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.

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.

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.

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.

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.