27 October, 2009

Gone

Not all news is good news.

To set the picture….the classrooms at Fusi have dividing walls that are about 2 and a half metres high. There is nothing between the top and the pitched tin roof of the building.  So sound travels easily from one lesson to another which is very disruptive.  We decided at last that we could afford the cost of building these walls up to the roof (classroom ceilings are too expensive).

The local builder told us to order the necessary materials (It is quite normal here to order and pay for your own materials and only pay the workmen for their labour.) including 200 breeze blocks, known locally simply as bricks.  As is the way throughout the world, he then disappeared off on another job and left us waiting for weeks.

When we arrived at school on Monday morning, the bricks had vanished – only the tyre marks of the lorry used to remove them remained.  It has been quite a blow as we are short of money and can do without setbacks like this.  The thing that partly cheered me up was the reaction of the students – they were incensed that anyone should dare to steal anything from their school.  To me that showed that they really care about their school.  Some of them followed the lorry tracks down the road to establish the direction of getaway (away from the village apparently).

The chief was called and the police have been to the village.  Hopefully, we will still be able to get the job done.

10 October, 2009

Collecting chairs

It came to our notice recently that a (very) small school nearby was closing at the end of the year.  It has no students in Form A, six in Form B and the Form C students finish now to sit their public exams.  We negotiated a deal for the school to close now and the form B students transfer to Fusi; the deal included purchasing chairs and benches which we would need to collect.

This school is about two and a half miles from Fusi and the path involves negotiating a steep climb  up the side of the cliff.  First thing, Thursday morning most of the students (we left Form C behind for Science revision) and staff took the long walk to collect the chairs.  After a short rest, everyone was carrying either two chairs or a bench back to Ha Fusi.

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Of course the steep climb down also had to be negotiated.

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But the advantage of carrying seats is that when you are tired you can have a little rest!

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No-one asked the parents’ permission and I can’t help thinking about the Health & Safety rules and risk assessments that would be needed at home for the operation we undertook.

Death…

…is all around.

Today I attended a funeral.  It was for the mother of one of our students whose father died only two months ago.  Between these times, the father of another students died.
There are twenty five students at Fusi Secondary School;  of these three are double orphans (both parents dead) and eight are single orphans (one parent dead).  Last week the older sister of a student lost her six week old baby.

The main cause of death is AIDS.  Lesotho has one of the worst infection rates in the world with estimates ranging between one in three and one in two of the population.  One of the biggest problems is one of denial – it is never acknowledged that AIDS is the cause of death, always a secondary infection, usually TB.  Large numbers of migrant workers and an acceptance of extra-marital sex have caused the syndrome to spread at an alarming rate.  There are projects and programmes (mainly run by foreign agencies) but there still needs to be a massive education programme to make the necessary difference for future generations to survive.

We have a lifeskills programme currently running at school to try to improve awareness among our students.  Let us hope and pray that we can turn things around for the future.

Environment

Lesotho is a mountainous country so the soil cover is very fragile.  During the 1960s and 70s there were some disastrous agricultural programmes which removed vast numbers of trees from the landscape resulting in soil erosion on a massive scale.  There is a saying that the main export to South Africa is topsoil.  The landscape is covered with deep gullies called dongas caused by the small rivers and streams washing away all the surrounding soil.

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There is a scheme for replanting trees and the school was offered fifty trees by the government so long as we dug the holes and planted them.  They arrived last week and the students spent an afternoon planting the trees along the perimeter fence.  In years to come this should provide a good windbreak and help retain the soil.

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4 October, 2009

Up into the Mountains

w Twenty years ago the Lesotho government signed an agreement with South Africa to launch the Highlands Water Project which would involve building dams in the remote highland areas and piping the water into South Africa.  The first phase of two dams is complete, so we thought we would enjoy a short break visiting Katse Dam for a couple of days.

It is hard to imagine the impact on the villagers there whose only way out of their villages was on horseback.  When the lorries started rolling in they must have thought they were being invaded by aliens – and in a way, I suppose they were.

We took the minibus taxi along the spectacular road built for the dam construction traffic and after five hours arrived at the hotel where we appeared to be the only guests.  (It turned out later that there was a total of seven other guests that night).  By the time we arrived the light rain had turned into a proper thunderstorm and it looked as though our nice outdoor weekend was going to become a bookreading indoor one.

However, Friday morning was reasonably fine, so we took a walk to the Katse dam information centre hoping to join an organised tour of the dam.  There was a small display in the centre but to tour the dam you have to provide your own transport so we just admired it from afar.

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In the afternoon, we had booked a pony trek with a local villager, Elias.  At the appointed time (that was quite surprising) Elias appeared with our trusty steeds and we climbed on.  We had been warned he might just take us along the road and we wanted to go into the fields and countryside.  The problem was that Elias spoke no English and my Sesotho is pretty limited; I could only recall the word for mountain, not field.  However, I managed to say “Not information centre; we would like to go to the mountain”  So, Elias took us to the mountain – yes, right to the top!  Coming down was pretty scary – it was all I could do not to slide off the front of my saddle.  The horses were quite unperturbed;  Basotho ponies are a breed renowned for their endurance and sure-footedness.

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It was nice to get away for a few days and experience the highlands first hand.  Now that I am home, I shall look up the Sesotho for field!