Mahao Mahao and Gillian Attwood
As the world’s wealthiest and poorest nations alike rallied their resources in open combat against the Coronavirus, Lesotho has been conspicuously silent in its retort. There has been more lip service by the Lesotho Government than real delivery of promises to help businesses stay afloat and get food aid to the most vulnerable communities. Apparently (at the time of writing) Lesotho has yet to record a single positive case of Covid-19; puzzling in the context where our only neighbour, South Africa, is reporting an average infection rate of 370 people per day. Has Lesotho been miraculously spared despite the osmotic borders? One small valley in Lesotho though, has decided to be less optimistic and more proactive in its preparations for the impact of this global pandemic. Preparing for the worst, the community of Malealea have joined hands with the Malealea Development Trust and Malealea Lodge to put plans in place to mitigate the inevitable effects of Covid-19.
For many years now, the livelihoods of communities around Malealea been closely linked to the Malealea Lodge. The world renowned Lodge has accommodated the highest proportion of Lesotho’s international tourists, and their presence has enabled an array of income generation opportunities. Full-time and sessional staff have found formal employment at the Lodge, while local horse owners, tour guides, crafters and even beer brewers have found ways to spark livelihoods and generate income more informally. The benefits have cascaded into the local economy, securing the flow of business to village shops patronised by Basotho as well as tourists.
When Covid-19 hit the world in February and March this year, tourism took a knock, and Malealea Lodge – like all other tourism and hospitality establishments – closed its doors in accordance with Lesotho Government’s Covid-19 regulations. Overnight, the once buzzing Malealea valley assumed the air of a ghost village. The common sight of bus-loads of tourists streaming in to sample the magic of Lesotho was no more.
The Malealea Development Trust (MDT) – a small NGO serving the needs of people in the Malealea area, sprang into action and took the lead. Normally tasked with the responsibility of sustaining a range of community support initiatives on education, health and wellbeing, orphans and vulnerable children, and general community projects, this was a crisis of a different kind and required swift action. Poverty, so pervasive in rural Lesotho communities, had a new enemy – the Coronavirus. There was a need for new thinking and action, and revitalised partnerships to confront the new foe threatening to compound already difficult socio-economic environments.
Despite being under siege themselves, and still reeling from the impact of losing their business overnight, the Malealea Lodge did not hesitate to join hands and heads with the MDT to address the needs of the community. A ‘task force’ has been set up, emergency meetings (physical and virtual) held, and the symbiotic relationship between the MDT and Malealea Lodge has been strengthened yet further in the face of new demands. This united force between the MDT and the Lodge has been launched into action devising a response strategy and beginning the task of raising funds to fuel it. New, existing and old connections were ignited as friends, allies and supporters who had visited Malealea Lodge and fallen in love with the countryside and community, reached out in amazing acts of solidarity.
The MDT’s response strategy consists of six key activities:
- Community self-organisation and local action – a network of local leaders and volunteers has been mobilised to collect data and statistics on the most vulnerable households to prioritise needs and implement action accordingly.
- Education and awareness around risk, prevention, detections, and palliative care.
- Nutritional support (through food parcels) to the hardest hit families with no potential for other income;
- Strengthening the local economy through using community shops as access points for food parcels. The MDT supports local shops to buy identified food items at agreed and controlled prices, which vulnerable families collect directly from them.
- Supporting local women’s sewing groups to make face masks for distribution in the community. Malealea Lodge has donated pre-used sheets for this purpose.
- Promoting appropriate safe health practices and improving hygiene through (i) construction of water efficient tippy-tap hand-washing stations at high-risk areas in the community; (ii) provision of hand sanitisers to local shops for community members to use upon entry; and (iii) provision of bleach for regular disinfection of surfaces in shops.
Malealea believes that the community can survive this and looks forward to a time when tourists will again be seen walking in the valley; and when people who have lost their jobs and livelihoods will again be able to support their families in a dignified way. Until then, we rally together with friends and allies, from close and far.
For more information please visit the MDT website:
Dr Mahao Mahao is an alumnus of the Canon Collins Trust, the Chairperson of Malealea Development Trust and lecturer at the National University of Lesotho
Dr Gillian Attwood, also an alumnus of the Canon Collins Trust, is a long-time friend of Malealea Development Trust