BY ISABELLA ABRAHAM
At the beginning of July I travelled with 17 fellow students from the Anglo European School to the small African nation of Lesotho, where we were to work alongside the community of Malealea. This was organised with the help of a charity called Africa’s Gift. The aim was to help with environmental sustainability, agricultural development and promoting health and safety awareness.
Fundraising was one of our main aims before the start of the trip. This was obtained by bag packing, car washing, sponsored swims etc. The money raised was put to extremely good use for example buying toilets seats for the local girls school! One can’t comprehend in our developed world the joy an item such as this can bring.
We helped dig a reservoir, this was to capture rainfall, helping the community preserve water for their crops. It was shocking how precious and limited water is compared to England. Some of the money raised went towards pipes for trenches that we dug in order to help the flow of water and stop it being lost. Our walk to and from work each day was 90 minutes on unmade roads, which was pretty hard when carrying shovels and wheelbarrows.
I and five other girls were lucky enough to shadow African women for the day and experience the everyday struggles they deal with in order to prepare a meal. The first step was collecting water. We walked to a nearby stand pipe (some go to ponds or lakes), fill a bucket and balance it on our heads. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done. The women made it look effortless. Some women carry the buckets on their heads for hours, navigating unmade roads. They were much stronger than us. We also collected firewood. This was obtained by climbing down the side of the mountain and pulling trees apart with our bare hands. After we collected enough wood, they would tie it up and place it on our heads. Carrying the wood was a lot easier than carrying the water, but it was still very tiring as we had to walk back up the mountain carrying it all. Once they had the water and wood the cooking process began. On average the women had to make these collections more than three times a day. Being able to share this experience gave me an insight into how difficult day to day lives are for African women, doing chores that we take for granted.
Many of us raised money by selling trees. Lesotho sufferers from soil erosion problems and lack of food. The trees sold were in order to aid these issues. £5 buys a soil stabilising tree and £10 a fruit tree which helps with food security in the Village. All the trees bought were dedicated with a special message by the sponsors and will be blessed by a priest and hung in the local community village hall. (If anyone is interested in helping by purchasing a tree these can be found on the charity website www.africasgift.org)
We carried in our luggage 20 thermal cooking bags called ‘Wonderbags’. Our fund raising helped to purchase some which were distributed in the community. These are changing lives in Africa by reducing the amount of time spent by women stirring cooking pots, collecting wood and reducing water consumption by 80% during the cooking process . The bag works like slow cookers keeping pots at a constant temperature and freeing women from cooking tasks for approximately 5 hours. All they need to do is bring the pot to the boil and place it inside the Wonderbag and leave it.
Inhalation of smoke is a huge problem too, contributing to premature deaths and early blindness. A lot of the cooking takes place inside the home which houses up to eight people living in one room. This means everyone is inhaling the smoke. 1 in 9 children die because of this and life expectancy for women is 48 and 50 for men. The Wonderbags were created by an African lady. Her aim is to stop these tragic deaths and to promote a healthier way of cooking (these can also be purchased on the website).
What an experience. I never expected to do something like this and I’m so glad I did. Meeting such beautiful and kind people. For a community that has so little, they were welcoming and showed such kindness and warmth in the time that we were with them. I was very sad when we left them. I feel a great sense of joy knowing that I have made a small difference to their lives. I am determined to do something like this again in my life whether I go back to Lesotho or help somewhere else. The rewards are immense.