A remarkable woman

Building better future for orphans in Lesotho

Mamolelekeng Nkoebele is a remarkable woman. What makes her different? She's 82. And she's single-handedly raising five orphaned great grandchildren by herself.

Mamolelekeng lives in Teyateyaneng (commonly called TY) about 40kms from Lesotho’s capital, Maseru. Like 68% of Lesotho's population she lives in a household defined as "poor", meaning that Mamolelekeng cannot feed, clothe and educate her family. They survive on her pension and child support grants totaling just over US$50 a month.

But that hasn’t stopped Mamolelekeng.

"We used to live in a shack with holes in the roof," said Mamolelekeng. "When it rained we put buckets around to collect the water. The three boys slept in one bed. There were four of us on the floor. We were packed like sardines. We didn't have a choice."

Poverty runs deep in Lesotho with about 40% of about 2 million inhabitants living below the international poverty line of US $1.25 a day. However, being orphaned and poor is even worse. Orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) often live in unhealthy living conditions, are exposed to abuse, and struggle to access education and basic services. That's why Mamolelekeng took them all in when their parents died.

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Initially, Mamolelekeng got by. A generous landowner allowed them to live in a shack for free. "It was open to both the elements and intruders," she said. "It was our home. Still someone had to be home at all times to guard our possessions." But even that limited level of security changed when their landlord decided to sell the land. The new owner wanted to evict them. "With the impending change in ownership, we felt constantly threatened."

Since 2007, Habitat for Humanity Lesotho and community leaders have worked together to change this reality. They have identified orphaned and vulnerable children and their families who desperately need help.

If, like the Nkoebeles, the family does not have their own land, the community allocates land and gives the family tenure rights. After this, HFHL procures material and engages a builder to build a simple yet durable two-roomed house made of concrete blocks and corrugated sheet roofing, together with a well-ventilated pit latrine.

orphans in Lesotho
Since 2007, Habitat for Humanity Lesotho assists orphans and vulnerable children to build a safe and decent home.

"I used to ask myself daily what would happen to the kids if I die and leave them in our old shack. After we moved into our new home, I wanted to make sure they were safe. I wanted a solid wooden door - with a lock. Here, we can lock the door so we aren't afraid that when we are out someone can come in and take our things," she says. "We're grateful to live like this, without the fear of not knowing where we are going next."

While the cost of home is between $4000 and $5000, the beneficiaries help with the construction, which is a crucial element of the HFH philosophy. This "sweat equity" increases the sense of ownership that the family feels when they move in.

The healthier, cleaner living environment, including improved sanitation facilities, has had additional benefits.

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While the Lesotho government endeavors to give its rural population access to water, in reality only about 45% of the population has access to clean drinking water. 40% of the population has no access to sanitation facilities and use open spaces and flying toilets (plastic bags used for defecation and thrown into ditches).

So, while having to share a toilet with several people would seem like an unimaginable hardship in developed countries, it is feature of everyday life in Lesotho, and it carries risks like maybe being harassed or even attacked. "We didn't have our own toilet," said Malehloa, Mamolelekeng's 16-year-old great-granddaughter. "So we used the neighbor's. But, we were afraid to go to the toilet at night in case we met a stranger. I was worried about being kidnapped."

Anecdotal evidence also shows children, who move into a new house, are less likely to drop out of school and have an 80% increase in attendance.

Malehloa studying
"It was difficult to study in the shack. Since we moved to the new house I can study and my marks have improved." — Malehloa

Malehloa is a perfect example. She is pupil at St Agnes, a walk of nearly 90 minutes from her house. "Since we have moved into the new house, I can study and my marks have improved," she said. So much so, that recently Malehloa was awarded a bursary paid for by the University of Lesotho. She has big dreams too and hopes to be an engineer one day.

The remarkable Mamolelekeng is happier now. A new house. Cleaner and safer environment. Better opportunities for her great grandchildren who will have a secure place to live after she's gone. At 82, you would think she's resting easy. Not so. Not with five children to look after.

Learn more about Habitat for Humanity's work in Lesotho.

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