Small Canadian charity makes big impact on tiny African nation
Programs focusing on psychosocial support, cognitive development, resilience and social responsibility
set Lesotho on the road to sustainability
Ottawa, ON (October 21, 2019) -- Over the past 15 years, Peg Herbert and her organization Help Lesotho have quietly changed the trajectory of a small African nation. The tiny mountain kingdom, decimated by AIDS, poverty and famine, was on the verge of extinction in 2004.
Fast forward to 2019 and Lesotho is on the road to sustainability, thanks in part to the generous support of more than 4,000 donors across Canada and worldwide and the tireless efforts of one determined woman.
Dr. Herbert was teaching at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Education when she connected with a student from her graduate class. Sister Alice Mputsoe shared the plight of her beloved country, Lesotho, where people were dying, villages were forgotten, and families were destroyed. Life expectancy in Lesotho was 34 years of age at the time.
In 2004, Dr. Herbert travelled to Lesotho, meeting with children, local chiefs, government officials and the King. She held workshops for hundreds of teachers. Using her background in social work and educational psychology, she immediately set out to structure culturally meaningful projects and programs that focused on psychosocial support, cognitive development, resilience and social responsibility.
“It was clear to me where we should start and where we should go,” says Dr. Herbert, Founder and Executive Director, Help Lesotho. “We were careful not to raise expectations or make promises. People who live in poverty are consistently disappointed by well-meaning people and organizations. Our moves were careful and deliberate.”
Working together with Sister Alice and local residents, Dr. Herbert created more than 125 program modules aimed at keeping adolescents in school, promoting healing and learning, creating safe spaces, building leaders for today, promoting gender equality, preventing HIV transmission, and empowering communities. More than 180,000 children and caregivers have benefitted from the efforts of Help Lesotho, and 40,000 have graduated from Dr. Herbert’s intensive programs over the past 15 years. All staff who deliver these programs are local. It is a testimony to the impact of Help Lesotho and other organizations and medical delivery services, that life expectancy has increased to 45 years of age.
Dr. Herbert’s contribution to the tiny mountain kingdom has not gone unnoticed. King Letsie III delivered a speech at Help Lesotho’s fifth anniversary celebration noting that “the Help Lesotho initiative can be characterized as a unique form of people-to-people co-operation, in that it seeks to develop partnerships that benefit the target groups directly. In contrast to some of the bigger development endeavors with huge budgets, help Lesotho’s activities are clearly visible on the ground. I have personally visited some of the projects and was moved by the testimonies of the beneficiaries who included teachers, students, and elderly villagers. He summarized the impact of Help Lesotho on the small nation as “immense.”
Help Lesotho has grown exponentially since 2009, gaining even greater momentum. Two rural community centres have been built to provide a safe and welcoming space for over 6,000 vulnerable people, with access to support and resources. The organization is currently building a new school valued at $35,000 in an incredibly remote village that will replace the two ‘draconian’ classrooms that 153 children have been crammed into for years. They only need $5,000 more to make it a reality.
"Each project we embark on takes on a life of its own,” explains Dr. Herbert. “Our pursuit of sustainable impact is relentless and that passion resonates throughout the organization. We believe in what we are doing and our work speaks for itself. At a time when people tend to be more cynical about the world in general, charities like ours renew their faith.”
Unlike other charities, however, Help Lesotho’s focus is not on donors. “Our focus is and will always be on Lesotho and its future,” says Dr. Herbert. “We have achieved our objective to create a critical mass of young people who can change the country and we have all the love and goodwill needed to mobilize them.”
Since 2004, Help Lesotho has raised more than $20 million without government funding. Administrative costs and fundraising efforts have been kept to a minimum, dropping from seven per cent to four per cent allotted to administration in 2018. This incredibly low overhead is only possible because of the support of RE/MAX Hallmark Realty in Ottawa who have been donating office space, including phone lines, internet, reception services, meeting rooms, and security for more than a decade through the Hallmark Giving Foundation. Graphics, content, website development and media outreach are created and managed in-house, either by staff or volunteers. Help Lesotho does not buy donor lists, pay for fancy giveaways, or use paid advertising. They are committed to local-purchasing in Lesotho and much of the furniture in the Lesotho office is either donated or made by hand.
As well as the many high-profile people who support the organization, Help Lesotho’s strong suit is its accountability – to its beneficiaries and its donors. Their commitment earned them Imagine Canada Standards Program Accreditation – one of the first 100 Canadian charities to achieve this recognition for excellence in both governance and operations.
To get involved or for more information on Help Lesotho, visit https://www.helplesotho.org
To arrange an interview, please contact:
Eva Blay-Silverberg, Point Blank Communications
416.505.0627 or 416.781.3911