of this, Mateke tells them to switch it up. Another person is shuffled into the middle, and this time it is she who leans into the other women who form a wall of protection around her. She can’t help but laugh.

A few more groups try, and once the laughter has bubbled into a cacophony of mirth, Mateke silences everyone. She asks them all to think about how it felt to be supported. How it felt to be supportive.

“I didn’t understand what you were saying when you told me to let go,” one of the women volunteers. “I didn’t understand how I wouldn’t fall. And then when I was in the circle I realized, of course, I wouldn’t let her fall.”

Mateke smiles, having made her point. That is what Support Group is all about. When you are dealt the hand of being HIV+, it can feel like an insurmountable challenge. It can be hard to imagine how to move forward. In this Support Group, they do not let each other fall prey to those thoughts.

It is possible to live a good and full life with HIV with a little help.

On the first Tuesday of the month, they go to the local clinic together for checkups and medication renewals. On the third Tuesday of every month they gather in the Community Hall for discussions and exercises like this one described above. In the past, Mateke has led discussions about everything from abuse and alcohol to love and family.

IMG_1460The group also splits into smaller groups of about four or five people who travel to other villages to educate them about HIV. They encourage people to get tested and know their status, as well as describe coping mechanisms for living with the condition, and how to support family members who may be HIV+. They also participate in a large World AIDs Day event of education in Malealea.

Their message is that it is always better to know and to take care of it, because it can be taken care of, than to live and deteriorate in ignorance.

Together, they vow to support each other, always, and to spread the word about living positively while positive.

 

Give now to support this project.

 

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

The Orphans’ Garden

Our Orphan’s Garden is a new project, located just outside the gates of our Teaching Farm. We first broke ground early in 2016, and we completed the construction of the protective sun netting in October 2017.

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Mathunya Mohale, MDT Gardener

Our dream for the garden is to give these orphaned children a piece of land to call their own. Here, they can learn how to successfully cultivate vegetables under the careful tutelage of MDT fieldworker Tsotang Monyane and full-time gardener Mathunya Mohale.

Mathunya splits his time between tending to the Orphan’s Garden and the neighboring Teaching Farm each and every day. He will sell any tenable crops from the Orphan’s Garden, and all proceeds will benefit the orphaned children we support.

 

Support this project.

 

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

Children’s Library Program

Formal education in Malealea is troubled. Our attendance and exam results are lower than the average in the country. Many students drop out after primary school, and more do not make it to their high school graduation.

Primary school class sizes are large, severely limiting the amount of valuable individualized attention young students receive. Multiple age groups are taught in the same small classroom spaces. When one grade year has to sit for an exam, all other students cannot go to school. Incalculable progress can be lost to these unnecessary breaks in instruction.

In 2004, in partnership with the African Library Project, we decided to introduce the “idea of reading” to Malealea to supplement our children’s education. Reading offers untold benefits to the developing minds of children. It is exercise for the brain. It can expose children to facts about the world they couldn’t have dreamed of, or ideas and ways of life that are foreign and eye-opening to them. It can be a vehicle for their imaginations to run wild, and imagination is the engine of innovation. Innovation is what Malealea needs.

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The African Library Project’s initial intention was to bring more books into secondary schools. We have since moved our library to our Community Center so that we can make the books available to everyone, regardless of the school they attend. We believe everyone benefits from access to reading material.

MDT staff opens the library on Wednesdays and Fridays from 2:00-4:00 PM every week, including the weeks that schools are closed. We want to provide mental stimulation for our children when formal instruction is unavailable. Staff will either read a story out loud to the children who attend, or the children can pick out books of their own. Staff will conduct simple translation and comprehension exercises with the young readers, as well.

The kids can also choose to draw or play games with each other and staff. Our staff members are able to provide these kids with the individualized mentorship and instruction that is less readily available to them from school.

In November 2017, staff members Mateke Rakojoana and James Alexander will attend the African Library Project Summit in Botswana with the intention of acquiring more books for our library.

For our children. For our future.

 

How your support can help:

  • We always need more books. If you are visiting the Malealea Lodge, please consider donating books for the Malealea Community Library at the Lodge’s reception office. We are looking to expand our variety of children’s as well as teen and adult books.

 

 

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

Key-Hole Gardens

Water is life.

Water is also heavy. Sometimes, it can be destructive.

Managing water in Malealea is a critical and constant balancing act.

For the vast majority of Malealealeans, cultivating crops entails a long walk up and down our hilly terrain to a water source, and a longer, more grueling walk hauling the water back to the plots. Vegetables are thirsty, and so is Malealea’s merciless sun. It requires an incredible amount of water just to keep the ground soft, but still people could find their crops dried out. For elderly people, just growing enough to eat can be an impossible feat, let alone growing enough to earn any income.

Key-Hole Garden structure, photo by Kelly Benning
Key-Hole Garden Structure

A Key-Hole Garden is a circular plot engineered specifically to use little water in the most efficient way possible, while sun netting or mulch protects the soil from excessive evaporation. The plots are built out of the ground, surrounded by a loose stone wall. In the center of the plot is a receptacle with holes. This receptacle is where the water goes, and then trickles out, reaching every root through osmosis.

key-hole garden water receptacle, photo by Kelly Benning
Water Receptacle in a Successful Key-Hole Garden

MDT field workers Tsotang Monyane and Matsepo Lebitsa have trained 71 people in the community how to build and maintain these gardens. They hold monthly workshops at the Community Center or Teaching Farm for a group of about 40 regular Key-Hole Farmers. These farmers are generally elderly women who have benefited greatly from greater yields because they need expend so much less energy fetching bucket after bucket of heavy water.

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Tsotang and Matsepo teach the Farmers to alternate tap root (“light-eaters”) and fibrous root (“heavy eaters”) plants within a plot to reduce water and mineral strain on the soil. They have also taught the Farmers a recipe for a natural insecticide they call “Tea Pest.” Tea Pest is an all-natural mixture of bitter and sour herbs that will kill 80% of bugs without causing any harm to the people who also need to eat these plants.

The MDT holds a Key-Hole Farmers competition every year. The Farmers are scored by their proper use of mulch, spacing, structure, as well as how well they have weeded, and how much they have ultimately produced. The rubric scores how much they have paid attention to the lessons from their workshops. This past year alone, there were 32 winners. They each received a new shovel and pitchfork for their efforts and success. The MDT  wants to support community members who are working hard to better themselves.

The MDT also provides these farmers access to significantly subsidized seeds, allowing for greater yields and experimentation with different types of vegetables.

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We empower our Key-Hole Farmers to be self-sufficient by tending to a much more efficient plot of land. Now they can reliably feed themselves, and our future goals are for them to be able to sell extra crops commercially. We are working towards forming them into a cooperative that is recognized by our ministry of agriculture.

 

How your support can help:

  • We purchase seeds to sell at a much lower price to these farmers to help them work to support themselves. Any donations of funds could help us to bear these costs.

 

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