‘Mamohlakola Letuka/Pascalinah Kabi
FOUR-YEAR-OLD *Limakatso Semphethenyane continues her silent protest by poking holes into her meal consisting of pap and potatoes instead of eating it.
The child cannot be blamed for refusing to eat pap and potatoes which after all, is just unappetising starch on starch.
Unfortunately, this is the meal she and 44 other orphaned children have to eat day in and day out at their home at the Semonkong Methodist Children Centre.
But instead of eating, Limakatso just poke holes into the soft white pap and sucks her thumb oblivious of the pain her actions are causing Semonkong Methodist Children Centre Managing Director, Seabata Simione.
Mr Simione has the huge responsibility of ensuring the young souls, some of them living with HIV, are well taken care of and that includes seeing to it that they eat first so they can take their medication.
All of this has to be done against the background of dwindling support from donors which is why the children can no longer be given tasty balanced meals.
In fact, Mr Simione faces a much bigger problem than that of children registering their disapproval of the tasteless meals- the centre which was established 28 years ago is facing closure unless more sponsorship comes their way soon.
“It is very unfortunate and heartbreaking to force children to take their medicines on empty stomachs,” Mr Simione said.
“We have children living with HIV and because of the financial woes we have been experiencing since February 2017, we are unable to ensure that these delicate souls enjoy three balanced meals every day as any human being should.
“We have never had an issue of food shortage at this orphanage but things took a wrong turn when the sponsorship from Sentebale came to an end in February.
“Before then, our children knew that they would have meat at least twice a week and that is no longer the case.”
Some of the children like Limakatso are living with HIV and for Mr Simione, it is heartbreaking to wake up in the morning and watch the children take their medication on an empty stomach.
“At times I feel so helpless and hopeless especially when I know it’s not healthy to be giving the ARVs to children on empty stomach but we cannot stop administering the medication because their survival depends on it.”
“Even for adults it gets very boring and torturous to eat one food type three times a day, let alone pap and potatoes three times a day for a week. When we change the food type it is pap and cabbage,” he said.
In a country where at least one third of children aged five and below experiencing food insecurity as per the latest Lesotho Demographic and Health Survey report, Ms Limakatso is not only fighting for survival but risks being malnourished.
According to the same report, 33 percent of Basotho children aged five and below were stunted, three percent below wasted, ten percent underweight while seven percent were overweight.
All these are a result of food insecurity or lack of necessary nutrients children need for them to grow up properly.
And Mr Simione is worried that the children risk being malnourished if nothing is urgently done to redress the situation.
“The younger children now have ring worms on their skins as a result of malnutrition and the children are becoming inactive,” Mr Simione said.
World Health Organisation (WHO), defines malnutrition as deficiencies, excesses or imbalances in a person’s intake of energy and/or nutrients.
“Even though the centre provides gaming equipment and they have a playground, they have lost interest in playing probably due to lack of energy and their attempt at playing falls short within minutes,” he said.
Mr Simione said the centre had over the years introduced life skills programme for the children.
The programme would be intensified during school holidays as children have more time on their hands but the programme has suffered a setback due to lack of food.
Mr Simione said the children have suddenly lost interest in the programme and that they were worried the children might not be fully developed socially.
“Their instructors are demotivated to push them with the understanding that they are tired. The centre is now failing to equip them with skills that will help them live a successful life.
“We have received donations from well-wishers and our church members but these don’t cover the needs of the children.
“There is a huge difference between the time we had sponsors and the present. We are failing to meet international orphanage standards which require the orphanages to provide full balanced meal for the children under their care. The children are just eating to survive.”
With Semonkong a fertile ground for child marriages, Mr Simione is worried that if the centre eventually shuts down due to lack of funding the children would fall victim to social ills like child marriage.
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) states that “child marriage is a formal marriage or informal union before age 18. It is a reality for both boys and girls, although girls are disproportionately the most affected.”
“Child marriage is widespread and can lead to a lifetime of disadvantage and deprivation,” UNICEF adds.
In countries like Lesotho, even when the legal age of marriage is 18 years, culture and traditions take priority over legislation.
Child marriage affects both boys and girls, although the overwhelming majority of those affected are girls, mostly from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds.
“There is a possibility that they can be easily manipulated by people who have been living outside of the centre,” Mr Simione said.
He said they tried to integrate the children with their extended families but this failed as the relatives were not ready to live with them as they were facing their own challenges.
“During school holidays children are allowed to visit their extended families with hopes to acquaint themselves with the life outside the centre but unfortunately the families expect the centre to also provide them with the resources like food parcels and cosmetics to use during their stay.
“We requested the Ministry of Social Development to take care of those above the age of 18 by placing them with surrogate families.”
Negative impact of education
The children walk approximately 12 kilometres to and from school and Mr Simione said this had affected their performance.
According to Food Bank Association’s Impact of Hunger on Education’s report, food insecurity impaired academic development of school children.
“The reading and mathematical skills of food insecure children entering kindergarten develop significantly more slowly than other children. Hungry children do more poorly in school and have lower academic achievement than food secure children because they are not well prepared for school and cannot concentrate,” reads part of the report.
The report further states that hungry children were more likely to suffer from hyperactivity, absenteeism, general poor behaviour and poor academic functioning than their non-hungry peers.
The Food Bank Association also states that the cost of educating a child who has to repeat a grade is almost four times more than that of a student who does not need special education nor repeats a grade.
Meanwhile, Mr Simione said their efforts to obtain M109 000 in government funding budgeted for the orphanage in the last financial year were futile.
He said the funding was part of M700 000 the church needed to run the facility smoothly.
“We have exhausted all available means to get the funding from the Ministry of Social Development and to date we haven’t received that money. This is not only impacting on the children but the staffers are also demoralised as we haven’t paid salaries for the past three months,” he said.
“Our hope is that the new government has policies that govern the budget allocation and mechanisms to ensure that money allocated to centres is given to them.
Contacted for comment this week, Social Development Minister, ‘Matebatso Doti said the relationship between the ministry and orphanages is the healthy one, that they also give subventions to sustain them.
She added that it is too early to talk about the orphanages concerns since she had not had a chance to visit them.