Early in the morning of January 31, 2012, caregivers, support group members, village leaders, and the local council secretary gathered to say goodbye to 9 girls and 11 boys, orphaned youth ranging in age from 15 to 17. From 10 different villages in the Mohale’s Hoek district of Lesotho, these teens were headed for new horizons.
The adults wished the youth well, encouraged them to try their very best, and waved them off as they boarded the bus. The early morning air was full of jubilant traditional celebration songs sung in beautiful voices by the community members, and these adventurous youth carried these songs with them during their journey. Although the bus broke down three times on its way to the final destination (approximately 130 kilometers on mountainous, pothole-filled roads), the singing continued; the enthusiasm and excitement of the youth never waned despite the hot sticky weather and the heavy rains.
These 20 youth were on their way to the Bethel Business and Community Development Centre, accompanied by two community chaperons, Ms. Masehlela and Ms. Khalane, field workers from the Centre for Impacting Lives (CIL), a Basotho faith-based organization. CIL, in partnership with MSH and with support from the USAID-funded Building Local Capacity for the Delivery of HIV Services in Southern Africa Project (BLC), registered the youth, in the Bethel Centre. The Bethel Centre is a vocational training center with courses in cooking, hospitality, solar power, mechanics, computer technology, among others and once completed the students earn recognized certificates. The youth from Mohale’s Hoek were enrolled in a 6-month certificate program.
Although it was late at night when the group finally arrived at the Bethel Centre – sleepy songs still ringing out in the air – more happy surprises were in store for these youth. They were amazed by the school’s facilities and the warm reception given by the school’s instructors. Limpo Monese, one of the girls, exclaimed: “I never knew there was such a thing like a toilet with water inside for flushing! I feel like am a very big, important person. I feel like am in another life. No matter what happens, the experience of being in such an environment will never elude my mind; it will always influence me to keep wanting what is better for myself.” Two of the other girls were as excited because it was the first time in their lives that they will have a bed to themselves; this alone made them feel motivated to work hard and be successful individuals because someone believes in them.
As of March 2012, all 20 students were applying themselves to their studies, had adjusted socially, and are doing well academically. On a recent visit to the school to check on the progress, several of the girls bragged to CIL staff about how they learned to make both ‘continental’ and ‘intercontinental’ dishes. They wish they could stay even longer. CIL, under their $74,000 grant from BLC, will continually monitor the progress of these 20 youth over the next few months and ensure that they find employment after the training.
In Lesotho, with support from the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and in partnership with Management Sciences for Health, the BLC project is collaborating with the Ministry of Social Welfare and other ministries to support Lesotho-based civil society organizations including community, and faith-based organizations to improve the quality of sustainable community based care and support services for orphans and vulnerable children (OVC). Centre for Impacting Lives (CIL) is one of 13 organizations who receive USAID-funded small grants in Lesotho. CIL is focused on providing vocational training and ensure that over 300 high-school aged female orphans have monthly hygiene kits and health seminars – something that helps improve self-esteem and in turn, improve their performance academically and socially.
Kathryn Hoeflich is the regional grants manager for the USAID-funded Building Local Capacity project. She is based in Pretoria, South Africa.