Monday, July 2, 2012

Some Lesotho statistics - don't worry, there won't be a test!

Shane and I on a walk behind our house.

Dearest Readers,

We hope you are all doing great this summer, despite the fact that we hear things have been in the 90's! Here it has been in the higher 50's during the day and mid-low 40's at night. We just followed the lead of our friend Sister Magdalena who has started planting peas and carrots in her garden to get ready for spring - so wish us luck with them this year. Unfortunately, our problems with livestock continues. We had a horse get in on Saturday and in less than 30 minutes, it destroyed our hopes of eating the cauliflower we have been nuturing for the last 3 months. The livestock does not constantly get into our garden, it has still happened in total less than 10 times since we've been here, the problem is the timing has always been perfect as to really inhibit our chances of really harvesting anything! Hopefully we can come up with a creative fencing solution, because we are really hoping to have some sort of harvest this next year. This problem of livestock is ubiquitous here in Lesotho, and even if you can afford to put up a fence - people will cut it... do you guys remember the neat wire cars? This in addition to the weather and the interesting cycle of nothing and plenty is part of the fate of the subsistence farming lifestyle I'm about to convey with some stats. As Americans with nice grocery stores always well stocked I feel we tend to be a bit more removed from these cycles. Here, the calender year is divided into several months of "lean season" and just a couple months of bounty as the harvest comes in; before it gets used up and, of course, the farmers didn't have enough left over to sell (and not a lot of market opportunity) to buy food that will get the family by until the next harvest. At least for us we have the meager PC stipend!  So, there's the Ag report for today.

Next is newsy tidbits: Last Thursday, I had the pleasure of going to the training villages and talking to the new trainees about nutrition (suprise!). It was really fun and we are really excited for this enthusiastic and highly qualified group to join us in "the real world" of volunteering very soon. (Another crazy thing, is that some of them confessed to having read our blog before they came... and, gasp! thinking it was good!... I was impressed because I mainly just write this to ramble to family and friends) I then returned on Saturday with two of the trainees, who, as part of their training were assigned to come stay with us for a few days to see how we live, work and generally cope with live as a PC CHED volunteer. It really was a blast, they stayed until Tuesday and we cram packed their days trying to give them a full sample of our life here - it also entailed a pile of walking, which they were very good sports about. The two were great, one was a younger guy most recently from San Francisco, working with HIV/AIDS issues in marginalized communities there. The other was an older woman who is also here with her husband and we got to enjoy stories from her eclectic and adventurous life ranging from lots of backpacking and wilderness experience to working within the pharmaceutical industry. They were both good sports about being a bit out of their comfort zones, and it was really fun to visit with and get to know them, share good food, and share our PC experience so far in a very raw way. On an opposite note, this weekend we went to a good-bye party for the CHED 10's who we've gotten to know in the last year, got a chance to dance and eat with them, and hear about all the crazy stuff going back to America again entails. So, we've been a bit busy with bittersweet things lately. In the meantime I also have been really trying to spend time with the orphans, who I'm still completely in love with (and the trainees even fell for them!). Shane has been also quite busy. He's been training for a high-altitude ultra-marathon (???) in December, and so he's been working out/running sometimes twice a day. This is in addition to his walking and sometimes teaching two Jiu Jit Su classes a day! Also, they just officially got the grant money for their project, so now they are in implementing mode - which is fun, but also frustrating because, of course, this is Lesotho and nothing ever goes perfectly smoothly.

So, we just re-watched the movie Blood Diamonds. I don't know how many of you guys have seen this movie - it is really gut-wrenching and violent. We first saw it in the theater in 2006. I believe the issue of conflict diamonds has become much better in recent years, but it is still interesting to think about because natural resources in general (eg:oil, the crazy metals that go into our techy gadgets...) do play an interesting role in conflicts. I'm still (slowly) reading this book The Bottom Billion and it has really dealt with this issue. I also felt, especially watching this movie in Africa, there were some interesting comments and issues that were brought up, including Zimbabwe, child soldiers and even "Peace Corps Types." I struggled with it a bit because, first it is outright tragic and painful to watch, and it sensationalizes this "Africa" of civil wars. We know that American media likes to sell sensationalism, but it does paint this picture of Africa that leaves out the peaceful Basotho, the laughing children, the people that are trying to make things right in their country. I'll leave it there because I do want to talk about some other things in this post, but there is some food for thought for you to take or leave.

So, we just got our "CHED '11" group T-shirt, and they used this idea of "You know you are a PCV in Lesotho if..." So, here are some of them for your enjoyment:

You had to Google "Lesotho" when you got your site placement

The sunrises and sunsets grab your heart with their beauty

You secretly want to ride every donkey

You don't need an alarm clock if your family has a rooster

Children ask you to "shoot" them (with your camera) on a regular basis

Maximum number of people on public transport(kombi) is 24 people and a goat

Your idea of Africa includes snow and NO exotic animals

You've named your pee bucket

Rice and Chakalaka are gourmet fine dining

So... earlier I promised you guys some stats. I see this has become a bit long again, but hopefully you all will still enjoy. I realize I should have done a stats post soon after this blog began; however, I hope that those who have been following will be a bit more invested, and maybe have more of a context in which to put these statistics. I was inspired by teaching about nutrition to the trainees, where we threw out a few of these statistics. Some of them are pretty crazy. I would like to build on them a little bit with an HIV/AIDS post later, with some basic facts supplemented by what we have seen. A lot of these are in the context of malnutrition and health, as those are areas that are really quite dismal here and the areas that we are working in. So, here goes:

Lesotho gained independence from being a British Protectorate in 1966 (PC started here in 1969!). It is a constitutional monarchy with a King, Queen and Prime Minister. It has 10 districts. Mokhotlong, Thaba-Tseka, Qacha's Nek, Quthing, Bothe-Bothe (generally being the "highlands") and Mohale's Hoek, Leribe, Berea, Mafeteng and Maseru (being more or less "lowlands").

Population of Lesotho - about 1.88 million, 513,774 are food insecure as of 2011. With an average of 13% of children under 5 being underweight and 39% considered stunted - this of course, varies by region as well, with more rural communities in the highlands being substantially higher. 56.3% of the population live below the national poverty line and Lesotho has one of the most disparate income distributions in Sub-Saharan Africa (imagine!). The Human Development Index rating is 160 out of 187 countries - U.S. is number 4.

The development challenges that Lesotho faces are chronic poverty, high unemployment (something around/above 50%), food insecurity - exaccerbated by climate shocks, high chronic malnutrition and, of course, the 3rd highest HIV prevalence globally. Other related things that undermine growth in Lesotho are ubiquitous poor health, deterioration of social support structures due to HIV and immigration and emmigration, high food prices and lack of diverse income strategies.

Lesotho has the lowest life expectancy among similar-income countries between 41-38 years depending on the year and source. Both the maternal and infant mortality rate are higher than average for a Sub-Saharan African county(!). 40% of births occur at home - this is not a good thing considering the HIV/AIDS stats, really. The average, quoted percentage of HIV infection is 23%, this varies considerable with gender, education level, age, district... In 2009 the estimate was 280,000 Basotho living positively in the country. There is some good news with all of this though, and some of it is due to a response from America. In 2009 the coverage of clinics with Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission services made a big leap from previous to 71%, with Anti-Retroviral Treatment now having 58% coverage in health care centers

Geographically, the land area of Lesotho is 11,720 sq miles which is slightly larger than Hawaii (though I think I need to visit Hawaii just so I can get a good perspective of it for comparison...) 3/4 of the composition of Lesotho is highlands nearing 3000 meters in elevation, with 1/4 lowlands at elevations between 1,388 - 2,000 meters. (Remember - Highest low point of any country in the world). Less than 10% of the land is considered arable. The average annual rainfall is around 40". Unfortunately, extreme weather events are happening more frequently and more intensely lately, than in previous years (they do "believe in" climate change here). Of course, extreme weather events aren't real good for the food security of subsistence farmers of which 77% of Basotho are. With remittances from relatives working in South Africa (largely mines, domestic/service work...) being a relatively large contributor to many households' income and ringing in at 27% of GDP.

Water, Sanitation and Education -
78% of households have access to "improved"water sources and 76.7% use "improved" sanitation facilities (again, these figures will vary by region).
83% primary school enrollment (primary goes through grade 7)
and 82% youth literacy, with adulty literacy being relatively good too.
Between ages 8-14 95% of girls are in school and 88% of boys at age 15 these figures drop to 85% for girls and 74% for boys. This is unusual for a "developing country" because usually the boys are kept in school, but here they are taken out to go to initiation school, herd livestock and help farm for the family.

WHEW! Give yourself a pat on the back if you finished all of that. I tried to pick out the most interesting and relevant statistics that would help paint the picture and give perspective to some of the conditions here. I'll leave off with that, but will look forward to coming back online with a new post next week.
All the best from both of us here in Lesotho!
Khotso, Pula, Nala (National expression of Lesotho meaning Peace, Rain, Prosperity)
Carol and Shane


  1. I'm really curious now. What did you name your pee bucket?

  2. It’s never too early to think about the Third Goal. Check out Peace Corps Experience: Write & Publish Your Memoir. Oh! If you want a good laugh about what PC service was like in a Spanish-speaking country back in the 1970’s, read South of the Frontera: A Peace Corps Memoir.