Into the district

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Hand in hand we stand – China and Lesotho, said the T-shirt of a group of people in the hotel. It’s a funny statement for a stealth invasion – it really should say ‘hand us the ground on which you stand.’ One day all will become clear, and then it is too late.

Late Wednesday afternoon we drove some two hours northwest of Maseru, along the South African border for a good part of our journey. We passed the Chinese textile factories – many of them closed now – in a town that grew up around these factories – I don’t think it was about hand in hand what happened there although it was employment while it lasted.

Employment is a huge problem here. I have never seen so many primary and high schools driving two hours out of the capital city. Everywhere we saw boys and girls in uniforms streaming out of schools and homeward. It was sobering to think of these kids, high school diploma in hand, applying for the dwindling jobs in these factories that were closing.

We spent two days in a workshop (the participants referred to it as ‘being workshoppped’) with a multidisciplinary team that has been given the mandate to protect children in this district. Never have I seen so much power in a room to do something good for children: lawyers from the High Court and the Magistrate’s Office, teachers from schools, nurses and counselors from hospitals, social workers from the government, a pastor from a collection of churches, a police woman, someone from the prison system and a registrar of vital statistics. The leader of the team was a young woman, appointed by the District Council Secretary.

But the group felt all but powerful – bewildered about a long list of functions that assumed they would report on statistics that weren’t there and enforce legislation and policies that they hardly knew, contained in thick tomes of which there was only one copy in the entire district.

We helped them discover their own understanding of why they were there and spent much time dreaming about what could be. The second day we came down from the lofty and far away future to put some wheels under their dreams and start moving, however slowly, to a place where their power would begin to show.

At the end of day one I drove with my two colleagues to a nearby set of caves where the nation’s founder had spent some time before his ascent of Thana Bosiu. The caves have ancient drawings on their walls from the San who lived here long before the Basutho moved in. The light was just fading when we got there. Thanks to our smart phones we were able to see some of the most amazing and ancient drawings before the light disappeared.

The second day we struggled through periods of high and low energy. The best antidote, we discovered, to low energy was simply turning up the music: Hugh Masekela, Don Laka, the Soweto String Quartet, Jimmy Dludlu or Mahala Jackson – everyone started to dance.

In the end the district team made a commitment to attend to the small actions that will move them, however slowly, towards fulfilling their role in the government’s grant scheme to protect the nations children. My MSH team mates performed with great talent and skill. They will conduct a similar event in another district next week. They are all riled up and confident, and so am I.

At the end everyone was treated to a braai, the South African version of barbecue, a favorite pastime in this part of the world during the weekend, with lots and lots of meat, sausage and chicken.

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