Release date
March 18, 2008
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Climbing Mountains to Reach Orphans

March 18, 2008, —

By Kai T. Hill

Deep in the picturesque mountains of Lesotho, there lies a

problem within a problem.

The southern African country is one of the smallest on the

continent, yet ranks third in the world for HIV prevalence.

In this nation encircled by South Africa, nearly one in

four people is infected with HIV. Many have died, leaving

an estimated 100,000 children orphaned.

</p

" A CRS partner distributes school uniforms to orphans."

title="David Snyder">

A CRS partner distributes school uniforms to orphans and

vulnerable children at Bobete Primary School, which is

supported by CRS. Photo by David Snyder for CRS

"Without parents, orphaned children are often left to fend

for themselves. They must somehow find the food, education,

life skills, family support and love that many people take

for granted," says CRS Lesotho's Country Representative,

John Shumlansky.

Compounding these challenges is the country's harsh,

sometimes impassable mountain terrain. Without adequate

roads, transportation and communication, very few

organizations have been willing to work in Lesotho. In the

meantime, thousands of needy children go underserved.

"I can't imagine my own children having to face these

circumstances at such young ages," Shumlansky adds.

"Fortunately, this project provides the support many

orphans desperately need."

In 2006, with funding from the Lesotho government's

National AIDS Commission, Catholic Relief Services and the

Lesotho Catholic Bishops' Conference started the Mountain

Orphan and Vulnerable Children's Empowerment project

(MOVE), a comprehensive approach to caring for orphans in

the communities of Bobete, Nkau and Nohana.

Meeting Basic Needs

A three-year initiative, the MOVE project serves 6,000

orphans and about 3,000 additional household members,

including caretakers.

</p

" Students at Bobete Primary School receive the uniforms."

title="David Snyder">

Students at Bobete Primary School receive the uniforms

CRS provides to those who are orphaned or vulnerable.

Photo by David Snyder for CRS

The project provides participants with substantial medical

support, mostly through partnerships with the Lesotho

Ministry of Health and other organizations, including

Partners in Health, the Clinton Foundation and the Lesotho

Flying Doctors' Service.

These partnerships — along with assistance from local

clinic staff — have allowed the MOVE project to link

with existing health services, including HIV testing and

drug treatment. Additional support services include food

assistance through agriculture training, educational

support, counseling, and community training on child

welfare and child protection.

Project coordinators found that inadequate uniforms and

supplies were a major barrier to children going to school.

"The lack of a school uniform often labels poor and

orphaned children in Lesotho. … Temperatures in the

mountains dip below freezing during the winter months,

making school attendance extremely difficult without proper

clothing," says Shumlansky.

CRS and our church partners provide children with school

uniforms and shoes to help them assimilate back into

school. In addition, teachers and fellow students receive

education on life skills, emotional support, and HIV so

they can better address the needs of orphans in the school

environment. CRS has also helped schools start a resource

exchange program that supplies secondary schools with

materials, desks and chairs in exchange for free tuition

for students.

Before the project began, it was common to see children at

home and in villages during school hours, doing family

chores and tending livestock. However, within a year of the

project's launch, daily life for many orphans had

dramatically changed.

No Mountain Too High

</p

" The Mission Aviation Fellowship helps transport aid workers to remote areas of Lesotho."

title="David Snyder">

CRS contracts with Mission Aviation Fellowship, which

maintains five light aircraft to transport aid workers to

remote areas of Lesotho. Photo by David Snyder for CRS

The high, rugged terrain in Lesotho is nothing to

underestimate. Visiting a project site normally requires an

eight-hour drive over cliffside rocky roads.

To overcome this challenge, CRS and our partners charter

small aircraft operated by the Mission Aviation Fellowship.

Air travel offers a safer, more cost-effective means to

transport staff and materials to project sites. Getting to

some remote villages even requires staff to travel on

horseback. While not the fastest mode of transportation,

horses are readily available and are often the safest way

to travel through mountains.

Satellite MOVE offices have been opened in each project

area. This not only reduces some of the travel challenges,

but also helps form a strong bond between communities and

staff, who live in the communities where they serve.

"I have learned to work with orphans and know their needs

both psychologically and physically," says CRS Area

Coordinator Sempe Lerotholi, who helped start the project

and now lives in one of the MOVE sites.

"CRS is working in areas where no other organization is

willing to work. Because of this commitment, CRS targets

the poorest of the poor and those people who really need

help," Lerotholi says.

Our Work in Lesotho

In addition to our outreach to residents affected by HIV

and AIDS, CRS has focused its programming in Lesotho on

addressing food insecurity, natural emergencies and helping

existing church partners increase their capacity to respond

to future crises. Catholic Relief Services' efforts were

recognized recently by Lesotho's government and local

media. At a February 2007 ceremony, officials presented CRS

with an award for "Outstanding Performance as an HIV and

AIDS Implementing Partner."

Kai T. Hill is an associate web producer for CRS. She works

in the Baltimore headquarters.