SOS Children's Villages has been working in Lesotho since 1998. The organisation has provided both emergency relief as well as permanent aid to vulnerable children and young people in the country. As all countries in Southern Africa, Lesotho has been severely hit by the HIV/AIDS pandemic: approximately 24 per cent of the population, many of whom are children, live with the disease.
Raising income by diversifying and intensifying farming
Children playing on the climbing frame (photo: B. Dimbleby)
The city of Quthing is the capital of Quthing province in southern Lesotho, about 140 kilometres south of the country's capital Maseru. Quthing is home to around 15,000 people. The district has three ethnic groups: Basotho, who make up for about 70 per cent of the population, Baxhosa (about 20 per cent) and Baputhi (about ten per cent).
Lesotho is a poor country, and the rural areas around Quthing are no exception; about 70 per cent of the population cannot produce enough food to meet their needs throughout the year. Recent international aid programmes have focused on diversifying and intensifying farming as well as introducing sustainable use of natural resources. At the same time, projects also aim to raise people out of poverty through other income-generating activities off the farm.
However, many households continue to rely on food aid, or on remittances sent from family members working elsewhere. Quthing's proximity to the South African border means that many people of working age have emigrated there in search of work.
The HIV/AIDS pandemic, combined with the deeply-rooted poverty and food insecurity, represents a real challenge to families on the verge of existence. Households headed by children and women are common and are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and poverty. In recent years, there has been a surge in the number of such households and an increase in the number of children without parental care. Traditionally children were raised by the whole community, but the number needing such support has become so large that the neighbourhoods are no longer able to care for all those who have lost the care of their birth family. Many do not go to school, but end up in illegal employment, sometimes in the sex industry.
Land donated to SOS Children's Villages
In spite of governmental programmes to support vulnerable children and families, the magnitude of the problem meant that the authorities' capacity to respond was weakened. From the very start, therefore, the district administration of Quthing was very supportive of the work of SOS Children's Villages and donated a plot of land on the outskirts of the town; we were able to start working in the area in 2010.
What we do in Quthing
Boys doing a cultural dance (photo: B. Dimbleby)
SOS Children's Villages gives different kinds of assistance to the local population. The family strengthening programme provides support to families who are at risk of abandoning their children. Given the high number of people living with HIV/AIDS, we focus primarily on families affected by the illness. Working with local authorities, we ensure that children are given educational and health support. We advise on parenting skills and income generation. Furthermore we strengthen communities so that vulnerable members have someone to turn to in times of need.
Children who have lost parental care can find a loving home in one of the twelve SOS families, where up to 120 children can be looked after. They grow up in a familial environment full of love, respect and security.
The children can attend the SOS Kindergarten, which has capacity to care for up to 125 children, some of whom come from the neighbouring community. The provision of day-care is particularly valued by those parents who attend training or go to work.