Lesotho Blog

Lesotho blog

The March 2012 Action-Ireland Newsletter is here.

A message from His Excellency, Gerry Girvin, the Irish Ambassador to Lesotho.

Dear Karyn, Many thanks for your message.  It was a pleasure for Anna and me to have the opportunity to host the group at the residence.  We also look forward to meeting again.

There is no doubt that the visit made a huge impact here in Lesotho and it is still being talked about.  I have just returned from a meeting in Malawi and some of the colleagues there had heard reports on your visit.

You should avail of opportunities to let the people at home know about the success of the visit.  I will certainly be doing that from here.

Give Anna’s and my regards to any other members of the group that you see and we look forward to meeting again.

Best Regards




Update Friday 24th (11.30) via Camillus Glover, Michael McGlynn and David Clarke

A Sad Farewell or a New Beginning?

Well its time to come home. We travelled up through Lesotho yesterday (7 hrs!!) so as to have the drive out of the way for the flight today and in doing so saw more of the landscape and beauty of Lesotho (new video with this is on the blog).

One is in a time warp here that it is hard to break back out of, but now that we have had a small amount of time to reflect an awful lot was achieved in the past two weeks.

The volume of work done is based on the reality that Fran, Niall and the other directors of the Trust work the other 50 weeks of the year on the project and the liaising with the various people and authorities in Lesotho. Developing countries have slow and cumbersome administration systems which can hinder anyone’s best efforts but if the TV coverage alone is a measurement everyone in authority in Lesotho is aware of us and helping us. The second reason for the success of the visit is that we had on the ground a co-ordinator extraordinaire in John Daly whose planning and execution of the daily tasks for all 59 of us meant every minute was maximised as everything and everyone were in the places they should be (whilst always understanding the pulse and needs of our own kids). Parents you can be proud of how your children behaved and contributed to the project and how for 10 days in a row they got up at 6.30am without a whimper.

I for one was privileged to meet these beautiful and resourceful people of Lesotho. The welcome they gave us as well as their genuine desire for self growth both as people and as a nation meant they absorbed every detail of our effort and approach. You genuinely feel that this support is the seed of confidence they need to develop and if they can do this without losing the virtues that make them “people of peace” then our efforts will have an exponential effect.

To the people going out next year have you have a rewarding road ahead of you so have no fear in asking everyone you meet for sponsorship as this project will have benefits in the medical and educational services in Lesotho for years to come.

So let next years work begin in earnest.

God Bless.

Project updates: Education

Michael McGlynn – Co-ordinator

What a welcome! On Monday morning 13th Feb 2012 as our students, parents, construction team, teachers drove into the rural school of Hlalele on our first visit we were suddenly engulfed, almost over-run by hundreds of smiling Hlalele students dashing forward to greet us. It was a wonderful start to the trip and set the tone for a highly successful project.

Over the next 10 days the Portmarnock teachers David Clarke and Elaine Doherty supported, directed and cared for our students while also teaching English classes. Kayrn Murphy and Camillus Glover presented the Laptops and then instructed the Hlalele staff and students by day before fulfilling many and varied evening duties.

Rosin O’Kelly and Liam Corish taught their Horticulture Programme before planting crops and fencing the new Garden. Mary Kelly and Aileen Stanley formed a close link with the adjoining Primary School. Brian O’Shaughnessy sang everywhere entertaining everyone including the Irish ambassador Mr Gerry Gavin.

Lesotho Teacher Training College had an ongoing strong presence at our afternoon teachers meetings and have agreed to continue the Inservice project that we have initiated.

As usual everyone gave their all but somehow we received far more in return.

While very sad to leave Hlalele I am very proud of the huge commitment and strong positive attitude of all our Education Team and I look forward to returning next year to meet all our new friends again.

David Clarke – Teacher

Any preconception in relation to Hlalele School was swept aside in a wave of enthusiasm and welcome on our first day. Elaine, Michael and myself worked closely together over the next 1 ½ weeks to make maximum impact on students and teachers.

Our efforts were met with a consistent thirst for knowledge, a heart rendering desire to improve and a genuine interest in the welfare of the children with their rich imaginations and dreams.

We hope that the inevitable anti-climax of our leaving will be balanced by the Lesotho College of Education promise to support the school and it’s beautiful and precious wards whose desire to learn remains inspirational.

Update Thursday 23rd (08.50) via Camillus Glover and photos via Niall Fitzgerald

Medical – The team of Martin, Mohammed, Teresa and Claire had a very productive and fulfilling visit. On our previous visits to SA the medical team had set up their own clinics and effective as they were there was no guarantee the patients would see through any follow ups necessary. For our Doctor Mohammed, the Hospital provided him with his own consulting room own from where he could order tests to be carried out before so a full diagnosis could be given. For Dentist Martin the number of patients who had procedures in the hospital rose from 5 to over 30 a day with his presence there. There is no qualified dentist attached to the hospital and the dental assistant does some limited work. The Nurses integrated into the Wards (mainly Paediatrician and Maternity) and where overwhelmed with the desire of the existing staff to learn from them and to impart any information they could.

The outlying clinics were run really well, staffed by nurses. They have a system where Community Workers are responsible for encouraging people to the Clinics, especially for their Anti Retro Viral treatment. The observation is that this has de-stigmatized having HIV and people follow through on their ongoing treatments. Patients must keep their own records so it is easier to process people each day. To see up to 200 people queuing patiently at the clinics is humbling. Again when our team (supported by Roisin) worked in the Clinics we were supporting the exiting clinic’s day and in Mohammed’s case he diagnosed a number of diabetes cases and one TB case that might have gone undetected.

So overall the Lesotho Health System is very effective for the limited resources it operates under. The medical staff and community workers are brilliant servants of care but the lack of basic diagnostic equipments means many illnesses go undetected.

 Building

The female wing of the hospital both the surgical and medical wards were renovated, mainly by our kids supported by the adults.

The main project in the school was completed just in time. The building team of Ciaran, Damo, Aidan, Dave, Andy were supported by the Firemen Donal and Pete, the kids, a local crew and anyone else they could throw a pair of gloves to. A new Classroom was completed in its entirety which will allow the school to…. Rob and Dave installed plug points and work stations in the computer room and the first electrical light was turned on in this room as we were leaving (powered by generator). The volume of work these guys get done is unbelievable and given the characters involved in done in the spirit of pantomime….just don’t pay a visit to them in a white shirt.

In order to ensure the survivability (never mind sustainability) of the horticulture project Liam single handled fenced in the one acre site, so we are all hoping they the school will drive the project on and plant all the sends Roisin has left them with.

Further updates will follow.

We were big news in Lesotho and their LTV had a number of features on the project. The level of this aid has not been seen before, especially in its nature with the generosity of sprit been shown by children and adults alike.

The country has all the basis for growth and success. There is a unity in the people (no different tribes), educational standards are high, teachers are well qualified, people genuinely want to work, they are innovative and resourceful, and finally have a “peace” within themselves to deal with the struggles ahead.

We have obtained footage from the TV station of the various reports so we hope to have this available when we return (for a small donation towards next year’s fund).

Update Tuesday 21th (21.00) via Camillus Glover

Tuesday 21st – The Long Goodbye – The Leaving of Hlalele School

The car was quiet the whole drive home.

Today was our last day in Hlalele and the surreal feeling of how has this ended so soon. The builders put in a sterling shift to get the classroom finished and the computer room with cable and lighting. Credit too to the 6 lads who helped unload the container first thing this morning. Nurse Teresa delivered a baby, Teachers finished off their classes but for the kids the main event was always going to be the closing concert with over 300 in the hall for the event….both schools put on their finest entertainment…more of which you will see in the coming days on the blog.

The Headmaster, Christina got her closing speech bang on when the first person she thanked was Brian for the music and merriment that he brought into the school, She said that not once during our visit did students complain of tummy pains, all had happy face. Brian is the happy glue of the trip with his communication through music and happiness crossing any boundaries.

And then the real goodbyes….when we give out the gifts we brought and their students tell our kids that they will miss them, think of them every day…wish they could come back with us….then it hits and it hits hard….their friendship, their unconditional love, their idolization and appreciation and you know what you are going home to is different to this.

Silence is a good thing sometimes.

Update Monday 20th (22.00) via Camillus Glover and David Clarke

Busy, busy day for all. Normal projects in the School and Hospital today. Containers arrived this afternoon so all hands unloading these, and then to Roma Hospital for an appreciation dinner.

With the projects ending tomorrow evening everyone busy trying to get all in place for the finish. We even had the first drop of rain of the trip, only for an hour, but it did at times make the scenery a bit like Wicklow!!

Longer blog tomorrow with many photos and videos, but for now …

Update Sunday 19th (22.00) via Camillus Glover

Hope you enjoyed the alternative blog from the students’ perspective yesterday. One hopes that they will carry the experiences here into their life in Ireland and the emotions felt will stay with them and help shape their nature in the future.

The lady who gave us the word “Khotso” mentioned that they will miss us terribly when we go. In here English words she had envisaged that we would have been “Classy” (authoritative) and “give comments to leave”. In reality she can’t believe that we are “friendly, merry and kind” and have mixed with them.

There is no evidence of abject poverty (as in hunger poverty – starvation) but otherwise plenty of poverty as we know it. Basic diet is maize (you would have seen it in one of the video…looks like a mix of potato and rice). The taste we would not like. This is the main meal and it is sometimes supplemented with beans/egg. Nearly every dwelling would seem to have a donkey (smaller and slimmer than its Irish cousin) and this is to carry the maize that comes in 25kg bags. Another image that has stayed with me is seeing a girl walking home in her bare feet with her school shoes in her hands…so they don’t get worn out.

Plenty happening for our kids…with the school closed on Saturday about 50% of the kids had no projects (they did a trip to a hand-weaving centre and did a hill walk beside this centre). The other kids had various projects in the hospital, with the fire crew and a mural project at the school. After dinner last night they got to see a slideshow of the blog…great for everyone to see it all as those on specific projects don’t get to see the other project sites.

Today Sunday has been busy with mass in the Cathedral…with us again given privileged position in the Church. The Tourism Board arranged a bus trip in the afternoon and we are just back from a reception held by Government officials in appreciation of our visit….back to 6.30am wake up call tomorrow.

Update Saturday 18th (20.30) via Charles Costello, David Clarke, Camillus Glover and a PCS Student – TWO BLOGS, one video and photographs.

A Students Perspective

Coming to Lesotho I didn’t know what to think but seeing the welcome we have received from Students, Teachers, Hospital and Hotel staff and especially the Archbishop of Lesotho has been overwhelming and flattering.

To see the smiles on the children’s faces during our first day at Hlalele Secondary and Primary was mind-blowing.

Being mobbed by over 200 children, screaming, shouting and almost jumping into our 4x4s was chilling. I felt a sudden urge to cry with joy as seeing how little these kids have but what a great perspective on life they have. I would love to see everybody back in Ireland having this same perspective. The teachers and students of both schools were so nice that I think all of us now think of them as our friends.

Mass was one of the best experiences of my life. We all gathered together in a tiny hall cramped and hot but still happy as ever. Getting involved in the singing and dancing was brilliant and bringing a bit of Irish culture to Lesotho was great.

I don’t think we will be forgetting the reaction to ‘Molly Malone’ or ‘The Fields of Athenry’ for a long long time. The choir of Hlalele high school made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up , they were simply beautiful. They would surely would give Glee a run for their money.

Going to the clinic was truly heartbreaking. Seeing children being treated for HIV, TB patients getting their medication and especially young women of around 15 and 16 being told they were pregnant. These moments shook all us students up. The lines queuing were huge and could stay like this for hours on end.

Every day the sun was beating down on the patients which did not make it any easier considering their illnesses.  Seeing the wards on the first day was not a nice feeling. The stench of filthy water leaking from the radiators and the smell of dirty hospital beds made it a bad atmosphere. As days went by the progress was amazing. All credit to the Students, Hospital staff and especially Charlie Costello the most senior of us all but still the hardest worker.

The Roma Blog by Charles Costello

St Josephs Hospital , Roma , built in 1937 as 5 separate single storey buildings with corrugated roofs . The hospital serves a population of 120,000 and is 40 km from Maseru the Capital.

Roma is also home to the Lesotho National University with over 20,000 students. The Hospital is in a very mountainous area and is in poor physical condition, with serious roof leaks and the consequential damage to the ward ceilings, floors and paintwork.

Working with the hospital maintenance staff our objective on the trip is to completely refurbish 2 hospital wards , including replacing the corrugated sheeting , replacing ceilings, re-decorating and replacing the floors.

The team started on Monday and have so far washed and painted the wards , doors , windows and ceilings. The patients were moved out to other wards and we have received great encouragement from hospital staff and board.

Getting supplies of paint and other materials has been a real effort, not just in terms of availability of consistency colour of the paint but the travelling distance and availability of general materials.

The students showed great commitment to a very difficult task, with washing and painting in difficult circumstances . The students exceeded both in the skill of painting and using their own initiative. It is a pleasure to be witnessing the emergence of future leaders and motivators .

Update Friday 17th (20.19) via David Clarke and Camillus Glover

KHOTSO…. I have found the word….whilst talking to one of the Primary school teachers who is helping us with the recording of their culture…we spoke about the nature of her people and she said that is Khotso – we live with peace – this word came from their greatest ever leader King Moshoeshoe and he coined the phrase Khotso and said to apply it “consider everyone as my (your) sister”.

We live with peace and this seems to be the basis of all things…..

Normal morning in the school followed by soccer match between the kids the atmosphere was electric with all the Hlalele kids singing for the full match and on our side Damo shouting abuse at the ref (me!) for the full game…good culture clash. 2.2 draw lads did really well on their normal pitch, that in parts was pure rock.

Update Thursday 16th (21.37) via David Clarke and Camillus Glover

Beauty and Grace…..Still struggling to find the words to describe both the people and their lives here, and these are the two words that come at the minute. There is beauty in their nature, their looks, their ways and grace in the manner in which they live and interact……

Today there was a special mass said in the school by the Archbishop to recognize our visit. This was my first time to witness and experience this 3 hours of joyfulness and celebration… The school choir led the way on the singing and I hope that each of the slide shows going forward will have one of the hymns as the background music to photos…. By way of example the Offertory was a 20 minute singing and dancing procession of the local women bringing their gifts to the alter….the gifts being rice, beans, soap…all household items and these were for the parish priest….The singing is phenomenal and their verbalization of their thanks for us coming is unending….yet there is so much they are teaching us.

In the afternoon there was a school debate between the schools, which like most events here somehow turned into a three hour affair (how the event came about, the detailed rules… aaah)….Pictures of the debate and the entertainment we provided to allow the marking and counting process are on the video link….

Will have update on the building projects on tomorrow’s posting. The next inter school even is a soccer match after school tomorrow…..Think our lads are underestimating the opposition at the moment…

Update Wednesday 15th via David Clarke and Camillus Glover

These are lovely people…there is something we are all feeling but cant quite get the words for it….Even those who have been on the previous trips to SA have been remarking how this seems different. Cant out my finger on it …seems to be a huge feeling of community, where everyone looks after each other, genuine caring (the Jones next door have yet to arrive) and a timeless peacefulness and contentment….mmmmmmm.

In the school today Roisín was giving a presentation to the local adults on horticulture, herbs and healthy living…about 30 people were expected to come…over 200 turned up…we had to change venue to the hall-cum-Church (photos on todays upload). After school the primary school children put on their local historical dress and gave us an hour of their local dance/song culture. This is part of our project to record and archive this for the Ministry of Education. We can show it over a night when we get back.

We have a great doctor Mohammed who joined us in Dubai from Bahrain (charity pull works globally!!). Speaking to him last night he was in shell shock after his first day at the hospital. It was not the physical structures, which we are helping to improve, that shocked him but the lack of basic medicines which if prescribed would saves lives daily……probably highlights most the gap in developing countries in delivering basic care needs. The kids who were there today commented on the queues of people who leave at the end of the day not seen, to return to queue again tomorrow

We hosted a dinner last night for the Archbishop of Lesotho, who is patron of the hospital also….and you can see from the second upload that we let him know what Irish life is like too….in the video you will have trouble finding him, but in the centre back you will see a light shining down on him in front of Brian…..and after he left we had a good aul Irish sing song.

Update Tuesday 14th via David Clarke (Photos) and Camillus Glover (text and video)

Into our routine now….knocks on the door at 6.30am (that’s 4.30am in old money) and all the kids jump up to be down for breakfast for 7.00am…Haven’t mentioned yet the hotel is fab for food with variety for all, even the “I don’t like”. Pack up and leave at 7.45am and head to the petrol station shop to load up with water. Day started.

Until next Wednesday we teach in the classes each day with some of the students helping along. The building work in the school is well underway. From the photos you will see we are joining together two existing classrooms to create a new on in the middle of them. The guys worked through in excess of 30 degrees of heat in their special Laurence of Arabia hats. (You’ll be happy to know that the only person suffering from sunburn so far is an adult!!). Also at the school the horticultural project is underway and nice photos of this follow.

The Medical project is underway …and 6 of the students went to Roma hospital with the medical team today. They were involved in both the start of the refurbishment work of some of the wards and working in the out clinics….highlight of the day was the return of one of the lads who went to help saying with a broad smile “I was weighing babies today”……….. a new world.

Update Monday 13th via David Clarke (photos) and Camillus Glover (text and video)

What a day …what a welcome. It is hard to describe what happened here today for us all because there is no reference point back home to realistically compare to it.

The welcome we received at the Hlalele Secondary School today was remarkable….the community is is the middle of nowhere…the road we travelled on to the schoool was barely passable…hard to imagine it in Winter…yet every family was on the road to greet us and when we made it to the school the reception was remarkable…totally heartfelt, genuine and touching….they thronged the cars with their Irish flags and the rest is something words can’t come close to.

In the open they held a reception were they sang of us…we sang the national anthem and their 85 person choir blew us away….saying that that they appreciated our presence is understating the feeling.

Our kids helped in the classes and especially in IT and music they excelled…joyous.

The building project in the school got underway with Damo and the team and made good progress given the difficulty in getting local supplies on time….Some of the parents of the students came in the afternoon and we witnessed some of the local dances and culture…most of the women remained the rest of the day and kept the spirits of the building team going in the 30 degrees of heat (end of Video shows them). low authorization issues and they are good to go at the hospital tomorrow (building program starts there to).

Whether it is the heat, emotion and work all were shattered here this evening, so early to bed for our now normal 6.30am wake ups…..Still hard to believe the sincerity of sprirt witnessed today…..

Update Sunday 12th via Camillus Glover

A lovely introduction to Lesotho and their people.

Kids given the morning off to hang around the pool after the 30 hours travel and early mornings ahead… so pool, sun and fun.

The medical, education and building teams went on their site visits to finalize and co-ordinate their work plans for tomorrow.

We invited the teaching staff of our adopted school Hlalele to the hotel for lunch and also some of the medical team in Roma so they were thrilled with the gesture.

Then we went to visit the Caves … one of the very few tourist attractions in Lesotho were a small remote community have continued to live in a tradition manner …that is in a cave…best way to describe it is 5 swallow nests at home…just huts cemented to the walls of the cave…….the kids will tell you the longer story. The journey through the country roads, the village of which the cave is part of was a fabulous introduction to rural community and life in Lesotho

So hopefully the following video will give you a sense of the wonderful day we had with these beautiful, humble, caring, open and very HAPPY people..

Looking ahead…..believe that the school choir in Hlalele (all 85 of them) will be welcoming us At Assembly tomorrow….

Update Saturday 11th via Camillus Glover

Arrived safe and sound. The Granny can put the Rosary beads down …we have arrived at 7.30 this evening to the hotel.

Journey went great. We knew it would be long but the timing of the second flight – during our normal sleep time, and the road journey to-day  – in daylight and glorious sunshine made it easy (Car gave the temp at 27 degrees but breeze had it slightly less)

The highlight so far was that Dubai Jo’berg flight was on the new Airbus 380 – the double-decker. It has a total crew or 26 so it will give you a sense of the size….had all the modern games and video technology which so kids very happy.

Hoping to find the Rugby match now on the TV and you can rest assured given the look on some of the kids faces – we will all sleep well tonight.

Departing Dublin on Friday 10th!