. . . royal charity prioritises healthcare over education
MOKHOTLONG – Charity organisation, Sentebale, has refocused its education strategy for herd boys to prioritise their access to health services starting in Mokhotlong and eventually across the country.
Sentebale was founded in 2006 by Prince Harry and Prince Seeiso Bereng Seeiso from the British and Lesotho royal families respectively. The charity organisation was formed in response to the plight of Lesotho’s orphans and vulnerable children.
This was after Prince Harry came to Lesotho in 2004 as Prince Seeiso’s guest to spend part of his gap year working as a volunteer on a number of local welfare projects.
Sentebale, which translates in English to ‘forget me not’, was born out of that experience and Prince Harry’s desire to continue his late mother Princess Diana’s work with disadvantaged children.
The charity helps vulnerable children in Lesotho and Botswana get the support they need to lead healthy and productive lives. Sentebale works with local grassroots organisations to help the vulnerable children, some of whom are victims of extreme poverty and the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Sentebale’s pilot project in 2006 was to teach herd boys in different parts of the country how to read and write through a night school. The initiative started in Matsoaing, East of Mokhotlong town towards Sani Pass where the charity organisation has built classrooms for the herd boys powered by solar panels.
Over the years, the outreach program spread throughout Mokhotlong district and other parts of the country which include Marakabei, Semonkong and Quthing.
The initiative was motivated by the fact that herd boys are among the most vulnerable groups in Lesotho. Boys from as young as eight years old are sent to the remote highlands to care for livestock as a way of earning an income for their families. Consequently, they miss out on the opportunity to receive a formal education and access to public health services.
However, according to Sentebale’s Head of Social Development, Sechaba Mokhameleli, they decided to shift from providing educational services to health services for the herd boys.
Mr Mokhameleli said this on Tuesday during the launch of Sentebale’s Comprehensive Health Package at the herd boys’ school in Matsoaing.
Under the Comprehensive Health Package, herd boys from the neighbouring villages of Mapholaneng, Poopa, Mateanong and Thaba Limpe will also be able to access free medical services.
The programme mandates the Mokhotlong health department to collaborate with organisations such as Jhpiego in providing male circumcision services and the Starkey Hearing Foundation which assists people in need to receive hearing assistance.
The Comprehensive Health Package launch ceremony was attended by a large number of herd boys who received various medical services. Among the services they received were checks of blood sugar levels, hearing and also being taught on the use of condoms.
Also in attendance during the ceremony was Prince Seeiso Bereng Seeiso, Mokhotlong Principal Chief Mathealira Seeiso as well as various education and health officials.
Mr Mokhameleli said the decision to prioritise providing health services was made following the realisation that herd boys did not get the chance to visit health centres due to their busy schedules.
“Sentebale was formed about 10 years ago after its founders realised that the herd boys had no access to education,” he said.
“Over the years, we have been assisting them in various ways that include teaching them how to read and write.
“We set five-year terms for our programmes, after which we evaluate the impact our outreach has made. So, this time around, the Ministry of Education advised us to change our strategy since there are education facilities such as LANFE (Lesotho Association of Non-Formal Education) which can take over as they already offer such services.”
Mr Mokhameleli added: “We then decided to shift to the health sector since we realised that the herd boys don’t have time to go to hospitals or clinics as they spent most of their time herding livestock and then at school in the evening.”
Sentebale’s goal, he said, was to provide the Comprehensive Health Package to the rest of the Mokhotlong district by the end of 2017.
“The next stop is Butha-Buthe and Leribe. We are aiming to go countrywide by 2020,” said Mr Mokhameleli.
However, Mokhotlong district Director of Education Lillian Malefe, pleaded with Sentebale to continue with its education programme.
“In Sesotho, there is no thing such as a divorce. So we are hoping that this is not the end of our communion with Sentebale,” she said.
“It is through Sentebale that we managed to come this far. So, we still need your assistance and hope you will be around when we need help.”
Ms Malefe added: “Every child has the right to education and it does not sit well with us that these kids start herding livestock at a very tender age.
“Some resort to herding at a young age because they will have nothing to eat. We plan to sit down with the Social Welfare ministry and work out how they can help these children so they can go to school.”
For her part, Mokhotlong’s district Health Management Team head, Alina Sefou Makoa, said they would provide the health services on a monthly basis.
“Sometimes these kids take a very long time before visiting health centres even when they are sick. Oftentimes, they seek medical attention when it may be too late,” she said.
“This may not be because of ignorance, but due to their busy schedules of herding all day. Some of them live in the Metebong animal posts which are very far from the residential areas.”
Ms Makoa said the herd boys’ health was also important for the district’s economy.
“They are vulnerable to different illnesses, yet they are the backbone of Mokhotlong’s economy since they take care of the livestock which has made our district the top producer of mohair,” she said.
“We believe bringing these health facilities before them will be of great help in fostering healthy lifestyles. We will mostly be focused on testing and treating HIV, TB and STIs as they are deadly if not treated at an early stage.”
On behalf of the Ministry of Health, Dr Kabelo Matjeane said they would fully support the initiative, urging the herd boys to open up to health care providers to get the appropriate assistance.