In the Midst of Great Beauty, Breathtaking Tragedy
August 04, 2006, —
Completely surrounded by South Africa and just a 10-hour drive across, the tiny nation of Lesotho boasts snow-covered mountains and breathtaking waterfalls. But for the people, called Basotho, weekends are not a time to relax and enjoy the scenery. Instead, says John Shumlansky, CRS’ Lesotho country representative, they use their time off to bury their dead.
"I've stopped asking my staff what they did over the weekend. I know they spent their weekend at funerals," says John.
The numbers tell the story. Each day, 70 Basotho lose their lives to AIDS. At the end of 2003, about a third of Lesotho's adult population of just over 2 million was HIV-positive. In 2006, it is estimated that the average life expectancy in Lesotho is less than 35 years. And children are suffering, as well. At last count, there were 22,000 HIV-positive children, and 26 percent of Lesotho's children had lost one or both parents to AIDS.
There is hope on the horizon. CRS opened an office in Lesotho in 2003 at the invitation of the Lesotho Catholic Bishops’ Conference. The Catholic Church has been strongly supportive, with the Archbishop of Maseru, Bernard Mohlalisi, taking an HIV test in front of hundreds of people in 2004 to show the importance of knowing one’s HIV status.
What CRS is Doing
Reducing the stigma associated with AIDS is a major focus of CRS' HIV and AIDS programming. The Prime Minister of Lesotho, Pakalitha Mosisili, was tested at the same time as the archbishop and encouraged other community leaders to do the same. In addition, in 2005, the government announced their intention to offer door-to-door HIV testing, making the knowledge available to those willing to be tested.
With the support of the government of Lesotho and the help of the Lesotho Catholic Bishops’ Conference, CRS is working to help stem the spread of HIV and relieve the burden on those already infected. The government of Lesotho has media campaigns encouraging people to know their status. CRS trains members of the Catholic Church, who in turn train others, about AIDS and wellness. In the meantime, CRS is promoting community-based health care, where trained volunteers:
- work to support those living with HIV and AIDS
- help set up income-generating activities
- train traditional healers in community health and home-based care
- counsel people and test for HIV
CRS has also helped those who are weakened by sickness by building over 3,500 "keyhole gardens." The gardens are so called because, from the top, each one looks like a keyhole. The gardens are raised to waist level and have a wedge missing to make them easier for patients to farm. They also each contain a center compost pit, which creates fertilizer for the garden.
Since 2003, CRS has been working in Lesotho on the HIV and AIDS crisis as well as food security. Our principal partner in Lesotho is the Catholic Bishops' Conference.