Poverty is described by some economists as not having enough money to meet basic needs including food, clothing and shelter. However, poverty is more, much more than just not having enough money.
Lesotho is a small, mountainous, landlocked country with a population of 2.2 million people. Its per capita gross domestic product (GDP) of USD1,160 and is classified as a lower middle-income country ranking 160 out of 188 countries on the 2016 Human Development Index.
Poverty cuts across the spectrum and even schools are not spared its wrath.
Located in the small village of Boribeng 130km in the Leribe district, north east of Maseru, is once-proud, imposing and intimidating Boribeng High School which has now been reduced to a minuscule learning centre with a pathetic enrolment of about 100 students.
It is one of many schools in the country that are situated in the rural areas with limited teaching equipment and very few teachers. The acting principal of the school Khabele Khabele says the school’s biggest challenge is poverty.
“This is a very small community, which means lack of job opportunities for both parents, and students that complete school. It affects all of us here, especially students because many of them have their first meal of the day here at school, and we only provide one meal.
“You can see just by the way they are lethargic and lack concertation that they are hungry. It is a pity that there is not much the school can do because we just provide one meal,” he said.
He estimates that four in 10 students are affected by poverty, visible in the way they dress and how they do not have stationery; this ends up affecting their performance in class.
He further said they have had many cases of female students getting married at a young age as a way of escaping from the poverty at home; to them marriage is a ticket to get their parents out of poverty as they also provide for those they leave back home. Sometimes, just out of the blue, a female student just stops coming to school and upon, enquiry the teaches learn that she’s actually got married.
According to Khabele, at other times, students abruptly stop coming to school and after being reported missing, it later turns out they have actually been trafficked to places like Maseru. They are trafficked under pretense that they are going to be offered jobs or money, and only discover when it is too late that they have been baited like fish out of the water.
“Young girls are particularly vulnerable to this practice and are often targeted by older men. We do try to create awareness to prevent students from falling into such traps because of poverty, and encourage them to instead focus on their studies but we can only do so much because we do not go home with them. So we do not fully know the circumstances at home.
“We invite motivational speakers, or former students who have been able to pull through in life, to guide and show them that they too can make it despite their current the circumstances,” Khabele said.
One such alumnus of Boribeng High School is philanthropists ‘Matokelo Stuurman, who is the managing director of insurance brokering company Thaba-Bosiu Risk Solutions.
Once every year, she holds a prize-giving ceremony where she awards best-performing leaners in a bid to motivate others to also work hard and receive goodies like their peers. She also gives out grocery hampers to students from less fortunate families.
Stuurman said she and her company are committed to assisting the community of Boribeng, especially students, in any way they can. She said she is from the same village, like others who have made something of their lives. She urged the learners not to believe that the shackles of their present circumstances will hamper them from reaching the top.
“Success does not just happen; it is a result of hard work. I am from the same village as you. I grew up here too just like you; even these students that are receiving prizes are from the same village as well, so we are no different from all of you. It just takes dedication. If I can do it, you too can do it,” she said as she handed out prizes and hampers to the students at Boribeng last Friday.
The guardian of one of the students who received grocery hampers said she took the learner in after his parents passed on, and it is difficult for them to make ends meet. She expressed her gratitude on behalf of all beneficiaries, adding the groceries would come in handy as most of them live from hand to mouth.
“Many of the children here survive on the meagre old age pension grant of their grandparents. As neighbours we try to help out whenever we can but it is not always easy. This generous gesture will surely not go unnoticed,” she concluded.