UNICEF: Granting Hope for Broken Dreams
Lesotho launches Child Grants payment in Semonkong, Maseru district - the third and final pilot area - bringing hope to an increasing number of vulnerable children.
Lesotho 28 October 2009 – It took several years for the foundations of the ambitious [Government of Lesotho, European Union and UNICEF supported] Child Grants Programme to be established, but finally its seeds are bearing fruits. With remarkable impetus, the programme has been rolled out in the third and final pilot district of Maseru, Semonkong community council, (about 150 Km from the capital), on 27 October.
Mpolokeng, an 18 year old girl and Sello, an 18 year old boy, come from different walks and have met for the first time at the launch. Their lives would be so far apart were it not for a common thread that binds them together. Both Mpolokeng and Sello lost their parents; both are heading their households and struggling to make ends meet, and both are waiting to receive their cash grants in Semonkong. Mpolokeng’s father was working in the South African mines, and so was Sello’s father.
“My father was a very strong man, I used to be so happy every time he came home from the mines because he used to bring us fresh apples, sweet potatoes and gifts” recalls Mpolokeng with a smile. “But over time he started getting sick and finally came home for good, to die. Then my mother got sick and I had to take care of her and my siblings and had to drop out of school” she says with glaring sadness. Mpolokeng’s father, just like Sello’s father, returned from the mines very sick and died shortly after, followed by his wife.
Sello also remembers his father with evident pain “He used to love animals, we had many cattle and when he came home from the mines we used to herd them together. I miss him, I also love cattle just like him. When he died, my mother followed, so we used some of our cattle for the funerals. I had to take care of the remaining cattle and of my siblings” he recalls. Sello is now left with one cow after losing a young calf to the harsh weather conditions.
Mpolokeng and Sello are the face of thousands of Basotho children confronted with enormous odds. The triple threat of poverty, HIV and AIDS and food insecurity has dealt a serious blow to children’s survival, development and protection in Lesotho. More than 180,000 children are orphans, robbed of the protective and nurturing role of their mothers and fathers. Of these 100,000 are estimated to have lost one or both parents to AIDS.
Despite the great challenges they face, both Mpolokeng and Sello possess an astounding resilience. Both have hopes and dreams for the future and are excited at the possibilities offered by the cash grants they are about to receive.
“My greatest wish is to go back to school so that one day I can become a teacher and help other children learn and grow” says Mpolokeng. “The money I will receive today will help me to buy myself a uniform so that next year I can enroll in school again” she admits with pride. On the other hand, Sello is chasing after his father’s legacy to make sure his siblings have a future. Now an experienced herd boy he voices his passion “Cows are my life! With the money I can buy a new cow to replace the one I lost; my cattle are the most important thing for my family to survive and to make sure that my younger brother and sister stay in school” he says.
Even though Mpolokeng and Sello’s dreams were deferred by the untimely death of their parents, a renewed sense of hope is being instilled in their lives, and those of thousands more orphans and vulnerable children, through the cash grant and the assistance that will go with them. “Cash transfers have the greatest impact when combined with other social services such as health, nutrition, education and protection. The grants are part of a greater child-sensitive social protection programme that will benefit entire families” said Mr. Ahmed Magan, UNICEF Representative in Lesotho.
The disbursement in Semonkong marked the first complete payment covering all three pilot communities – Matelile (Mafeteng district), Lebakeng (Qacha’s Nek district) and Semonkong (Maseru district). The districts were selected on the basis of their accessibility and the availability of basic services in the areas. They represent three distinctive geographic zones.
As expressed by the Deputy Principal Secretary (DPS) of Health and Social Welfare Ms. Moliehi Khabele, speaking on behalf of the Minister of Health, one of the primary goals of the pilot phase is to develop and test effective systems for targeting, enrolment, payment to beneficiaries, monitoring, procurement and financial management, training of stakeholders, public awareness and community involvement. Lessons learnt from the pilot districts will guide the refinement of the Child Grants Programme in preparation for a phased roll out across the country.
Around 950 households and over 2,370 orphans and vulnerable children are now benefiting from the Child Grants programme, which will continue to be expanded in the pilot districts and will gradually be introduced in other districts of the country by 2011.