Prince Seeiso article in The Huffington Post
Rebuilding Lesotho’s Missing Generation, 18th June 2014
As a boy during the school holidays, I would accompany my late father on horseback up into the most remote areas of Lesotho’s highlands, helping tend his cattle, sheep, goats and horses. We travelled for miles through small villages and across the harsh terrain on our sure-footed four-legged friends to reach the cattle-posts where we met up with the Basotho men whose job it was to look after the animals. The extreme poverty we encountered along our way was eye opening, and I suppose this was my father’s way of showing me what life was like for many other children my age.Up in the cattle-posts the conditions we lived in were not comparable to other cattle-posts, where boys as young as 10 years old could be found tending livestock as a way to earn money for their families; my father was very sensitive not to employ under-aged persons.
Undoubtedly, the mining boom in Kimberly led many men into South Africa to find work and income for their families, leaving the wives behind to care for their children, and sons being pulled out of school to take over their father’s work as a herder in the mountains. Over the years, as the migration back and forth across our borders increased, so did the spread of HIV/AIDS. Ill educated and equipped to manage the spread of this disease, Lesotho now has the third highest infection rate of HIV in the world — a harrowing statistic for a country with a population of just over two million people. This epidemic has wiped out a generation leaving one in three children orphans and without the love and care of parents to guide them through the early days of their lives.
It was in 2004, when a young Prince Harry during his gap year arrived in my country. We spent time visiting a number of orphanages and children who had been affected by HIV/AIDS and extreme poverty. Mpolokeng is one of the children we met.
At the young age of six years old, Mpolokeng’s mother was bedridden by HIV/AIDS-related illness. Her father was busy working trying to provide for his family. Struggling to come to terms with her mother’s disease and fending for herself and her siblings, life for Mpolokeng was tough and her outlook bleak. Sadly, her mother died a few months later. M’e Ma Bereng Seeiso (my wife) took it upon herself to support Mpolokeng and her siblings.
And so, as I had once travelled to the highlands with my father as a boy, I took Prince Harry to one of our cattle-posts. It was there that we hatched the plan to give the less privileged and often forgotten vulnerable children a chance of some schooling — and thus a ray of hope for a better future.
In 2006, Sentebale was born, which means ‘forget me not’ in Sesotho. It was set up in memory of both our mothers, but also as a reminder not to forget the children of Lesotho. Today, we are working in partnership with a number of community-run organisations, government ministers and other NGOs to provide healthcare and education to some of the most vulnerable children in Lesotho. Thanks to Sentebale’s support, Prince Harry’s determination and commitment to helping vulnerable children in Lesotho and my dear wife, life for children like Mpolokeng’s has been turned around. Since Sentebale’s inception we have provided care and education to Mpolokeng, and she currently receives a bursary from Sentebale to attend secondary school.
Step by step, we are working to support those effected by the missing generation and rebuild Basotho society, by giving children and their caregivers the skills and knowledge they need to rebuild their lives through sustainable means. Our Mamohato programme, is addressing the crux of the crisis — the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS. In addressing the psychosocial needs of an HIV-positive person, they and their caregivers realize the disease is no longer a death sentence and that there is a chance to lead a perfectly healthy, long life if they know how to take their medication correctly.
The power of this programme is that these people receiving the psychosocial support return to their villages feeling empowered and confident. And so, the ripple effect begins, as they become spokespeople within their own communities, encouraging others to come forward and be tested for HIV and other diseases. The difference I see in the children receiving this care is enormously motivating and encouraging.
Our goal is now to scale up our work to reach more children in Lesotho. Sentebale is currently building the Mamohato Children’s Centre on a plot of land, kindly donated by my brother, His Majesty King Letsie III. The centre will house the Mamohato programme and provide a hub for all our work with vulnerable children in Lesotho. The idea is to create a safe zone where young people can come together and through activities and sport (especially football) address their psychological needs, sharing their fears, hopes and dreams for the future.
Our work is starting to change the demographic of Basotho society, but there is a lot more to be done. One local governmental department operating alone does not have the power to alleviate this issue, it requires all of the ministerial departments and organisations operating within this sphere of work to come together and address the problem in a holistic and sustainable fashion.
I for one, and my friend Prince Harry are committed to this cause and seeing the landscape of Lesotho change for the better.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and Kick4Life. To see all the posts in the series, read here. To make a donation to Sentebale and help Lesotho’s missing generation, click here.