By Stephanie Vizi, Help Lesotho Intern

International Women’s Day 2015 was celebrated in full force at Help Lesotho’s Hlotse Centre on March 13.

Help Lesotho invited the King and Queen of Lesotho dignitaries and many of the organization’s beneficiaries to celebrate 10 years of empowering girls and women and engaging boys in Lesotho.

In 2004, Canadian professor, Dr. Peg Herbert, was encouraged visit Lesotho by one of her students, a Mosotho woman named, Sr. Alice Mputsoe, now a local principal. Sr. Alice took Herbert to the Highlands of the mountainous country where she saw entire villages decimated by HIV and to the lowlands where child-headed households had become the norm.
Herbert saw the need to build an organization to help the vulnerable orphans, youth and grandmothers left behind in the scourge of the AIDS epidemic in Lesotho, and Help Lesotho was born.

Help Lesotho is founded on the tenants of education, leadership development and psychosocial support. It strives to create a sustainable future free of AIDS and poverty for the Basotho and in addition each Help Lesotho program is rooted in promoting gender equity.

Herbert’s vision is to create a generation of strong Basotho leaders through peer-to-peer training with local staff in programs targeting young mothers, herd boys, grandmothers, out-of-school-youth, and girls. “It’s Help Lesotho’s vision that every youth in Lesotho is supported to become empowered and socially responsible,” said Herbert, the organization’s founder and executive director, during an address at the event.

Celebrating Gender Equity in Lesotho

Help Lesotho beneficiary, 17-year-old, Lijeng [dee-JANG], spoke on behalf of Basotho girls highlighting the organization’s commitment to girls and women:

“When girls and women receive the right support they can do anything. They can grow up to have happy families, to make smart decisions, to become respected leaders in their communities and most importantly to heal from their hurt and they are empowered to do great things.” Lijeng

In December, Queen Masenate took part in 10th anniversary celebrations in Canada, where she encouraged Help Lesotho to continue their good work, “Don’t stop, we have so much more to do.”

King Letsie III echoed her majesty’s call to action at the event, “I would like to convey our deepest gratitude, and we do really appreciate your generousity…I hope this is just the beginning.”

The local community came together to celebrate what the King coined, “A historic occasion”, Primary school boys performed a Mokhibo [mo-khey-BO] dance, which is traditionally danced by women, to complement the event’s theme of gender equity and highlight the need to break down gender stereotypes in Basotho culture. For the first time ever both male and female students showcased a traditional gumboot dance (usually strictly for males), which involved lively stomping, snapping and slapping rain boots, dedicated to Herbert’s service to promote gender equality in the nation.

No one left behind

Help Lesotho continues to fight the spread of HIV/AIDS, gender inequality and social injustice in Lesotho, “Gender equity has been foundational to our work since the beginning because we cannot hold our heads up as worthy of the gifts of life, as long as one girl or woman is marginalized or abused,” said Herbert.

She also challenged the audience to join in Help Lesotho’s mission, “Let us all make a firm commitment to working together to create the kind of future for Lesotho that not only makes us proud, but one that is an outstanding example to our young people of a fair and just society.”

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