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Village orphans lose hope

by Lesotho Times

MASERU — In Moruthane village there is a little hut that is falling apart.

The roof looks like it’s about to curve in.

The walls have huge cracks. The yard looks neglected.

Until you knock on a broken wooden door it’s nearly impossible to imagine that such a hovel can be somebody’s home. 

Yet when you knock a sweet 16-year-old girl opens the squeaking door.

Her name is Liemo and she lives with her two siblings. 

Liemo looks tired and frail but poverty has hardened her.

She says she has not had a proper meal in months.

The last time she had some tasty food was three months ago when she was living in Mazenod where she was working as a maid. 

She looks after her 12-year-old sister and a little brother who is nine.

She walks bare footed and her once yellow full dress has lost colour and is worn out.

Her parents died a few years ago leaving poor Liemo to fend for the family of three.

Since then her life has been one long nightmare. Getting food to feed her siblings has been a struggle.

She says she spends most of the days sleeping in the hut while her siblings visit friends in the village.

“I sleep most of the day while I send them to play with their friends hoping neighbours will give them something to eat,” she says shyly.

Like many guardians in the village Liemo has been hoping that the government will make good of its promise to provide quarterly grants to orphans especially those in the highly vulnerable group.

Presenting his annual budget in February this year, Finance Minister Timothy Thahane said the government was working on a programme to assist households that had vulnerable orphans with grants.

Thahane said the government would provide M360 quarterly to the households.

Yet six months down the line the money has not come and the plight of orphans like Liemo has worsened.

She says she does not believe that they will get any help from the government.

“Neighbours have been telling us that the government will give us some money but up to now we have not received any money.

“I think they have said that just to make us feel better. They keep on saying that when they come to give us some food. I don’t believe it anymore.”

Many in Moruthane are desperate.

The number of orphans is increasing rapidly.

Villagers say the Aids pandemic has ravaged families leaving many of them without parents.

Child-headed families have become the norm, villagers say.

 ‘Mamotloka Lelimo, 78, has been at the receiving end of the scourge. Her son and daughter-in-law died years ago, leaving their five children orphaned.

Lelimo, being the children’s grandmother, had to keep and fend for the five children. 

It has not been an easy task.

She has battled to feed the children.

Lelimo says since the death of her son 10 years ago and daughter-in-law five years ago her life has been miserable.

She says she has watched helplessly as her grandchildren go to bed hungry on numerous occasions.

The monthly M300 grant she receives from government every month is just too little, Lelimo says.

Helping hands have been very few.

 “We are overwhelmed by the increasing number of helpless and orphaned children in our village. Almost every weekend we bury a parent,” Lelimo says.

“Orphaned children are very vulnerable in our village. I struggle to look after my orphaned grand children. I can just imagine how tough it is for those who do not have immediate relatives.

“Unfortunately for the orphaned children there has never been any help coming from any one. They are hungry and poor,” she says.

 “Orphans are vulnerable. Most of them end up exchanging sex for food. They end up getting infected with HIV.”

She talks from experience.

Last year she discovered that her eldest grandchild was pregnant.

She suspects some man might have preyed on her vulnerability.

 “She fell pregnant and miscarried just a few months before she was due for dilivery.

“She got very sick afterwards. She has not yet recovered fully.”

 “It is so painful when sometimes they go to bed on an empty stomach. I feel guilty even though I know there is nothing I can do. I wish their parents were still alive.

“I wonder how they are going to cope when I am dead when they are already struggling in my presence.”

She had hoped life would be better when the government announced earlier this year that it was going to give quarterly grants to orphans.

But all the hope vanished after her attempts to register the children for the proposed aid programme were rejected.

 “I did everything I could to get them registered for the grants but I have failed.”

Lelimo’s grandchildren are not the only struggling double orphaned children in Moruthoane.

At least one in every five families is orphaned.

They are all living in dire poverty, villagers say.

They say none of them receive any assistance from either the government or any humanitarian organisations.

Villagers say they do all they can to find clothing and food for the orphans but they too are grappling with abject poverty.

‘Malineo Rantela says the situation is depressing everyone in the village.

Rantela who is widowed says the number of child-headed families is increasing at a frightening rate.

“The death rate, partly due to HIV, is high in our village. Children are desperate. They do not have clothes and food. They cannot go to school because they are either hungry or sick,” Rantela says.

She says villagers have “tried all possible means to help orphaned children but failed”.

 “It hurts so badly when charity organisations give orphans elsewhere donations and forgetting orphans in our village. They also desperately need help.”

The Makhoarane community councillor ‘Matsepiso Nkohli says the council is aware of the desperate situation faced by most of the orphaned children in Moruthane.

She says the council has been trying to convince the government to help orphans.

“The council has sought help for the orphans. We are still trying to find help now. There are so many orphans in this village who are living in poverty,” Nkohli said.

“It is our responsibility to see that orphans lead normal lives. We cannot turn a blind eye on the situation in our village.”

She says she is concerned that all the orphans in the village have not received any welfare funds from government.

“It’s unfair that these children here have not received their grants. They (grants) could have made a difference in their lives.”

The number of orphans has been rising in Lesotho.

Most of these families are living in poverty and depend entirely on donations from humanitarian organisations.

Most of the funding of the child grant programme is from the European Union and the United Nations Childern’s Funds (UNICEF).

Lesotho has an estimated 180 000 orphans.

But according to UNICEF, its programme was only expected to reach about 60 000 children.

This is only a third of children who desperately need help.

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