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BC: Phelisanong Disabled, HIV/AIDS, Orphan & Vulnerable Children's Project, Pitseng, Leribe, Lesotho Lesotho + (266) 58011942 | Canada + (250) 7482243

FC: PHELISANONG | Together We Work for Life

1: Introduction This collage of photos by Gary McNutt has been assembled from many hundreds of such glimpses recorded over the first five years of what I think of as "Mamello's Project". There is little evident order in these pages. Here in this tiny rural corner of Lesotho, was a 15-acre patch of unoccupied dusty land in 2004. Over the next five years, however, Mamello Mokholokoe and her many friends confronted the dis-orderings, the chaos, which surrounded them. They envisioned creating a small community on this gift of land. They would call their project Phelisanong —which, in English, is pronounced 'Pay-dee-sah-nang' —and means "Together We Work For Life". So they set out to do exactly that! When Gary met her, Mamello had already recruited about 30 physically disabled children and adults around whom the project would evolve. Today, that number has grown to 80. But where would such a venture begin, amid — the horrors of an HIV/AIDS pandemic... extreme conditions of local drought... the presence of orphans in all directions who were often without family or traditional supports... gnawing food-less-ness... scarcities of educational, health, and treatment resources or facilities ... etcetera ... Where, oh where, to begin? Through Gary McNutt's efforts, many of us around the world learned of the Phelisanong intentions and determinations. Some of us (including the principals of Glasswaters Foundation in Canada) resolved to attempt to assist their 'impossibly complex' project work. Within Glasswaters we were clear that we would NOT superimpose plans, advice, or expertise from afar. NOT! We would respect, and assist, this truly indigenous venture, which would unfold 'from the inside out'. Not, ever, from the outside-in! As we watched, listened, our wonderment persisted. "How will Mamello prioritize? Where oh where will they choose to begin?" We soon realized that Mamello was clear about her answers to such challenges. Chaos must be approached chaotically... So there followed an absolute explosion of responses —all-at-once and in-many-directions. Like tender shoots out of dry ground sprung up buildings and fruit trees, cooks and caregivers, schools and a clinic, workshops, meetings, celebrations devised to bring HIV out of the closet, testing and treatment programs, irrigation schemes, gardening plots, feeding programs, sports events, cultural activities —all these for starters. Such growth was disordered. Like a jungle, like an explosion of laughter and delight, like a collage... | I'm not a fan of so-called 'Developmental’ projects that offer Foreign Aid and 'expertise’ from afar. Unwittingly such projects often lead into the blights of malcontent and dependency. Many NGO's (both large and small) float on two thinly veiled stories, two myths. On the one hand they sell their fund-raising wares by circulating sad and pleading depictions of misery and need. Then, alongside of this ‘victim’ scenario, that other myth is an appeal to heroic and self-sacrificing helpers-from-afar... Such appeals, for me, often carry the echoes of that song that I knew long before I toddled off to school. You know the one —"I'm the King of the Castle —and you're the Dirty Rascal!" Nobody, perhaps, intends to generate such images —but yet, somehow, I often sense that these ghosts of ancient colonialism still seem to lurk, to strut their presence and their shadows. Mamello has a gospel that runs through all her work and methodology. She insists that all those around her move in a spirit of happy-ness! Phelisanong, for her, is a place of happy-ness. She exudes the constant expectation that the children in her care, like the adults who share in these Great Works, will be happy about themselves and their aliveness, will be happy about sharing and being with one another, will be happy about the privileges and pleasures of their developing activities. She doesn't play at the drama of victims and benefactors. Rather, there's a smiling, laughing, dancing sort of hallelujah chorus that musics Phelisanong and all its endeavors. The place rocks with it! Yesterday I flipped through these draft pages with a friend. She carefully studied each photo —alternately and repeatedly sobbing or laughing. As she came to the last page and closed the book, she murmured, "And these are the people that are supposedly desperate and dying?!" For me, it's been such an uplifting experience to ponder these photos. The wisdom, dignity, pleasure and graciousness of these people have so much to teach and to offer such 'dirty rascals' as myself. Thank you Gary, for this chaotic collage of delights, for these skillful glimpses into the hearts and spirits of this community of creative and joyous Africans. In our poverty, they offer us such wealth and richness! Ray Woollam Offshore Project Development Glasswaters Foundation ps Sure, we invite your financial participation.. No doubt about that! Please phone, or make contact: website: 250.748.2243 PO Box 369, Duncan BC V9L 3X5

2: what IS PHelisanong ALL about? | Founded by Mamello Mokholokoe, the radiant woman you see surrounded by children in these photos, Phelisanong is a centre whose name means "Together We Work for Life". Launched in 2001 by a determined group of disabled adults, today 70 children with special needs are sheltered, fed, and educated. Phelisanong spreads its work beyond the rural centre into neighboring villages nestled in the cradle of majestic mountains. Thatched roofed homes made of stone and clay dot the rural countryside. The communal system of land tenure is evident in a flowing landscape of fields that follow the run of the rivers and the contours of the hills. In the daytime, older residents pursue vocational studies in sewing, carpentry,and agriculture while younger children attend primary school. Rehabilitation and physiotherapy are part of the weekly activities in which each child is encouraged to reach their full potential. Caregivers of children at Phelisanong are extraordinarily dedicated, rising at 4 a.m. each day to bathe the children, cook, and clean. After each day of hard work the team of caregivers find time to sing, dance, and enjoy the family vibe that permeates Phelisanong.


6: Ubuntu: "I am what I am because of who we all are."

36: Education | In 2006, Phelisanong founder Mamello expressed her dream of building a school for orphans and disabled children. Even before funding was secured local teachers joined groups of students to learn in the shade of trees. Later on, classes continued beside the growing school buildings. Today, 300 students attend Mamello English Medium Primary School. The primary school at Phelisanong is the first to integrate special needs students with other children in the neighboring areas, nurturing the spread of the culture of service, love and respect for people with ‘exceptionalities’ beyond the centre. The Miriam Ellis library and computer lab sit adjacent to the school and provide windows into the wider world for students and community members alike.

38: While primary school is free in Lesotho, sending children to school from grades 8 through 12 is prohibitively expensive for many families. In response to appeals by parents and young people alike, Phelisanong initiated a secondary school scholarship program with the help of overseas donors. So much comes out of that support: students gain knowledge, skills, and access to a supportive community of adults. Sponsorships pay for school fees, shoes, uniforms, and books. And students receive community mentorship through regular workshops, sports events, health education and career guidance. | Scholarship Program

46: Community health | Mamello was among the first activists in Lesotho to take on HIV/AIDS in her community. Working with agencies who provided testing and treatment, she encouraged people to discard the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS in the same way she brought those with disabilities into the light. In 2008 Phelisanong developed a community clinic on the project site that now includes service to patients from nearby villages. Out of those early campaigns rose a team of 8 HIV positive "Warriors". Dressed in blue, the Warriors travel through the mountains, visiting homes and delivering workshops to gatherings of villagers. The Warriors support village health workers in following up on patients who have tested positive, helping them overcome challenges in accessing, and sticking to, complex medication routines. Warriors also test for new HIV/AIDS cases and provide counseling to help people map the path from a positive diagnosis to treatment and healthy living. Each year Phelisanong hosts an HIV/AIDS conference. In natural Phelisanong style, it’s a celebration! Warriors and their friends take to the streets to show their strength and their fearless embrace of people living with HIV/AIDS. In a place where 30% of the population are infected, the Warriors battle to turn the tides of ignorance, despair, and discrimination through open dialogue, person-to-person mentorship and support, and the provision of vital health information, diagnostic services, and referrals.

56: BUILDING THE FUTURE. | From humble beginnings in borrowed huts, Phelisanong has grown. Three residence buildings have been constructed to provide family-style homes for children and their caregivers. Traditional thatching combines with the introduction of running water and electricity. The homes are comfortable and warm, and allow each child room to play and grow. The centre is developing into a quadrangle of buildings: school buildings, community kitchen, a health clinic and offices have sprung up to serve the growing community. The use of local materials makes these structures both affordable and attractive; local stone and thatched roofs combine with environmentally friendly innovations such as bio-gas systems that turn waste into cooking fuel.


66: THE VALUE OF FOOD | Food security is a high priority in the region where Phelisanong works. Observing that many orphaned children were going hungry every day, Phelisanong started a feeding program to provide community dinners to orphans and people taking anti-retroviral AIDS medication. The feeding program, begun in 2009 and spread throughout 14 villages, also brought much needed support to caregivers and village leaders who were strengthened in their ability to help struggling families and neighbors in their communities. Today, the emphasis is shifting from buying food to feed the children to producing food. Committed teams of villagers in each of the 14 villages have begun to revive an old practice of co-operative work known as 'letsema'. In fenced orchards, communities are planting peach, apple, and apricot trees, with rows of veggies in between. Villagers work together to provide for themselves, their children (and orphans in the village), with local mentors helping with training and tools.

82: LIfe | Life should be fun! | The programs run by Mamello are all set up to serve people's basic needs. Once needs are met, it's time for fun! Cultural traditions of poetry, drama, music and dance are alive and well, and everybody has an opportunity to participate and play. Playing sports is a beautiful way to build confidence by fostering leadership skills and team spirit. Involving people in soccer is also a springboard to wider participation in food security and farming projects. In addition to building a soccer league, hosting tournaments and offering coaching to local players, Phelisanong works with soccer teams beyond game playing into workshops and hands-on training in fruit tree and vegetable production. Not a day goes by where there is not song, dance & celebration: the many forms of the expression "we are grateful" reflects this joy in being together and being alive.

99: © 2011 Gary McNutt All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form, or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author. | The Kingdom of Lesotho, is a mountainous, landlocked country surrounded by the Republic of South Africa. It is just over 30,000km2 (11,583sqmi) in size with a population of approximately 2,067,000. Its capital and largest city is Maseru. Lesotho is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. About 40% of the population live below the international poverty line of US$ 1.25 a day. "Mamello e tsoala katleho" —Patience begets success (Sesotho proverb) "It always seems impossible —until it's done." Nelson Mandela

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Gary McNutt
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