Climbing Mountains to Reach Orphans
March 18, 2008, —
By Kai T. Hill
Deep in the picturesque mountains of Lesotho, there lies a
problem within a problem.
The southern African country is one of the smallest on the
continent, yet ranks third in the world for HIV prevalence.
In this nation encircled by South Africa, nearly one in
four people is infected with HIV. Many have died, leaving
an estimated 100,000 children orphaned.
" A CRS partner distributes school uniforms to orphans."
A CRS partner distributes school uniforms to orphans and
vulnerable children at Bobete Primary School, which is
supported by CRS. Photo by David Snyder for CRS
"Without parents, orphaned children are often left to fend
for themselves. They must somehow find the food, education,
life skills, family support and love that many people take
for granted," says CRS Lesotho's Country Representative,
Compounding these challenges is the country's harsh,
sometimes impassable mountain terrain. Without adequate
roads, transportation and communication, very few
organizations have been willing to work in Lesotho. In the
meantime, thousands of needy children go underserved.
"I can't imagine my own children having to face these
circumstances at such young ages," Shumlansky adds.
"Fortunately, this project provides the support many
orphans desperately need."
In 2006, with funding from the Lesotho government's
National AIDS Commission, Catholic Relief Services and the
Lesotho Catholic Bishops' Conference started the Mountain
Orphan and Vulnerable Children's Empowerment project
(MOVE), a comprehensive approach to caring for orphans in
the communities of Bobete, Nkau and Nohana.
Meeting Basic Needs
A three-year initiative, the MOVE project serves 6,000
orphans and about 3,000 additional household members,
" Students at Bobete Primary School receive the uniforms."
Students at Bobete Primary School receive the uniforms
CRS provides to those who are orphaned or vulnerable.
Photo by David Snyder for CRS
The project provides participants with substantial medical
support, mostly through partnerships with the Lesotho
Ministry of Health and other organizations, including
Partners in Health, the Clinton Foundation and the Lesotho
Flying Doctors' Service.
These partnerships — along with assistance from local
clinic staff — have allowed the MOVE project to link
with existing health services, including HIV testing and
drug treatment. Additional support services include food
assistance through agriculture training, educational
support, counseling, and community training on child
welfare and child protection.
Project coordinators found that inadequate uniforms and
supplies were a major barrier to children going to school.
"The lack of a school uniform often labels poor and
orphaned children in Lesotho. … Temperatures in the
mountains dip below freezing during the winter months,
making school attendance extremely difficult without proper
clothing," says Shumlansky.
CRS and our church partners provide children with school
uniforms and shoes to help them assimilate back into
school. In addition, teachers and fellow students receive
education on life skills, emotional support, and HIV so
they can better address the needs of orphans in the school
environment. CRS has also helped schools start a resource
exchange program that supplies secondary schools with
materials, desks and chairs in exchange for free tuition
Before the project began, it was common to see children at
home and in villages during school hours, doing family
chores and tending livestock. However, within a year of the
project's launch, daily life for many orphans had
No Mountain Too High
" The Mission Aviation Fellowship helps transport aid workers to remote areas of Lesotho."
CRS contracts with Mission Aviation Fellowship, which
maintains five light aircraft to transport aid workers to
remote areas of Lesotho. Photo by David Snyder for CRS
The high, rugged terrain in Lesotho is nothing to
underestimate. Visiting a project site normally requires an
eight-hour drive over cliffside rocky roads.
To overcome this challenge, CRS and our partners charter
small aircraft operated by the Mission Aviation Fellowship.
Air travel offers a safer, more cost-effective means to
transport staff and materials to project sites. Getting to
some remote villages even requires staff to travel on
horseback. While not the fastest mode of transportation,
horses are readily available and are often the safest way
to travel through mountains.
Satellite MOVE offices have been opened in each project
area. This not only reduces some of the travel challenges,
but also helps form a strong bond between communities and
staff, who live in the communities where they serve.
"I have learned to work with orphans and know their needs
both psychologically and physically," says CRS Area
Coordinator Sempe Lerotholi, who helped start the project
and now lives in one of the MOVE sites.
"CRS is working in areas where no other organization is
willing to work. Because of this commitment, CRS targets
the poorest of the poor and those people who really need
help," Lerotholi says.
Our Work in Lesotho
In addition to our outreach to residents affected by HIV
and AIDS, CRS has focused its programming in Lesotho on
addressing food insecurity, natural emergencies and helping
existing church partners increase their capacity to respond
to future crises. Catholic Relief Services' efforts were
recognized recently by Lesotho's government and local
media. At a February 2007 ceremony, officials presented CRS
with an award for "Outstanding Performance as an HIV and
AIDS Implementing Partner."
Kai T. Hill is an associate web producer for CRS. She works
in the Baltimore headquarters.