Celebrations, the common cold and goodbyes

The last fortnight has been tougher than usual and yet filled with so many great memories. I think the eighth week was always going to be a hard one. Teaching is usually 7 weeks till a half term, the Lesotho experience has extended that and to be honest I feel I’m on my knees.

The work is gradually narrowing to a Maths focus, I still get asked to help with some drawing or when they are absolutely bonkers they may ask for some help on English. The main focus in school though is trying to make Maths teaching more engaging, pacey and structured. I can’t praise the teachers enough. The initial impression I had was that I would be some provider and they could do some other stuff, the reality is that every lesson they are taking notes and happily taking part when I want them to

These teachers are so keen to provide the children with a good learning structure. I already know how caring they are and wellbeing and welfare. but seeing them so open to new ideas so lacking in any envy of other people is a joy

Waiting outside the Education office last week provided me with one of the most enriching dialogues I’ve had. “What are you doing here and how long are you here for?”. Then “What will be the sustainable impact of your work?”. When I replied that we saw it as training people and not providing technology, the reply was, “Good, developing countries have no infrastructure for technology. It is just a waste!”. Pretty insightful and this guy was just a caterer

The children are amazing, so many but so shy and cowed. I loved one asking me to re-explain an idea. That took a lot of confidence. Gradually they seem to be getting more done in class, a bit of group work with a carousel, faster starts, notes which give the ideas characters not just characteristics.

Wash Day is looming on the horizon. The ideas are good and important. The children keen to participate. I’m hoping that there will be some legacy not only on hygiene and sanitation, but also using pupils to help convey messages. The big event will be a competition between the four schools, a quiz, a memory game, a relay and lastly a problem solving challenge 

The tippy taps and the water buts are now ordered and materials in place. In fairness Vicky could double up as a quantity surveyor. The hope is that when we finally leave the messages of cleanliness and hygiene can be practically borne out in the schools. Poor Loti and Thaba Tsekha did not have any water supply at all for everyday life. Thanks to the just giving page that Vicki set up we have covered the cost of 11 tippy taps, 2 water buts and bases. I can’t thank our friends enough, even small donations make such a difference.

Vicki in her usual primary fashion has seamlessly bridged the St David's celebration day so that Katlahong’s celebration of Moshoeshoe day is now replicating the ideas she introduced a fortnight ago. How do these primary teachers do it?




Talking about Moshoeshoe day we went to the local celebrations on Monday. It was long but enlightening. OK some of the speeches seemed never ending, but I guess when all you understand is the odd word anything feels long. It brought back memories of chapel as a child. The schools’ contributions were amazing though- singing, drama, cultural dancing and poetry. As usual the children were astonishing and the level of noise quite unreal. What did I learn? That Moshoeshoe binds the Basotho in a reverential way.

The Saturday was a huge athletics competition for the local schools. As usual, we took them at their word and dutifully turned up at 9:00. Of course Lesotho time is not really a measurable quantity, an hour later we sort of had some semblance of an event occurring.


The Basotho love athletics and by that I mean running. They had 100m, 200m, 400m and 1500m. A final event was put on for 3000m. In reality they could have called that steeplechase bearing in mind the variety§ of rocks and other objects needed to negotiate. The surface was grass, littered with stones. There were no lanes and as they ran the corners for the 400m they had to skirt around a pile of rocks that marked the turning point.



The children ran barefoot in skirts, shorts often their school shirts. Maybe one or two had a semblance of an athletics kit. What was noticeable though was the ease with which they ran and the joy in the experience. The pure celebration was mirrored by the crowds. Whole schools turning up on the Saturday with their songs, chants and animated dancing. Choreography and conducting provided by teachers. The way that children even in defeat congratulated opponents and the feting of winners by their schools – all I can say was tribal and stunning. Four hours shot by

For the first time in years I’ve struggled with a cold. When I return I will definitely take my flu injections from the GP. Here there is no such thing as a cold. I am constantly asked if I am suffering from the common cold. Even young children walk up as I’m sniffing away and ask “Ntate Sion are you suffering from the common cold?” I’m hoping it will disappear before the Easter break.

College on Friday remains the biggest challenge on how to judge our effectiveness. The students are great, a bit cheeky but once the lecture starts they are completely involved and I think engaged. What is throwing me a bit is the continuity, a student strike here, the need for a lecturer to have additional revision time there. Suddenly the plan of delivery has been decimated. I hope this week we can get back on track with a story writing session for first years and numeracy for the third years. Training these youngsters is by far the most effective way of changing educational practice.

As a group we still do our walks. The other week we risked a fairly hairy gorge ascent. Friends like Adrian Hopkins will be well aware of my complete lack of any sense of direction. It’s a miracle that we got back safely, but I have to say that with the ground underneath unstable and a steep drop we were all conscious of how dangerous it was. Food is good, again mainly vegetarian but I am seriously contemplating writing a recipe book called a ‘a hundred things to do with a butternut squash that is not in any form violent”!

With only a single full week to go until the Easter break, it is dawning on us that we are half way through this adventure. Easter time we split for a fortnight and my next blog will come from Zimbabwe. Again over Easter we will be saying a fond good bye to David a key group member who entertained us and amused us in equal measure. The sight of this Omar Sharif lookalike sitting in the VIP tent on Moshoeshoe day celebrations, or the distant panoramic vision of a red shirted visitor slowly meandering up the steep path to Loti, will always remain in my memory – straight out of Lawrence of Arabia. The funniest incident was when I was surrounded by Thaba Tsekha staff  concerned and quizzical “ Ntate Sion there is a white man in the school”, only to realize that David was visiting and that presumably I was not being seen as a white man. David’s contract ends in April, he is returning as is another volunteer Owen, who again has been a pleasure to keep in touch with.

We have a series of monitoring and evaluation days after Easter with the Dolen team, and also the college will sit us down for an interim report. I guess these sessions force you to reflect on whether you have been effective, whether your work will have any long-term value and perhaps most importantly would you have done it again knowing what you do of the country. I know that I would certainly have done the programme, just for the experiences and insights it has given me. There is not a day where I don’t smile. The other questions are more difficult to answer.




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  • Claudia Merola
    commented 2018-03-16 20:35:54 +0000
    It sounds as if you’re getting a lot out of the visit as are your hosts. Glad you’re getting used to besotho time – I thought I might have prepared you!!

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