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Published: October 7th 2008
Julie Nordlund, Kathleen Olson, Michelle Cox and Bob Bowen after 23 hours travel, captured by Rick Olson's camera.
Our journey started September 21 and ended October 2. The Global Neighbor Project Team of Tacoma, WA -- Kathleen and Rick Olson, Michelle Cox and Julie Nordlund, led by Bob Bowen of World Vision, left SEA-TAC on a Sunday afternoon and arrived in Lesotho on Monday morning. We flew Northwest Airlines Airbus, KLM 747 and South African Airways turbo prop to reach our destination. We laid over in Amsterdam a couple of hours and hit Johannesburg late evening. We missed the shuttle to our hotel and had to wait for the next one, so by the time we got to our rooms, we had time to shower and take a nap before catching the shuttle back to the airport for an early departure. We do NOT recommend this schedule, as it was too long of a layover to stay at the airport, which was not a welcoming place after 10PM, and it was too short to get any rest in a hotel.
Clear, sunny skies made for a smooth one hour flight south to Maseru, Lesotho. It is one of the most laid back airports in the world. No hassles at passport check and no one cared to search
our luggage. We had each brought extra suitcases full of supplies for the Sekameng Area Development Project we were visiting, so imagine the stack of 12 suitcases for five people, plus six carry on bags.
The World Vision staff met us at the airport in two Toyota Crew Cab 4 X 4s and took us to Khotsong Lodge, some 15 miles outside Maseru. We had separate rondeveles with the luxury of flush toilets, hot water bath tubs and satellite TV with 8 stations. The lodge compound included several buildings housing lodging rooms, conference rooms and a dining hall where we were served breakfast and dinner. Food was filling if not inspired. Eggs and toast (bring your own jam) and pork and beans and ham or hot dogs were served every morning, along with instant coffee or tea, very sweet fruit juice mixes and dry cereal options, though they were served with hot milk and none of us could face bran flakes or shredded wheat biscuits without cold milk. Dinner was rice, frozen vegetables and stewed or grilled meat and fried or baked chicken. Dessert was canned fruit cocktail, peaches or pears and jello or pudding. We purchased
Coke Light, which they refrigerated for us for our two Diet Coke drinkers. No beverages are served with ice. We enjoyed the accommodations, as the setting was quiet and scenic.
The only traffic lights in the country are in Maseru, which we visited three times. The first day, we met with the World Vision staff at their headquarters office, a modest two story building with parking for the various vehicles used in the field work. We met with Her Worship the Mayor on Friday at the six floor municipal building and returned to town Saturday to purchase gifts and candy at the Shop-Rite, a true supermarket much like Fred Meyer. We also purchased native craft souvenirs at the "official" arts and crafts center. We were in town at the end of the month, so the factory workers (Chinese textile manufacturing) were queued up at the two banks and ATM locations to access their direct deposit funds. It would have been several hours had we needed to get any money. Plus, the University graduation was Saturday morning, so the town was at capacity for the celebration. We listened to the commencement address in English by King Letsie III on
our way out to Sekameng and were impressed by his succinct message. There were less than 50 graduates, so they broadcast the entire ceremony. Lots of police and soldiers on duty, including roadblocks to check for intoxicated drivers. We managed to get caught on the road when the King and his entourage were enroute, so waited several minutes for the black SUVs to pass.
Sekameng Area Development Project is in the souther region of Lesotho in the Mafeteng district. World Vision has 8 ADPs in Lesotho. Sekameng was started in 1999 and it is anticipated that it will operate through 2013. The program has 928 sponsored children and has registered 860 orphans and vulnerable children. The ADP cares for the children with 18 staff members, 120 home visitors (volunteers) and the church leaders from five denominations and the chiefs and community leaders. Priorities are food security, preventin of HIV/AIDS and support for the sick and the orphans and vulnerable children and strengthening the Christian commitment of the communities. Home based care is provided to 120 chronically ill through the caregivers, support groups and staff who supply caregiver kits donated by supporters in the US, Europe and Australia.
Rooms with 8 channel television, hot water bath and flush toilets. Thatch roofs attract birds.
The staple is corn. The dry, powdery soil was plowed for spring planting and we saw many young boys on donkeys or pushing wheelbarrows with 50# sacks of corn meal from the community mill. Stalks are kept to feed the cows, sheep and burros and small horses that the herdsmen shepherd from their villages to the overgrazed fields in the area. Our lunches in the field always included the cornmeal stiff porridge that is the staple meal, served with rice, stewed meat, baked chicken, beet salad, mixed beans, squash lentils and peas that constituted community celebration fare. We sampled sourghum tea in the Tebang village that was a gray, room temperature drink served in small bowls. It is a fermented drink, which probably explains its popularity with the locals.
THE PURPOSE OF OUR VISIT
Global Neighbor Project is an initial three year commitment to provide $50,000 annually in general community support, encourage $35 a month World Vision Child Sponsorships for at least 1500 children and special projects like 900 school desks, 1000 caregiver kits ($28 cost each) and clean water projects. We wanted to see the impact of our support and meet some of the children and community leaders.
Moi Rasupu, Agatha Molise (yellow sweater) and Maneo Mahula (orange cap) of the World Vision Sekameng ADP staff join Michelle Cox, Julie Nordlund, Bob Bowen and Kathleen Olson for daily breakfast and devotions, photographed by Rick Olson.
We were impressed with how much has been accomplished in two years by providing enough funding for the World Vision staff to work with the communities to address the most urgent needs.
We headed to Sekameng on Tuesday morning armed with statistics: Food provided to 660 vulnerable children; 77 Community Care Coalition members trained; 18 pastors and church leaders trained to help care for orphans and work with a group of 50 pastors meeting monthly for ongoing support; Christmas party in 2007 for 3840 children with food packets and simple gifts; 42 poultry and piggery farmers supplied stock and trianing in production and management; formation of a 42-member Executive Committee to address community issues related to drought, HIV/AIDS, lack of water and home care for chronically ill; 60 farmers trained on organic farming.
Lesotho has nice two lane asphalt roads with sturdy new bridges. Few cars are on the roads. Many 12 passenger vans and small busses serve residents, and we observed many individuals waiting at bus stops. We also saw many herdsmen tending livestock and many individuals including school children on foot between schools and homes. The roads off the pavement to the villages were
Meeting the Sekameng Leaders
World Vision Field Office in Sekameng is first and last stop of trip for formal opening ceremonies and closing with dancing, songs, prayers and greetings.
an adventure of rocks, ruts and potholes with lots of dust. The World Vision trucks were a common sight that attracted smiles and waves from all we passed.
We arrived at World Vision Sekameng Field Office ( a cinder block building with office space, two conference rooms and a classroom), new stone latrine out back, large shed and a vinyl tent set up to accommodate opening and closing ceremonies and meetings. As we approached, students and community leaders, led by the female chief and an older male pastor, greeted us with song and dance, waves and smiles. We would be ushered into the tent and seated at a head table to observe student dances and participate in many songs, prayers and greetings as we were all formally introduced to one another. A World Vision HIV/AIDS Field Officer doubled as translator so that Bastotho and English could both be spoken and understood. Lunch was served to all. Protocol calls for guests to eat first, followed by males, older females, then younger adults and finally the children. This was a huge celebration that was many weeks in preparation. Everyone wore their Sunday best, including the traditional blankets. Sekameng Village elders wear
Khoro Village Primary School
726 students; 682 World Vision Sponsored. Blonde Michelle fascinates the kids as they gather to greet us with song and Basotho dance. Our gift of two soccer balls and a dozen frisbees and some pencils and sharpeners creates much excitement.
yellow and black. Each village has its own color. The blankets are quite expensive but practical for the crisp air that the altitude creates.
Lunch was a luxury for all, with chicken, stewed meat, rice and vegetables supplementing the maize, beans and oil that families receive in food packages to help provide a daily meal since drought has impacted corn production. Many families have small vegetable gardens, but must haul the water to keep them thriving.
We visited with the community leaders, church leaders and youth.
Thursday took us further out to visit a village and school. HIV and AIDS has exposed the community to either being intected or affected. The Khoro Community Partnership Project has networked the community to care for one another through home visits, support groups and extra food for the orphan headed households. We met in the village town hall, a small cinderblock structure with tin roof and hard earth floor. We had latex exam gloves and anti diarraheal medicine for the care givers. They presented us with a traditional Lesotho woven hat.
Khoro Primary School has 726 students. 682 are World Vision sponsored so they get uniforms and basic
Khoro is one of four schools that received new desks from Tacoma's Global Neighbor Project. 900 were received.
supplies. When we arrived, a group of boys was playing soccer with a ball they had constructed from paper and plastic bags. Imagine their delight to see us pile out of the trucks with new soccer balls and a pump under our arms. We met the 17 teachers, head master and all of the students, who greeted us with a special dance and song. We were led to their assembly field, where 9 girls in traditional white tops and billowed skirts, performed a Basutho dance on their knees with much hand gesturing and a unique shoulder shrug move. We visited a classroom to see some of the desks we had funded. Four schools received desks from Global Neighbor Project. The school was also very proud of their new stone latrines and told us that the improved sanitation meant less days lost to sickness. They adjourned for their simple lunch and we left for lunch with the community leaders at the largest structure in the village -- a Lutheran church. We were amazed that each place we stopped, they had made provision for a spruced up outhouse for our use, with a traveling roll of toilet paper and someone assigned to
The 17 teachers at Khoro Primary average $1000 US as an annual salary. Schools were built by churches and receive support from the state for grades 1-6.
provide soap, water and a towel for our use as well.
We were invited to tour the two community gardens established to help provide food for the HIV/AIDS impacted families of chronically ill and orphans. Our funds helped purchase seeds, wheelbarrows, hoes and watering cans. We also saw the community well where trenching has been started to eventually serve 900 households. Hand dug trenches in hard, rocky soil make for slow work. We could only imagine what one trencher bobcat could do if it were practical to get one there from South Africa. We also visited their community piggery.
We had an entourage wherever we went. The community leaders would pile into the back of the three Toyota trucks, so as not to miss any of the action.
We visited a family living with HIV/AIDS where the 19 year old male was recovering from tuberculosis, being cared for by his cousin, who shared the home with him and her three year old daughter. We also met an orphan headed family, where the 20-year old brother can only visit occasionally since he works as a herdsman in a neighboring village, so the 13-year-old cares for her HIV positive
We visit Mothabo, an orphan who lives alone. Her story was part of the World Vision Experience Africa:AIDS exhibit currently touring the northwest.
4 year old sister. Their father died in 2006 and their mother died last year. A caregiver visits regularly and helps get the youngest to the clinic for check ups and medication. Neighbors also keep an eye out on the girls.
Another household included orphaned sisters being raised by their deaf grandparents.
Mothabo, a young orphan living alone on the edge of the Sekameng ADP, received a surprise visit from our group. World Vision had taped her story for the Experience Africa: AIDS Exhibit that is currently touring the Northwest. Hers is one of three narrations exhibit visitors hear to put HIV AIDS in perspective. We gave her a soccer ball and Washington calendar and met an aunt who was visiting her for a few days. She lives off the road in a small cluster of cinderblock homes with tin roofs. We were happy to see that she has a burro and a ewe, a vegetable garden and a simple but sturdy home. She walks two miles to school. She has close neighbors, but takes care of herself with regular visits from a World Vision field officer.
THE MASERU MAYOR, PETLANE AND TEBANG
After our Friday
Offering his protection and peace for our group, the chief overlooks dance and song presentation by students. Their uniforms are provided by sewing group whose machines and materials were funded by Global Neighbor Project.
morning visit with the Mayor of Maseru, we headed out for a third village in the Sekameng ADP. The Town Clerk of Maseru who met with us before the Mayor arrived asked us why people from Tacoma were in Lesotho visiting remote villages. I told him it was a divine mandate to Christians to take care of widows and orphans. The statistics of HIV AIDS impact on the world -- 6000 children orphaned daily -- is incomprehensible. But Tacoma community members can comprehend a commitment to one community with 900 vulnerable children and orphans and can reach out to help them. He had a definite "Aha" moment, and replied that he too could and should be doing more to help his rural neighbors. Lesotho is 85% Christian, with a strong Roman Catholic influence. He noted that we did indeed share this same command, no matter what language are Bible was.
Our drive was longer than the previous days to reach the community, but it was just off the paved highway, sparing us the usually jolting ride for the last portion. The visit with the Mayor had taken longer than expected, so by the time we arrived, the school children
Children sponsored by team members, their relatives and friends gather to meet us.
had been fed. All were awaiting us with specially prepared songs and a wild dance. The handsome chief greeted us eloquently with an offer of peace and his protection during our visit. We enjoyed lunch with the adults, then walked to a metal shed to meet with the community sewing group. We had funded hand cranked machines for them to provide school uniforms and youth warm up suits. The ladies teach one another and have become proficient enough to sell garments to fund material so they can clothe their children and those who have been orphaned as well. Once again, the school childen had prepared a special song and a group of girls dressed in the white tops and billowy skirts, performed the native dance on their knees, armed with small pom poms and white hankerchiefs and bedecked with woolly white headbands.
We were hugged, kissed and hugged again as we departed to meet a couple living with HIV AIDS being assisted by their adult son and wife, who lived on the same property with their two small children. The man was very proud and we could tell it took a lot of courage for him to admit to
Lerato, Maleholono and Makae
We meet the Olson family sponsored children and their mothers and grandmother. Little Makae is being raised along with four cousins by his grandmother, as they have all been orphaned. The two girls live with their mothers.
his community his HIV status. He had one of the larger homes we had seen and a large tract of land. As his illness has progressed, he has been unable to work and he and his wife have sold possessions that once graced their home. A pot of meat stew simmered on the propane powered stove as we visited with them. We left a gift of cookies and some toys for their grandson.
The sun was setting as we journeyed back to Khotsong Lodge. Many secondary school children were walking home to fetch water. Herdsmen were returning their sheep, burros and cattle to night time rock enclosures in their yards, raising dust as they crossed the fields. The 12 passenger busses were making their final evening routes, dropping off passengers at the remote roadside stops. The glow of kerosene lamps provided the only light in the clusters of houses we passed.
Saturday we made a stop in Maseru to stock up on candy. We had been distributing Tootsie pops and wrapped hard candies to all of the children and needed to resupply. We also purchased some gifts for our staff guides and drivers and some extra
Julie meets her sponsored child
The girls love wearing leis and receiving small gifts from us.
dolls and toys.
In addition to soccer balls, we had been handing out orange and white frisbees all week. The first time we gave them to children, they used them as lunch plates. So Bob and Rick became official frisbee trainers at each stop. Our drivers got into the frisbee action as well. Whenever we visited a family home, the entourage outside would entertain themselves with frisbee flying.
We returned to the Sekameng ADP Field Office and its large tent to meet our sponsored children plus those of friends and relatives. World Vision staff had been dispatched in the trusty Toyota Crew Cabs to pick up the children and a guardian to meet us. When we pulled into the office compound, all of the children were sitting on chairs in a row, with their guardians behind them. They were so still that we accused the staff of gluing them to their seats. Then we realized that for many of them, this was their first encounter with white people. They remained quiet through the formal greetings, the dance performed by the boys from the nearby school, and the many songs and prayers. We then broke into smaller groups to
Michelle Cox shares lunch with her sponsored girl.
exchange presents, get to know one another and ask questions. The children were very polite and quiet through lunch. We handed out balloon whistles, leis and candy, and then we saw some animation and smiles. It was fun to see children who eagerly ate everything on their plates and marveled at the different flavors of soda. They would share sips with one another, comparing lemon lime to orange and ginger beer flavors. They then loaded back into their Toyota transports, waving and singing to us as they departed.
While we were enjoying meeting the sponsored children and their families, the sobering consequences of HIV AIDS became apparent. The group that greeted us the first day was much diminished, as many of the adults were attending funerals. Saturdays are when the services are conducted. The caskets are loaded onto pick up trucks, followed by the mourners on foot as they proceed to the community graveyards where another fresh gravesite is prepared. Two such processions passed by on the road as we partied in the tent.
We returned to Khotsong Lodge for our last evening meal in the dining hall. We had shared the facility with a
You're in the Movies
Our photographer Rick Olson shares video clip with village leaders depicting their lively dance.
small teachers conference for three nights, so it was eerily quiet as we were the only group left. The two drivers and two staff leaders stayed at the complex with us. The Operations Manager and assistant from the Maseru office joined us for a debriefing prior to our final meal.
Sunday morning the staff drove us to the airport and stayed until we were boarded on the flight. We were headed to Johannesburg and a transfer to the domestic terminal for the hour flight to Nelspruit Kruger International Airport, where we would be guests at Heuglins Lodge in White River. The proprietors are Rotarians, Frances and Bryan Hyson. Frances spent five weeks in our Rotary district visiting Vancouver Island, Poulsbo, Tacoma and Centralia, leading a Group Study Exchange team of young professionals from South Africa. She had offered her hospitality in return for having spent a week in Tacoma. We took her up on it, as did a Rotarian couple from Poulsbo. We arrived Sunday night and they came in to start a three week South African visit on Monday morning.
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