By Stephanie Vizi, Help Lesotho Intern
Grandmothers shoulder the burden of the AIDS epidemic in Lesotho.
The devastation caused by HIV/AIDS in Lesotho has left close to three hundred thousand children orphaned. The thousands of orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) in Lesotho are now under the care of grandmothers, whether their own or someone else’s.
As their own health is failing, many grandmothers are forced to work informal jobs, such as selling their garden produce on the street, to provide for the babies and young children in their care and to send older children to high school. This is in addition to gardening, cleaning, cooking and raising animals.
Eye Care for the Elderly
Help Lesotho partnered with Maluti Adventist Hospital in Lesotho to facilitate an eye care blitz for 250 grandmothers attending Help Lesotho’s Grandmother Program. The service is also offered to the grandmothers’ partners.
Last week, 62 elderly people received eye examinations, only three had accessed eye care services prior to the blitz. The optometrist from Maluti Adventist Hospital explained that the elderly do not know how to look after their eyes because these services haven’t always been affordable or accessible in rural Lesotho.
An eye examination costs about $5, which is out of reach for many of Help Lesotho’s beneficiaries who stretch every cent to provide for their large families.
Help Lesotho’s Grandmother Support Officer, Felleng Lethola, said thanks to funding from HelpAge International, Help Lesotho was able to address the eye problems that are so prevalent in Lesotho’s elderly, adding many who suffer from poor vision, eye infections and cataracts.
“They are caring for so many children; their vision is so important. This gives them hope, because something can be done,”Felleng Lethola
Out of the 62 people examined, 58 were referred for further eye care services. Second-hand eyeglasses donated from Canada and a week of free cataract surgeries provided by international doctors will deter the cost for the grannies in need of care.
Empowering Rural Grannies
Help Lesotho empowers grandmothers to raise their orphaned grandchildren through a two year program. During each cycle, 250 grandmothers’ lives are dramatically improved with monthly educational meetings, village support networks, individual counseling visits, food, seeds, hut repairs and small income-generating projects.
Most grandmothers enter the program depressed and hopeless. Having lost their own children to HIV/AIDS, they are now faced with raising as many as eight grandchildren alone, on meager pensions. They feel isolated, angry with no one to turn to. The program allows grandmothers to share their feelings, talk about HIV/AIDS and to understand that they are not alone.
Help Lesotho empowers rural grandmothers with the life-skills to become more self-sufficient and resilient and to gain the confidence to cope with their hardships. As a result, they are able to provide a more secure future for their orphaned and vulnerable grandchildren.
By the end of the program the grandmothers are emotionally strong enough to care for and build the next generation of Basotho. They have overcome their grief, bridged the generational gap between themselves and their grandchildren and most importantly, share the information learned and become leaders in their villages.
Grandmothers are the heart and soul of Lesotho and the Grandmother Program has honoured, nourished and educated almost 1500 grandmothers to heal from their despair and enabled them to feed their families.