The people come first
…CARE’s resurrection proves Basotho remain determined to be a self-reliant nation no-matter the mountain of challenges they might be facing.
COOPERATIVE for Assistance and Relief Everywhere (CARE) Lesotho ceased operations on Tuesday this week after 47 years of humanitarian assistance to the nation. The organisation, which was inaugurated in 1968, was working with communities and local organisations in implementing healthcare, HIV/AIDS, economic empowerment, democratic governance and food security programmes. However, on 12 March 2015, CARE Lesotho Country Director, Michelle Carter, announced that the organisation was closing shop on 31 March 2015 as it was increasingly finding it difficult to source funding that would enable it to operate on a national scale. Following this announcement, CARE Lesotho workers decided to take-over the organisation’s mandate, giving birth to CARE for Basotho Association, which began operations yesterday, 1 April. Lesotho Times (LT) reporter, Rethabile Pitso, spoke to CARE for Basotho Association President, Malintle Matlakeng and National Coordinator, Mathasi Kurubally, about the tough journey the staff members have travelled to where they find themselves today, and where they hope to be when their noble mission is done.
LT: Could you briefly tell us what CARE Lesotho was about and what the organisation has meant to the country in the 47 years it has operated in the kingdom?
Kurubally: CARE is an international organisation that works with facilitating development and relief. The organisation began work here in 1968 with its focus on food-security and livelihoods, education, health and HIV/AIDS, economic-empowerment and emergency relief. CARE came at a time there was a massive drought in the country and it responded by offering means for securing food that was in shortage. The organisation has been working everywhere in the country together with many other associations as well as government to improve the lives of ordinary Basotho in any way possible. CARE Lesotho has indeed left a lasting legacy following its closure.
LT: Which particular organisations had joined hands with CARE in its declared role of alleviating the plight of Basotho?
Kurubally: Our biggest support had been coming from CARE head-office in the United States of America, as well as other donors such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and European Union (EU) which were always on call depending on the nature of the assistance that was needed at that particular time. Here at home, we worked in association with World Vision International (WVI) and Catholic Relief Services (CRS) as well as the Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Trade and Industry, Cooperatives and Marketing (MTICM).
LT: What outstanding achievements did CARE accomplishment during its tenure in Lesotho?
Kurubally: They are too many to mention but I think the most outstanding would be implementing food-security and livelihoods such as encouraging communities to engage in conservation farming. We started homestead gardens with many households, showing them how to preserve their vegetable gardens using simple methods of irrigation such as encouraging them to recycle the water they would have been using for dishwashing, for instance, to water their gardens. We also empowered people economically by showing them how to make nurseries, a practise which is still in place even today. We also facilitated a wool and mohair project in Peka, Teyateyaneng District that started helping women weave yarn into mohair. CARE then found a market for them in Manhattan, in the US. We also helped initiate projects such as making cooking oil out of sunflower seed in the early 90s.
Matlakeng: We also contributed in helping the Ministry of Agriculture adopt a policy called Unified Extension Systems, and in the Ministry of Forestry, we were part of an initiative which encouraged people to grow fruit trees. The ministry would then buy the produce from the communities. We helped implement the programmes in places such as Ha Lejone, Peka and Mpharane in Leribe district. Again, we introduced group saving-schemes among communities, which helped them access funding to start small businesses. Afterwards, when that business had proved viable, we would then facilitate access to better funding from the banks for those emerging entrepreneurs.
LT: Which groups did CARE identify to work with and how did the organisation go about selecting the ideal beneficiaries of its projects?
Matlakeng: CARE had a plan to assist people who were living in remote parts of Lesotho, which were difficult to access. Normally, we would engage chiefs in such areas and then get assistance in identifying the most deserving families. We did not target people in urban areas unless we noted a pressing need, such as areas where sexual activity was becoming cause for concern, and by this we mean where there were many sex workers. We would target the sex workers and educate them on the dangers of HIV/AIDS and how to prevent the spread of the disease. We would also encourage them to ask their partners to wear condoms through the Sexual health And Rights Promotion (SHARP) project.
Some of the other objectives we have met had to do with ensuring better harvests for families thereby ending food insecurity, facilitating income earnings opportunities, capacitating targeted groups for lasting development, addressing the needs of the poor and vulnerable communities, securing health services and better quality for HIV/AIDS infected and affected households, among other achievements.
Kurubally: We have seen remarkable change among many rural people who went out to improve their lifestyles because of the financial access group schemes they were afforded by CARE. With that growth and a newfound financial freedom brought through their own businesses, we saw many start to upgrade even their homesteads, little by little, opting out of rustic structures and adding modern accessories like replacing mud floor with modern tiles. Those improvements showed signs of adjustments we were proud to see people do voluntarily. It showed positive signs that they could take it from there and even to us the facilitators, positive changes like these inspired us to start doing things for ourselves. It was about time we said NO to donations and start using our skills and knowledge to be self-reliant.
LT: What challenges did you meet as CARE and how do you suggest they could be overcome?
Matlakeng: Basotho have had a dependency syndrome for a long time and in most cases, because CARE’s interventions advocated for people to do things for themselves, we found many people who could not carry on with what they would have been taught. We had problems with people who had the wrong impression that we would give them money instead of the knowledge we were hoping to impart to them. With knowledge, they could sustain their lives long after CARE was gone but some people believed we were there to give them money, which was wrong. So people should learn to nurture their skills, and earn a living through those skills and not hand-outs.
Kurubally: There are a lot of Consortium for Southern Africa Food Security Emergency (C-SAFE) projects that have now been abandoned in the communities. The C-SAFE approach focused on helping the most vulnerable households affected by HIV/AIDS, in particular homes with elderly or chronically ill people, as well as orphaned children. It employed a technique called ‘keyhole gardening’ which encouraged tenders to utilise simple irrigation methods such as water that was used for household purposes. But it has become an eyesore to walk past abandoned gardens which would still be providing nutritious meals if they were still being tendered properly.
LT: What is the way forward now with the newly formed CARE for Basotho and what would be its mandate?
Matlakeng: When CARE announced it was closing down, we took it upon ourselves as staff to carry on the wonderful work the organisation had been doing over the years and we did not want the skills and experience we had gained to go to waste. We then decided to adopt some of its policies, resulting in CARE for Basotho Association which will be solely run by us, as the natives of this country. It means we will work with our old staff as well as new ones, joining in. From 1 April 2015, what you will find here is this new organisation as CARE Lesotho was generous enough to leave us this building. CARE Lesotho also gave us office furniture and three vehicles, which will help us with mobility.
We have already registered it as a Non-Governmental Organisation and so far, we have 30 staff members, ten of which are in the executive committee. We have also outlined a three-year strategic plan which prioritises food-security, economic-empowerment, HIV/AIDS and gender-based violence as well as humanitarian relief among the aspects we wish to contribute towards. Our head office will be here in Maseru and we will also establish another office in Mohale’s Hoek to continue with some projects already operating in that district.