The Highest Country in the World – Orphans and HIV

HIV/AIDS has ravaged the population in Lesotho.  Migrant workers heading to Johannesburg and the mining communities would become highly promiscuous and have unprotected sex, and the virus came back in to Lesotho.  It spread like wildfire in the communities, and middle aged men and women were most prone to fall victim.  It has meant that the working population has been decimated, and that thousands of children have been left without parents, left to grandparents to bring up, or elder siblings to take charge, or worse still, left roaming the countryside or cities and vulnerable to starvation, poor health and education or vice.

HIV/AIDS is not the only causation for the huge number of orphaned or vulnerable children (or OVCs as they are called)  in Lesotho.  In the mountainous areas of the east, the tradition of herding cattle has exposed another problem.  Kids are told to take the cattle up to the mountain tops in the summer to graze and not to come back till the snows start.  There are few adults up there and the boys lack any education or social support.  In some ways they have become feral, establishing their own rules and society.  Not so harming up there in the hills but when they do come back to their communities it can cause serious problems; a lack of social skill can cause disrespect for others, in the worst cases they can rape young women and children.  And herd boys have a very low life expectancy with all the hardships up on the mountains.  If they do get to their mid twenties, and herding is no longer an option (as younger kids work for cheaper rates), a lack of education severely limits their life choices.

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A multitude of other issues can cause children to be vulnerable, as they do in so many African countries, and hundreds of agencies try and help out.  Rarely do any agencies cover the whole of young people’s needs; they focus in on education, or health issues, or maybe shelter and nutrition.  Or perhaps psychological assistance.  A few have a wider remit, such as those faith based organisations looking after kids in orphanages, but there they may not have a great geographical spread; only able to take in a few children from the surrounding villages.

Sentebale was set up to try and better coordinate the provision of services to OVCs, and in particular help channel funds and resources to those places in which they were most in need.  The Letsema programme was to set up a network of agencies providing these services.  They had been quite successful at encouraging the larger agencies in to this family, but they were struggling to reach out to the more community based ones, especially those way away from the capital Maseru.

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Sentebale’s headquarters in Lesotho

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