There are two Lesothos; one old and one new.
Traveling to rural Lesotho is like going back in time. Horses and donkeys outnumber the cars for means of transportation, few modern technologies exist with the exception of cell phones, which are relied on for their cheap and mobile use, and many people live in modest homes or traditional rondavel huts without electricity or running water.
A trip to the capital city of Maseru is a stark contrast. There you can peruse shiny shopping malls, visit government buildings or the King’s Palace, and play tennis at the club.
Help Lesotho founder and executive director, Peg Herbert’s new book, A Girl in Lesotho, follows the true story of Nthati (En-tha-ty), a 12-year-old girl living in the former.
Nthati and her twin sister, Tisi (Tee-see) take us through their daily routine in the mountainous district of
Thaba Tseka, “Because we are girls, Tisi and I help with chores in the morning. When we come home from school we must fetch the water, wash the dishes, collect firewood, sweep and look after the baby.”
We meet Nthati’s family, see the cooking hut where she sleeps on a mat, and follow her on her 45 minute walk to school through the mountains.
“Because we are girls, on Saturdays we clean, wash our clothes and play — if there is time.” – Nthati
Nthati was sent to live with her aunt and uncle after her mother passed away. Her family follows traditional Basotho gender roles; the women stay at home, while the men herd cattle or migrate for work in South African mines.
At school, Nthati is given a glimpse into the “new Lesotho” through the encouragement and support of her principal, ‘M’e Mputsoe, (May Mmm-poot-sway), a hardworking woman, who strives to achieve the best for her students.
“In the old Lesotho, girls and women had to do whatever the boys and men decided. Nobody asked their opinion or cared enough about them…M’e Mputsoe says that in the new Lesotho, girls will be just as important as boys, and they will have the same jobs and be safe.” – A Girl in Lesotho
I experience the two Lesotho’s on a daily basis. I travel to rural mountain villages and meet women forced to marry at age 13, I listen to young mothers abandoned by their husbands and left with nothing, and I visit schools where half of the students are orphans struggling to survive.
The New Lesotho shines through when I talk to Help Lesotho’s beneficiaries who have been empowered through the generosity of others.
I met 15-year-old Tlotlisang (Klo-klee-sang) at her high school in Thaba Tseka. She is the second-oldest of five children. Her life mirrors that of Nthati’s, both of her parents are unemployed and struggle to make ends meet in the mountains. Her older sister is trying to finish high school as a single mother.
Tlotlisang is also part of my family; she is my family’s Help Lesotho Child Sponsor.
Child Sponsorship supports children in rural communities who have no other source of funds to pay their prohibitive high school fees; it is the only option for continuing school for many children. The majority of sponsored children are girls due to their increased vulnerability to poverty and HIV/AIDS.
Tears stung my eyes, as this tiny girl with sparkling eyes told me she wants to be a judge when she grows up, “I want to put the abusers in jail and protect the vulnerable.”
I told her we want to help her achieve her goals and without hesitation she said, “I will.”
Tlotlisang said she was happy to meet me, but she wondered how long I was going to stay because her teacher was introducing a new novel to the class.
Taken aback, I realized this was her one chance to get an education and nothing would stand in her way. She feels responsibility to her sponsors and her nation to give it her all. Tlotlisang lives in the new Lesotho, despite her circumstances.
Her eyes are fixed on a future where girls make decisions, hold important positions and equality reigns.
Help Lesotho is celebrating 10 years of empowering girls and women. Ten years of engaging men to do the same. Ten years of educating about HIV/AIDS, developing leadership and providing psychosocial support to the nation’s most vulnerable girls, like Nthati and Tlotlisang, alongside local heroes like ‘M’e Mputsoe.