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Redefining a hillside community in Lesotho

Since 2002, 143 families have moved into Habitat houses at Khubelu, a hillside community near Lesotho’s capital of Maseru. As soon as the first families began moving into these houses, the changes to the area were dramatic. The sturdy brick, tin-roofed houses, surrounded by neatly plowed vegetable gardens and colorful flower beds, have transformed a forbidding landscape.

The changes to the individual homeowners and their families may not be quite so obvious, but they are just as positive.

All the homeowners in Khubelu have compelling stories of overcoming obstacles and finding success. These are just a few of those stories:

Tsetsana Theothe, a self-employed tailor, specializes in making the traditional, intricately printed cotton dresses known as seshoeshoe. At 44 years of age, she is the guardian of three abandoned children: two nieces, ages 8 and 4; and a 7-year-old nephew.

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Tsetsana Theothe stands in front of the concrete blocks that will be used for her home addition.

Before moving into her Habitat house, Tsetsana rented one room in a house shared by eight families. “It was surrounded by mud,” she recalls. “And it was full of insects.”

Tsetsana struggled at times to make her mortgage payments, but through determination and hard work, she now owns the house. Empowered by that accomplishment, she is saving money to build an indoor bathroom. “With a shower,” she says, smiling.

Tsetsana has fully embraced the notion of owning and maintaining a home, making incremental improvements as money allows. She has already built an attractive stone patio on the front of her house and cultivated a vegetable garden.

“It is a relief to have this space of my own, and this yard – some space between neighbors,” she says. “I now feel at home, because others are not pushing me if my floors are not clean. So now I’m pushing myself to do things on my own. I am motivated, being in this house. … I am very happy.”

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Mamatseliso Monoko, a retired teacher, will have repaid her home loan within a year.


Mamatseliso “Matsili” Monoko
, 57, retired from teaching long ago and now works part time sewing school uniforms. Her husband of 35 years, who was a farmer, died in July 2008. The couple’s four children are grown; she lists their achievements with great pride. One is a soldier, one a tailor, one a teacher and the youngest a student.

Matsili moved into her Habitat house four years ago, leaving behind an old two-room house with cracks in the walls and leaks in the roof. In less than a year, she will have repaid her entire home loan, despite some financial troubles after her husband’s death.

“I won’t give up,” Matsili says. “I am still strong, see?” [She flexes her bicep to prove the point, and then has a good laugh.]

“I am willing to work,” she adds. “I am making it for my children. This will be theirs.”

Mathuso Mefsing, 54, is a born leader and community activist. Even when she was a street vendor in Maseru, selling apples for income, she was known for mobilizing her fellow vendors into taking steps to improve their own lives.

In 2001, she approached the Ministry of Local Government and joined a steering committee to start the Khubelu low-income housing community with Habitat for Humanity Lesotho. She helped identify families who needed a decent home and was involved in every step of the process of building all the houses at Khubelu – not just her own.

In 2004, she was hired by Habitat to serve as an office assistant and liaison to the Khubelu community. She jokingly refers to herself as “a chief” in the neighborhood, because so many of her neighbors rely on her for advice and assistance.

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Mathuso Mefsing is on a crusade to get her neighbors to plant more gardens and earn extra income.

“I don’t sleep,” she says, laughing. “People are always knocking.”

Mathuso’s husband died in 2006, but she remains positive and upbeat as she continues to make mortgage payments on her own. She shares her three-room home with one unmarried son and two grandchildren, along with a 10-year-old neighborhood boy who recently lost both his parents.

As an unofficial “chief,” Mathuso meets regularly with fellow homeowners to encourage them to make their mortgage payments on time and to try to generate more income, whether by raising chickens and pigs, or planting flowers and extra vegetables to sell.

Leading by example, she and several neighbors have pooled their resources and bought a pig, which Mathuso named Spiderman and keeps in a pen down a slight hill from her house. When the pig is ready for slaughter, Mathuso and her co-investors will split the profit.

Clearly inspired by the biblical story of fishes and loaves, Mathuso offers plain, straightforward advice to her neighbors: “We must plow on our plots.”

Nearly every inch of her property is a testament to that ideal. She grows spinach, spring onions and peaches, and chickens roost out front.

Mathuso believes deeply in taking a hands-on approach, and she is humble in acknowledging her role in the success of her community.

“I like to do a thing,” she says, “and watch it happen.”