Reports from Lesotho

A Goodbye from Lele

by Neha Kamat on August 10, 2008
Filed under: Uncategorized

A Good Bye from Lele

As Josh and I began to say our goodbyes on the Friday before we left Lesotho, I think we both realized how much we had touched our students’ lives and how much they had touched ours. Our last day was emotional and filled with many hugs and tears. This trip was amazing- it pushed me to change the way I think about my responsibility to others and my role as a citizen of the world who has been blessed with an education and financial security. I want global health to be a part of my future, I want children and gender health issues to continue to hold my attention and influence my actions, and I want to keep learning how to see the world around me in new ways and resolve issues I do see with the wonderful education I have received and will continue to seek.
On Saturday, as we packed our taxis with our bags for the airport, 3 girls from Josh and my class showed up at our house to see us off. It was very sweet and I was really touched by the gesture. As we were about to leave, Lele arrived with a tear-streaked face and handed me a letter. In the airport, later, I opened and read the letter and thought she wouldn’t mind if I shared it now. I believe the letter allowed me to see how little we know about our students’ very real struggles and how Josh and I had an amazing opportunity this summer to make a change, even a small one, in our students’ lives.
The letter follows:

‘Dear Neha and Josh,
Leaving you is a very challenging thing for me. I have to assume certain responsibilities that I am not prepared for as a young woman. Losing you means that I have lost my source of support, my source of inspiration and my cheerleader. You were very proud of me and always encouraging me to do well.
It also means that there are many changes going to happen in my life and I choose to view them in a positive light. I realize I have to grow up quickly as there are many important decisions to be made in terms of what the next steps in my life will be.
You must be wondering why everything depends on me. My mother is a single parent with two children and as the eldest I have to take a leading role in the household. Many negative things happen but I choose not to dwell on them. I can proudly say I will become focused on my life and try to achieve my goals with all my might. I sometimes blame my mother for bringing me to this world, when I am sad, but, I realize it’s not a matter of who brought me but, it’s a matter of making it happen while I’m still alive. I lived 18 years up to now, but I never knew my father and my mother always tells me how bad he was, when they were married. My father was a thief stealing cars, but I do not blame my mother for leaving him and he was also a murderer so my mom didn’t want to get killed at last. We left my dad when I was only 3 months and that was the last time I saw my dad. When I was 15 years old, m mom got pregnant with my younger brother Mosa who is 3 years now and he is my half brother, but I love him and he is so great to me and I hope will be in the future, I mean no fights because we are brother and sister. I just want to appreciate my mom and my brother and show them love. Without you Neha and Josh, all hope is not lost.

Life goes on, I won’t lose myself into the situation, instead I will stand up and dust myself off and keep doing things that would have made you proud. As they say “Life’s ups and downs provide windows of opportunity to determine your values and goals”. I will think of using all obstacles as stepping stones to build the life I want which is achieving a dream of being in America one day and I’ll be with you guys.
Neha? You mad me realize what life is and I enjoyed everyday with you.
Josh? You mad me think of my younger brother and I always said “ I wish my brother one day will be like Josh.”
You were so amazing guys. You both taught me what happiness is. You were like brother and sister to me. I will always remember you guys and this is the most happiest moment I have ever had in my life and the most sad when you are leaving me, but I really want to visit you one day. We will stay in touch!

I love you Josh and Neha. Thank You for everything. Thinking of you day and night.

From: Lele’

This experience has been wonderful. I owe a huge part of this, first, to Beyond Traditional Borders and Dr. Richards Kortum. Dr. Richards Kortum has always been an inspiring mentor for me and has taught me that the key ingredient to success is a strong character and a strong family. I am also very grateful for having Josh as my partner throughout this project and experience. He is intelligent, hard-working, thoughtful, and I know he will be a great asset to Beyond Traditional Borders for the next 3 years.

I was so hopeful, so anxious, and so apprehensive going into this project that Josh and I wouldn’t be able to give our students anything useful. I realized the students we were working with are eager to learn and willing to work hard, and when you are working with amazing people like that, it’s hard not to leave feeling like you’ve accomplished something and to feel that you have grown as well. I am happy and thankful for this experience. The students all genuinely seemed to enjoy the program and Josh and I were so happy to find how enthusiastically they took to our lessons.
This trip was a thought provoking and emotional experience. It has been one of the best of my life so far. I know that I will always remember it and how this project started to shape and form my vision of my own future. I want global health and non-profit work to be a significant part of my future career. Dr. Richards Kortun showed us a video clip in our global health class a few months ago where a women said, “Find out what makes you really angry, or really sad, or really passionate, and then do something that involves that - that works to solve it”. From this trip, I’ve realized how very real women and gender issues are in the developing world: how intimately tied financial independence, education, and health really are, and I’ve realized how very real my passion is for this issue. I’m really excited about my own future now, pursuing a PhD in bioengineering while starting to explore ways I can become involved with these gender and health issues abroad and even in my own community. The Bioengineering department and Beyond Traditional Borders Initiative have given me a truly enriching and thought-provoking experience and education and I know that I am leaving Rice a much stronger person than I came in.

Returning home

by Scott "Thapelo" Steger on August 7, 2008
Filed under: Uncategorized Tags: ,

Well, it’s been a week and a half since I’ve returned to the US and my thoughts are mixed. It’s nice to be back, but it’s also sad because Lesotho offers many things that you just can’t get here. I’ve written up a list of things that I’m going to miss and things that I’m glad to have again, with some being more serious than others:

Things I’m going to miss:

  1. The People - First and foremost, I’m going to miss all of the great people we met while in Maseru and our individual communities. In three short weeks, I made some great friends in the country and I hope to keep in touch with some of them.
      • Ntate Thulo - Our community representative and current board member at Masianokeng HS was very helpful and translated for us while walking around Ha Bosofo. Everyone in the community knew him, and he was incredibly kind to us.
      • ‘Me Mamolemo - She served as our main translator in Ha Bosofo during her winter vacation from teaching agriculture at a local high school. She and her family were always fun to talk to.
      • Makhotso - About to enter university, she also translated for us because she was so bored during her winter vacation. She was very polite, but when it came time to lay down the law she became a very tough girl. We wouldn’t have gotten any data from our surveys if she weren’t around.
      • Andreas - He is about to graduate university with a degree in political science, and we had many very insightful conversations with him.  I’ve been in brief email contact with him, and I hope to stay in touch for a long time.
      • Mr. Chimombe - The headmaster of Masianokeng HS is one of my heroes. He is doing so much incredible work for the students at the high school and the surrounding area, it’s hard to describe. I could write a whole post about what he’s doing.
      • Ntate Mphi - We didn’t meet Ntate Mphi until we only had a few days left in Ha Bosofo, but talking with him provided me with one of my coolest life experiences ever. He used to teach Sesotho to Peace Corps volunteers in Lesotho and showed us some pictures of him with various PCVs.
        Included in the stack of pictures were some taken from when he was a Boy Scout as a child: rock climbing, camping, and at some sort of retreat in Botswana. I mentioned that I used to be a Boy Scout as well, and he started saying the Scout Oath. When I joined in, the connection that I felt with this man who grew up in a completely different time and place was simply amazing. Until this point, I had never really felt too strongly about Boy Scouts, but I now know it’s influence over me.
      • The taxi drivers from Perfect Taxi - We practiced Sesotho with them during the half hour car rides to and from Ha Bosofo and really got to know some of them well.  Thabang gave me my Sesotho name “Thapelo,”or “prayer.”  Two now have my email address, and I hope to hear from them as well.
      • The Atmosphere - With a few upgrades, I could easily see myself living in Ha Bosofo for years.  The view from the top of the hill is incredible, and the atmosphere of community is great.  While the houses are small, everything is done outside which promotes interaction with neighbors.  One of the things that I liked the most about living in the dorms at Rice was the interaction between different rooms.  We rarely locked our door when people were in the room, and friends would walk in unannounced all the time.  I observed some of this behavior in Ha Bosofo and like it very much.
      • Being Able to Walk Places - It’s impractical to walk anywhere in suburban America, forcing me to drive everywhere.  In the near future, driving private cars will likely become a luxury.  Most of Lesotho is set up so that everything is within walking distance out of necessity, but it’s also more efficient from an energy standpoint.
      • Mediteranee - This was the pizza place near Lancer’s Inn that got us through many days.  Cooking took way too long on the electric stove we had (we spent well over an hour once trying to get a pot of potatoes to boil), so we ate pizza from Mediteranee often.  It’s a somewhat gourmet place and I think I tried everything on their menu that didn’t have meat I wasn’t comfortable eating or Thousand Island dressing on it.  They put pineapple, banana, and kiwi on the Tropicana (hey! pineapple is good, why not the rest?) and it was pretty good when it was made right.
      • Veggies - Many of the foods in Lesotho taste much better than their American counterparts, mainly because they’re made to be eaten right away instead of needing to survive several weeks’ storage.  Somewhat surprisingly, vegetables were rich in flavor and I loved leafy veggies prepared in the traditional fashion.

      Things I prefer about the US:

      1. Uninterrupted Access to Electricity - The power would go out in Maseru almost every day due to load shedding in South Africa.  Someone in Lesotho’s government made a bad deal with South Africa at one point, so Lesotho suffers from very frequent blackouts in exchange for a little money from South Africa.  You don’t notice how dependent you are on electricity until you’re rushing to charge your electronics while the power is on.
      2. Central Heat - Another comfort that I’m too spoiled to do without.  It was cold at night in our townhome, and trying to work on my computer was near impossible when my fingers were frozen.  Sleeping wasn’t so bad because the Basotho make very warm blankets, so I’d probably have to adjust my daily schedule if I were to live in Lesotho for very long.
      3. Food Other Than Reconstituted Soup - Partially because we’re no good at cooking, but also because we stayed away from meat, cheese, and any other products that needed to be refrigerated (because of the blackouts), powdered soup was one of our only options.  If we’d had more time or were less busy during the time that we did have, we would have been able to explore more options in the food department.  Mark did make a delicious vegetable stew once, but we also didn’t have 2 hours to devote to dinner each night.  I’m glad to be back with a wider selection of foods.

      That’s certainly not a comprehensive list, but I’m getting tired of thinking of new ideas.  I’ll try to update the list soon.

      I hope to return to Lesotho soon to talk with the people in Ha Bosofo again.  I wasn’t anywhere close to accomplishing the things that I wanted to, but that does leave me with a compelling reason to return.

      Khotso Lesotho!

      by Jenna Hook on July 28, 2008
      Filed under: Uncategorized

      Now that I am home and have had time to reflect, I thought about writing a blog entry to sum up my experiences from this summer, but there is no way to do this summer justice with words. It has been the most incredible experience of my life not because it was the easiest or the most fun, but because I learned so much about life and how people live on the other side of the world.

      In Lesotho, time takes on a new meaning—no one is in a hurry. To use an old clique “life is about the journey, not the destination”. In the United States, I constantly feel like I am in a hurry to meet some deadline or accomplish some task, but in Lesotho I am comforted to know that you cannot get that much done in a day. Life is not about productivity or efficiency, but the funny thing is that I have worked harder this summer than at I have ever before.

      In Lesotho, the Basotho people seem so happy and full of joy even amidst poverty, disease, and cold winters with no heat! Their children are beautiful—I believe you can tell a lot about a society from their children and here they are so uninhibited and free. When the children are healthy their eyes dance, but you could tell when a child was very sick at the clinic because their eyes grew dim. Baylor is helping them to dance again.

      Here is a poem that one of the translators Mpho Rakabaele was so kind to share with us. It is entitled “Baylor, Place of Comfort”.

      Baylor, you are the source of our “Good Life”

      The mother of the orphans, the mother of the blind and lame.

      You were sent here to give good teaching to the poor,

      To proclaim liberty to the oppressed Basotho children,

      And to recover the sight of the blind.

       

      You are the mother to me.

       

      You feed your patients fresh milk and fruits,

      All who obey you taste your good fruits.

       

      You are the mother to me.

       

      You protect your children against strong winds and sun,

      And you keep them so tenderly in your hands,

      Like the hen when it gathers its eggs under its warm body.

       

      We are proud of you Baylor,

      Spread your message to the entire world

      And let your light shine on the disables.

       

      I think that about sums it up! :)

      I also wanted to say thank you soooooo much to all of the doctors and staff at Baylor—I loved working with you! Thank you for including me in your family! You are missed!

      Khotso (peace) Lesotho! 

      Thoughts about prepaid utilities…

      by Scott "Thapelo" Steger on July 20, 2008
      Filed under: Uncategorized Tags: , , ,

      As I stood in line to buy more electricity for our townhome the other day, I began to think about the effect of prepaid utilities on our resource usage.  All utilities are prepaid in Lesotho because a billing system would simply not be feasible here.  So, we must pay for our electricity and water, and then enter a special code into the utility meters that we have in our house.   I believe that this system encourages conservation of the utilities.

      Electricity Meter

      Since this electricity meter staring us in the face every time we walk between our living room and the rest of the house, prominently displaying a number that is always counting down, we notice how much electricity we are using on a daily - and even hourly - basis.  We must pay attention to our electricity usage or we run the risk of having the electricity shut off by the utility company.

      We have modified our habits day-to-day in order to reduce electricity usage, and I believe that we have been doing a better job of conserving energy here in Lesotho than we are able to in the United States.  For example, we all used electric space heaters the first few nights that we were in Maseru, but we soon realized that they consumed a ridiculous amount of electricity for the minimal comfort that they provided and we haven’t turned them on since then.  The biggest remaining electricity hog is our water heater, which, honestly, I’m not willing to give up because it’s the only source of warmth in this house.

      I wonder if similar electricity meters, located inside the house, would reduce energy consumption in the United States.  Most people only learn the amount of electricity they’ve used when they get a bill at the end of the month,  which makes it difficult to know how much energy was wasted by leaving a light on while nobody was in the room, for example.  If a person were constantly notified of their electricity usage, I believe that they would make an effort to reduce their instantaneous energy consumption.

      Of course, the price of the utility also plays a big role in conservation  I have mainly been discussing our electricity usage because electricity is significantly more expensive than water in Maseru.  At about 0.077 USD/kWh, we spend about USD2.30 per day (30 kWh) on electricity.  In comparison, we have spent less than USD3.00 on water during our entire time here.  Since water is Lesotho’s only notable natural resource, it is relatively cheap in comparison to other utilities.  Electricity is significantly more complicated here.  I believe that it’s generated by hydroelectric plants in Lesotho (that’s the water again!), sold to South Africa, and then sold back to Lesotho for consumption.  Rumor has it that South Africa has been cutting off Lesotho’s power in order to supply their own country, leaving us in the dark almost daily.  Because of all this, electricity is relatively expensive in Maseru.

      I hate to say it, but we do not take many extra steps to conserve water like we do with electricity, probably due to two reasons: First, the water meter is outside and we have to go out of our way to read how much water we have left before we’re cut off.  Second, and probably more importantly, water is cheap and we are not in any real danger of using too much.  If either one of these would change, I’d bet that we would immediately begin to consciously conserve water around the house.

      The rapidly increasing price of gasoline presents an analogous situation in the rest of the world.  People were always often reminded of how much gas they had been using when filling up the tank once a week,  but driving habits have only recently begun to change significantly as the effect of driving conservatively becomes more noticeable in the amount of money spent on fuel.  Perhaps it takes both the ability to notice the effect of small changes in the use of a commodity and a high price for the commodity before conservation is common.

      Interestingly, the prepaid cell phones here (and, as far as I know, everywhere) do not display the amount of money left on the phone for making calls even though the technology is certainly available.  You have to go out of your way to call a special toll-free number to be told the balance on your account.   Probably, the phone companies know that people will spend more money on their service if they are not constantly reminded of how much money they’re spending.  This can’t be done with electricity or water because shutting off a cell phone’s service is relatively harmless.

      In the end, I believe that utility conservation could be promoted in other places by prominently locating meters within people’s homes, so that they are often reminded about how much of the resource they’re using.  As utility prices increase, of course, the same conservation effect will be boosted substantially by a more urgent need for conservation.

      Reflections on the Experience of A Life Time…

      by Joshua Ozer on
      Filed under: Uncategorized

      It was quite difficult to leave Lesotho. I stood on the runway staring at the mountains one last time for such a long time that the flight attendant almost had to come outside to get me on the plane. Now, I’m sitting in the hot Israeli summer prepping for my Hebrew immersion courses that begin tomorrow. And by prepping I mean that I’m trying to relax after my long journey. I feel like I can finally begin to holistically comprehend what happened over the past two months..
      The first thing I noticed coming to Israel is the culture shock. For a Jewish person, it’s like going from being the ultimate outsider to the ultimate insider. The shock is not just culture, though: it’s also weather. It’s just about 90 degrees here. I only have one pair of shorts, and don’t have air conditioning where I am staying. It will be a rough couple of days until my parents come on Wednesday (and bring my summer clothes!).
      As this will be my last post on this blog, I was hoping to come up with a way to sum up everything that has happened in the past couple of months. I will begin with some public thank you’s.
      1. Thanks to all those at Baylor who made a special effort to help all of us along the way. Their kindness does not go unnoticed! John especially made an effort to always check in on us and make sure we were all safe, and was always there in a pinch. He deserves a really special thanks.
      2. Mr. Chimumbe, Jane, all the staff at Masianokeng High School who helped along the way. Though they don’t have internet at the moment, I hope they see this at some point and realize how the institutional work they helped us with was so important to our success.
      3. Guest speakers for the course, like Nthate Nthunya, Nthate Maloi, and ‘Me Mamohao. One of the greatest lessons I learned in Lesotho is that the more you can involve local organizations and businesses, the better it is. Nthunya and Thabang have both also offered the kids future help.
      4. Beyond Traditional Borders assessment team: Thanks for helping with the Keyhole Garden!
      5. Beyond Traditional Borders staff and professors: They make this program run, so I would not have even been in Lesotho if it hadn’t have been for them. Neha and I would talk about the independence we we were granted to achieve as much as we wanted in Lesotho. It was both a tremendous responsibility and a fantastic opportunity. This is what made the experience so taxing and so rewarding at the same time. It really forced me to grow as a person, and achieve more than I ever thought I could. In their position, it’s not easy to grant such young people such independence (especially so many 18 and 19 year olds). So for their hard work in enabling me to complete the internship, I am immensely grateful.
      6. Other Beyond Traditional Borders Interns: They made the trip fun! I had a life changing experience (a very fun one too). Experiences are almost always powerful because of the people you are with more than the things you do. A special hats off to Neha, who was always working hard to make sure we got everything done. Se was a constant motivation, and a pleasure to work with! To live and work with the same person for 8 straight weeks is hard. But we did it!
      7. Lastly, I have to thank the students, who day in and day out put a lot of effort into our program, and their enthusiasm was incredible. I will miss them very much, and can only wish them the best of luck in the businesses they are starting!

      So, in the end, this was probably the most life changing experience I have ever had. For those who are considering every working in foreign aid, public health, or development, I really think it is a good taste of what the field has to offer. I would recommend this internship to just about anyone. I was pretty sure about my course of study at University before I left for Africa in May. The trip only solidified my interests, and made me proud of what I am studying and its possible applications. I find myself at a loss of words to describe how excited I am that I finally found something that I could see myself doing in the long term. Even though I taught for over half of the trip, I think that I learned exponentially more during my trip than I could have ever taught. I think this is the nature of living in a foreign country implementing projects of your own design– you learn (and mature) very quickly.
      Now, I have to transition back to student life. I will miss this experience very much. Friday night I watched the sun set one last time over Lesotho as Neha and I rode back to the house in the back of Mr. Chimumbe’s truck. It was perhaps the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen. The first and last thought at that moment, and as I prepared to leave Lesotho, was just how grateful I am for being able to have the experience.

      img_1382.jpg

      I’ll never be the same.

      Collecting community data

      by Joanna Cummings on July 18, 2008
      Filed under: Uncategorized

       In the nearly two weeks that I‘ve been here, I’ve learned to appreciate how difficult it is to collect good survey data.  I’m from an engineering background, and I’ve been exposed to ngo projects before, but this is the first time I’ve been talking so much with community members and gathering information about community conditions rather than focusing on the pure engineering aspects of a project.  Last week we spent entirely on house to house visits and each night we tried figuring out better ways to ask questions because inevitably, someone we talked to would make a comment that would reveal that we weren’t capturing the whole picture.  For example, we’d been asking what people used to cook with and how much fuel they used, and after awhile we noticed that every family that had a gas stove said they used the exact same amount of gas each month irrespective of family size.  After talking to our translator for a little while, we found out that the number people had been giving us was the size of the tank, and that they rationed it by cooking outside with wood the rest of the time to make the tank last the entire month.  Similarly, we’d been asking people if they have electricity or not, and if they didn’t what they were using for lights.  Most people responded that they were using candles or paraffin and so we assumed that they weren’t using any large electric devices.  After talking to some of the other interns, however, we found out that in their communities people had large car batteries that they were using to power tv’s and radios and that option had never occurred to us to ask about.  The other tricky part about collecting information is that we’re really curious about the more intangible, and sometimes sensitive, factors of community life, such as whether or not people trust each other, how easily people will be willing to try something new, or how willing individual members would be to work together on a project.  The success or failure of most projects depends on things like community organization, and how much initiative people will take to fix any breaks in a system.  I don’t think Matt and I have fully worked out yet how to get a sense of this information.  We did discover that chickens are apparently a sign of theft being less of a problem (since chickens are so portable, just like a solar panel would be), but I’m not sure that there is any sure way of understanding how a community functions without just living in it for several months.  We have really enjoyed talking to community members, and it’s been especially fun when we get to talk to people our own age.  And, I think by week three, we’ll hopefully have found the proper phrasing for our questions.

      John really is my hero

      by Mina Fitzpatrick on July 16, 2008
      Filed under: Uncategorized

      Today was one of the best days I’ve had since we arrived. We started the day with a lecture on diabetes, which the students were very interested and engaged in. “Tsoekere” or “Sugar disease” is what they call diabetes here. In the woodworking shop next door a couple students were finishing up the hot-cot, which is now nearly ready for donation to the hospitals.

      A little bit about the hot-cots:
      Kim and I have been working with both schools to create two low-cost incubators (or hot-cots) that will be donated to the main hospital in Maseru, Queen Elizabeth II, as well as a more rural hospital called Scott Hospital in Morija. As luck would have it, neither Kim nor I have any skills in woodworking, or electrical wiring. As a result, our students were completely responsible for the construction of the hot-cots, from start to finish, and what they didn’t know how to do, they had to figure out. The result was far better than I could have ever hoped. Both Machabeng and Masianokeng students started to work right away, working together to make the two hot-cots. The people who excelled in physics and circuits helped put the wiring for the incubator together, while those with more experience in woodworking did the cutting and construction. Both girls and boys from both schools helped with painting the hot-cots (even though it was a pastel pink color). The best part for me was to see kids from both schools working together, side by side. Even though the Machabeng students tend to have a reputation in Maseru for being snobby and rich, here they were, taking lessons from the Masianokeng kids on how to put together an incubator.

      Machabeng and Masianokeng students with the Hot-cot

      As the final touches were being put on the incubator, we started our lecture on gender inequality. We talked with the students about the biological and cultural differences between boys and girls, and then asked the class if they believed boys and girls should be treated differently. Some girls responded that they thought everyone should be treated equally, while one girl said, “I think girls should be treated differently because we are different.” When Kim explained the difference between being treated differently and being treated unequally, the girls all seemed in agreement that unequal treatment was not acceptable. The boys, however, expressed a much different opinion. When we asked the class what made boys and girls different, we received many more answers than we anticipated. “Girls cannot drink while standing up.” “Girls cannot eat chips inside.” “Girls aren’t supposed to eat eggs.” “A girl cannot walk through a herd of cattle, or else she will have a heavy and painful menstrual cycle.” When we tried to dispel some of the myths that these young men had, we just found ourselves uncovering more myths. It wasn’t hard to see why these girls had learned to become ashamed of their menstrual cycles. In the end, we gained some headway by reminding everyone that menstruation was a natural and necessary process that their mothers, sisters, and friends all go through.
      At the end of the morning, John, from the Baylor Clinic, came in to show the students what he helped them make on Monday. John is currently working on building his “Imagination Center” which will be a place for people to go to use computers, and other digital technologies to explore the world of IT. On Monday, John came in to our class and took pictures of each student and filmed a drama that the students directed and acted in. He didn’t tell the students what he was doing with either the video, or the pictures. Today he returned with a DVD of the video, which he had edited and improved. He also showed the students the photos he had taken of them, which he had turned into business cards. The cards showed the student’s full name, their future occupation, and in the background, a picture of the place they may be working in the future (i.e. a lab, a court, a surgery room). Before he left he gave each one of the students their own business card. When we handed out the cards, the students were jumping up and down, screaming, and some, even crying. The students were overjoyed, and for me, it was an unforgettable moment. One of the students said to me over and over again how inspirational the photographs were. He pointed down at the picture where it said “Future World Leader,” and asked me if I thought it was really possible for him to achieve his goals. Besides the fact that he is one of the most inspiring and respected students in the class, his sincerity and self-awareness were enough to tell me that he would be successful.

      Keyhole Gardens! Delayed Due to Load Shedding

      by Joshua Ozer on
      Filed under: Uncategorized

      This post has been a long time coming– mostly due to power outages. Sorry!
      Saturday, July 12th, 25 students from Masianokeng worked with some Rice students to build a keyhole garden. The garden will serve both as an educational tool fo the community, and an income generating asset for the school.
      Keyhole gardens are a fantastic solution to many of the problems faced by Lesotho. It was originaly designed as a sustainable way for the elderly, disabled, and chronically ill (including HIV/AIDS patients) to grow some small crops—either for their families, or for small scale income generation. It is small enough (just 2 meters in diameter) to maintain fairly easily, and it comes up to waist height preventing stress on the back when working with the garden. In addition, the “keyhole” allows someone to maintain most of the garden from a single point, including watering and composting.
      The garden is built by first measuring out a circle with a one meter radius. Then, the area is cleared of grass. Stones are placed first in a circle—then, one removes part of the cirle and makes the inlet for the keyhole basket with stones. As some students make the stone outline, others make a basket out of wood. A few more layers of stone are added as others throw in cans and cut up aloe plants. These add iron and other nutrients to the bottom layer of the soil. After this, a layer of soil is added. The basket is then hammered into the soil and lined with straw. This will serve as the composting for the garden. Then a layer of manure comes next. After the manure ,ash (which provides potassium), is shoveled on. Then straw is set on top of the ash to help retain moisture. Above the straw comes more manure, then a mixture of soil and manure is the final, thickest layer. They are added until the garden is built to waist level. Stones are added along the way to make the garden stable and help retain moisture and good soil. Finally, in this top layer, the seeds are planted. We planted onion on one side of the garden, and beetroot on the other. Finally, straw is placed on top of the seeds to help retain moisture when the garden is watered.
      As far as maintenance, the garden is relatively self-sufficient. The basket serves as the compost heap, so one can dump anything from grey water to food scraps into it. It allows for the composting to reach even the bottom-most layers of the garden. One has to water once a day—some of the water has to be put in the compost basket, and then some also has to be used to water conventionally. The basket has to be changed every two years, as it will rot. In addition, the same crops should not be planted all the time. Leafy greens should be alternated with root crops to help maintain soil-bnutrient quality.
      The garden will be incorporated into the school’s small enterprise business plan, and it will also be a part of the environmental center. People will be able to walk into the school-run center, ask about how the garden was made, and bring the technology back to their homes. Perhaps this will be the first of many keyhole gardens in Masianokeng village.
      We are now well into our last week here in Lesotho. Neha and I are working diligently to finish all the tasks that we have set for ourselves. I had written goals for myself and the class the first day of the course. Here is a list of my goals and an an analysis of how close I have come to reaching them:
      1. Help one person get a loan:
      I have not directly influenced this—the loan process is just very difficult here. We did bring in an employee from one of the banks to talk about loans. But almost everyone requires 80% collateral, which is too high when most people don’t own their own houses. Small business services are mostly for medium sized enterprises. It is very difficult. I think I have helped many people in the class get informal loans: from each other, from their businesses, and have introduced them to the banking system. For that, I am proud.
      2. Help every student develop a viable business plan
      We have helped give them the skills to do this, and will begin to help them do this tomorrow. We will not finish, however. I think we will have helped, but not made sure they have all finished their business plans. Even this is a step in the right direction.
      3. Be able to explain Basotho peoples’ financial systems to others
      I feel fairly confident in my understanding of the financial system and economy here, and am capable enough to explain the situation to others..
      4. Have a viable school business plan
      Mission accomplished, in this respect. Tonight Neha and I will be taking 7 different, viable business plans and consolidating them into one larger, more robust business plan.
      5. Develop four business-related health lessons
      I would say we have developed a few good health lessons, but not four. The poverty and health lesson needs to be refined to be more meaningful and fun to them, but I still think it could be useful.
      6. Get student feedback on every lesson
      We will do this on Friday, through a survey.
      7. Inspire one person to become interested in health and poverty alleviation
      I wish I could have taught more about these subjects. We have had a speaker come and talk about social responsibility in business. I have also realized that most of the students are interested in poverty alleviation—their own povery alleviation, anyway. I think, in retrospect, that this goal may have been a bit nieve. Everyone is interested in their own health and their own poverty alleviation, after all.
      8. Provide studets with ways to get help if I’m not here
      Nthunya (of Telejane) has offered to do some outside consulting for the tech shop when we are gone. John (of Baylor) has volunteered some computer help. And Neha and I are also making ourselves available to them when we leave. We have been trying to gett thir computer skills and internet going so they will be able to contact us as well. I think we are leaving them with a good basket of resources that will help them in the future.
      I am not ready to leave. I can’t even think about it.

      Kim and Mina

      by Mark Hoffman on July 15, 2008
      Filed under: Uncategorized

      For the second day in a row, we had no electricity in the morning. Even though the power came on around lunch today, it promptly cut off around 2 or 3 PM. Luckily, the inside of the refrigerator is usually warmer than the kitchen, so none of our food went bad, but the outages still frustrated our attempts at working. Our internet connection depends on electricity, and after our laptop batteries ran out we had no way to enter the data from the surveys we handed out on Sunday. Laundry and cooking were out, too. Also, every time our power goes out the security guards come because the battery on the alarm system is dead. We spent the day working as much as we could (and signing documents that verified that there was no forced entry into our apartment). For me, it was a reminder of the basic infrastructure needs Lesotho still has: even though there are electric lines in the city, businesses, homes and hospitals have to operate without taking their power supply for granted.

      As we were entering data today, I came across a survey we had handed out in Masianokeng village. One of the survey questions reads (in Sesotho): “Has anyone ever talked to you about water quality before? If so, who?” The anonymous respondent wrote the following answer:Kim and Mina

      (Sorry for the poor quality. I’m using software that I’m not familiar with, and the file was enormous unless I made the image small and a little grainy…)

      The Woman of Lesotho

      by Neha Kamat on July 14, 2008
      Filed under: Uncategorized

      Today, I was forced to face my vulnerability and lack of power as a woman in Lesotho. Not in a direct way, but rather as the result of another event that forced me to see how the result of it would or could have been different if I had been directly involved.

      In the evening, Josh and the five of us girls were driving home from dinner when we pulled over to get some money from an ATM. When we got back into the car and slowly began to pull over into the road, we were stopped by policemen who proceeded to pull out a gun. They had most likely been waiting for us. They asked Josh to get out of the car and accused him of trying to run them over-they were really no where close enough to be run over and we were going approximately 5 miles an hour trying to get back into traffic. They then told Josh that they would have to arrest him, which we learned earlier last week is really code for “give me money”. Josh handled everything incredibly well. He instinctively knew to first, be kind to the cops, and second, diplomatically suggest an alternative way out of the situation. As we left the scene quiet and safe, I felt relieved, but more so stunned and frustrated. What would I have done in the same situation? Would the same conditions have held for me or would the entire situation have played out differently? What if I didn’t have any money with me? What if money couldn’t solve the problem for me? Christine told us that she had read before she came to Lesotho that women and girls should always have money with them, because if you don’t give the corrupt and debase money, they will want something else. I have never had to actually face my limitations as a woman and though, in this case, I didn’t directly have to either, I am still left slapped and stunned by the possibilities of being a woman in a country where women have few social rights and even fewer legal ones.

      I’ve been sitting here now and I’m thinking that I never realized how much power I didn’t have. That for the first time, I really realize first hand, to be born a girl in this world means to be born with an inherent disadvantage when trying to keep yourself safe.

      In reality, the situation ended well, we are all fine, and there’s a chance that I could have handled the situation similarly. But I keep thinking, what were the thoughts running through those cops minds when they were talking with Josh, and what would those thoughts have been if they were talking to me instead?

      Since I have reached Lesotho, I have been trying to understand what being a woman in Lesotho really means- socially, physically, and economically. The women here seem to strengthen as they age, until you see these beautiful elderly women, with strong backs and wise, clear eyes, walking and talking and living with confidence that you can feel. Maybe that is because as we all age, we become more self-aware and wise, and maybe it is because as we age, we no longer remain sexual objects. Whatever the case, I have realized that being a elderly woman in Lesotho means being in control (of yourself and others). The reason for this control, however, is not only increased social status, but also often the loss of male relatives (fathers, sons, or husbands) near the woman. Our neighbor Tom, who is working for the Ministry of Finance for a few years, was telling us today about the lack of legal and social power women have in Lesotho. As of today, a woman cannot take out a loan without the permission of her husband. Her assets (land and money) are turned over to her husband after marriage. So perhaps gaining strength as you age in Lesotho is the result of the knowledge and wisdom you gain and perhaps it is also the result of outliving the men who have a right to what you have. Being a young woman, however, is another story. The following is an article that I read in the local Lesotho Times newspaper early in June. It shocked me and I kept the article, re-reading it every few days, trying to understand all the things it was telling me.

      ‘Rapist’ hubby forgiven

      Lebowakgomo-A woman says she has forgiven her husband who is accused of raping her teenaged daughter and threatening to cut off the girl’s head with a panga.
      She said she prayed daily for “God, Lord Jesus and the heavenly angels” to forgive him and to be with him during his trial.
      “I have forgiven my husband and wish God, Lord Jesus and the angels would forgive him too and be with him during his court appearances and trail,” she said, shortly after her husband appeared in the Thabamoopo Magistrate’s Court in Limpopo on Monday.
      “Through the faith I have in God, Jesus, Simon Petrus and the Angel Gabriel, I hope my husband will be forgiven before Judgement Day and also when he is before court.”
      She said she was a staunch Christian and would not allow the Devil to break her spirit and tear her family apart.
      Her 41-year-old husband from Mamaolo village near Lebowakgomo, was not asked to plead to the charges of rape and the case was postponed to Friday for a date to be set for him to be tried in the regional court.
      The man is accused of raping his 14-year-old stepdaughter at their home on March 20 while her mother was attending an overnight church service.
      He was granted R1 000 bail during a previous appearance when his wife pleaded for his release, saying he was the sole breadwinner in the family.
      Speaking after her husband’s court appearance on Monday, she said her husband was a builder at Seshego near Polokwane and that she knew she could rely on him to give her money at the end of each month.
      She said that by asking for her husband to be granted bail, she was not turning her back on her daughter.
      “We would starve if he was kept in custody,” she explained.
      She said she had sleepless nights and that both she and her daughter were undergoing counseling. As part of his bail conditions, the man may not speak to his wife or stepdaughter about the case, nor intimidate them in any way or he will immediately be placed back in custody.
      The investigating officer is also tasked with visiting their house daily to ensure that the man is adhering to his bail conditions.-African Eye

      How do you give a woman enough power to allow her live a life that she chooses to have? Perhaps by teaching her to have her own means of financial security, perhaps by teaching her how she should be treated. Lesotho has recently passed a law that addresses sexual misconduct against women and even outlaws marital rape, but our neighbor Tom says that many women don’t know about the rights they do have.

      This all sounds very cynical, but it is more a lot of shock at beginning to see the reality of what I have heard about. I know the strong moral and emotional strength men hold, I know first hand about their kindness and compassion. And I think the issue here is not about the “depravity” of men, because that generalization is both unfair and ignorant, but rather, is about beginning to educate both men and women about the rights of a woman and allowing a woman to have economic and political bartering power for making decisions in her life.

      To end on a higher note, I have been falling more and more in love with my students. I feel that now that we know each other, we can spend more time with one another really talking.

      One of my favorite students is Andile, a small, very intelligent, and hard-working boy who I have spent most afternoons with the past few weeks teaching computer lessons. He is so eager to learn and so gentile and sweet. He is a very rewarding student to teach. We have talked about his family and his hobbies, all while typing. We have also talked about the possibility of his going to Machabeng, the IB school at which Mina and Kim have been teaching, and he is very receptive to the idea. I believe Andile is hope for the woman of Lesotho. Andile with letters on his hand for help with typing (he can now type without looking):andile-typing2.jpg

      Matamane, one of the girls who burst into tears when we were talking about our families two weeks ago, has told me that she really wants to become a midwife. She is so earnest and confident in this desire and I was lucky enough to meet a very kind and enthusiastic midwife, Sarah, from Australia who almost convinced Christine and I to go into the birthing field. Both Sarah and Matamane are excited to meet each other and I feel very excited about the ways this will encourage Matamane and help her further develop her independence and sense of self.

      One student that I have been spending more time speaking to, is my student, Lele. She is one of the smartest and sweetest girls I have met, and I have been encouraging her to try and attend Machabeng, after she finishes at Masianokeng in December. While at first, Lele said she just wanted to go to the National University of Lesotho (where almost every student heads), she has slowly begun to confide in me that she has always wanted to study abroad and attend a school where she is surrounded by students as studious as herself. Lele, I have learned, heads to classrooms after our class to study for her fall exams before going home to cook for her family (which she does everyday except Sunday because her mother works late). She is focused and intelligent and she deserves to know that. I have loved telling her how smart she is and I have enjoyed each of my conversations with her more than most I have had in my life. I believe that she is hope for the woman of Lesotho.lele.jpg

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