A dream deferred: Political unrest delays Habitat build in Lesotho

Three children in Lesotho

Children waiting for a new Habitat house in Lesotho

Don’t ask three children living near Maseru, Lesotho, about an unexpected coup to oust the Prime Minister.  They may not know anything about it.  Or even care.  All they know is that their new house — a sturdy, clean, safe, concrete block and mud house on a pleasant hillside — couldn’t be completed on schedule by a certain 12-member Habitat Global Village team from the U. S. and Canada.  And not only that —  what is a coup anyway?

Boy waiting for house in Lesotho

Waiting for his new house in Lesotho.

It didn’t seem fair, of course.  But then political unrest always seems to hurt those who are innocent and undeserving of upheaval.  On the day our Habitat team arrived in Johannesburg, a military coup was taking shape:  Prime Minister Thomas Thabane fled the country, seeking exile in Ladybrand in Free State, after receiving intelligence that he was the target of a military assassination attempt.  Habitat Global Village coordinators reacted quickly to the news, delaying the border crossing of our team into Lesotho by one day and discussing issues, ramifications, and concerns for the safety of all.  Cautiously, we entered the country, unloaded our packs at Ka Pitseng Guest House, and prepared for the build on the following day.

Hlabathe and Kelle Shultz

Ready to build: Hlabathe from Global Village Lesotho assists Kelle Shultz, Knoxville Director of Habitat for Humanity

Gathering onsite, we listened as Mathabo Makuta, National Director of Habitat for Humanity Lesotho, greeted us and welcomed us to her country, praising our commitment and generosity.  Then she spoke of passion, passion for helping her people, the people of Lesotho.

Mathabo Makuta

Mathabo Makuta, National Director of Habitat for Humanity Lesotho, addresses the work team from U. S. and Canada.

The task seemed fairly simple to those experienced in global village construction:  Stack concrete blocks, add logs of mud for binding and filler, follow the stone masons’ guidance for alignment and balance, and tap/rake/tap the dirt floor to pack a solid foundation. Secondly, build a pit latrine:  dig, dig, and then dig some more until you can just see over the head of a man standing upright. When both tasks are complete, top the house with corrugated tin and rocks (to form a roof) and line the latrine with block to make it last for years to come.

Working hard was the goal.  After all, most on the team had built with Global Village somewhere in the world before — Guatemala, Nepal, Trinidad, Belfast, Viet Nam.  But no one had ever been to Lesotho, a small land-locked country surrounded on all sides by South Africa.  A country of mountainous terrain with a population of just over two million. And one of the poorest countries in the world (The Citizen, September 1, 2014). Lesotho depends heavily on the income it derives from exporting water and hydroelectric power to South Africa. But even with the benefit of good natural resources, Lesotho has a widespread problem to overcome: over 24% of the population is infected with the HIV/Aids, one of the highest rates in the world.

Current home of family in Lesotho.

Current home of family in Lesotho.

And so our thoughts turned to the family, the people we came halfway around the world to serve.  The ones who had high hopes of a completed house the week we were there.

Three children will live there — a girl (16) and two boys (12 and 8) — orphaned since their parents died of Aids years ago.  Caring for them is their faithful grandmother (age 82, blind and unable to walk, thus not pictured) and her brother (age 76) who stayed onsite with us during the build, frequently tearing up as he expressed his gratitude for the work we were doing.

Family in Lesotho

Proud owners of a new Habitat home — soon!

We lined up in front of the family’s current home to meet the grandmother and tell her how grateful we were for the opportunity to build a new home for her family.  Not a one of us could speak afterwards.  Our mouths were dry.  Our hearts were open.  And the resolve was stronger than ever to complete the job.

Children's uncle in Lesotho

The children’s uncle — happy to work with us and grateful for a new home.

One day of work, however, was all we had.  The attempted coup prompted the U. S. Embassy to issue a statement mandating the evacuation of all U. S. citizens from the Kingdom of Lesotho.  We were leaving — even though the important work had just begun and lines of communication among the Lesotho workers and our team had strengthened.

Global Village team in Lesotho

Global Village team with community supporters: Lesotho 2014.

We looked back at the house with a sense of pride, knowing we had given it our best even if for only a day.  And also knowing that the work would be completed by community workers, our co-workers. Almost immediately, the Global Village team found refuge for us in nearby Clarens and planned for our safe evacuation.

But we hated to leave. Hated to disappoint the family.

Hopeful for a new house

Hopeful that her new Habitat house in Lesotho will be completed soon.

Later in our travels, someone shared the poem “I Am an African” by Wayne Visser, reminding us of our time in Lesotho and a short, very short, build with Habitat for Humanity — a dream deferred.

from I Am an African

When Africa weeps for her children

My cheeks are stained with tears.

When Africa honours her elders

My head is bowed in respect.

When Africa mourns for her victims

My hands are joined in prayer.

When Africa celebrates her triumphs

My feet are alive with dancing.

Wayne Visser

Habitat build site, Lesotho

The panoramic view from home to be completed by Habitat for Humanity in Lesotho.


For more information:

Habitat for Humanity Lesotho: http://www.habitat.org/where-we-build/lesotho

Habitat for Humanity Lesotho: Mountain View Newsletterhttp://www.hfhl.org.ls/habitat/sites/default/files/HFHL%20JULY%202013.pdf

The Citizen: http://citizen.co.za


Added on October 7, 2014:  This post has a happy ending!  Check out pictures of the finished house in Lesotho.  Click here for Welcome news from Lesotho: Habitat house is complete!

26 thoughts on “A dream deferred: Political unrest delays Habitat build in Lesotho

  1. LuAnn

    What an honor it must be to work with such a wonderful organization, to see the families whose lives are dramatically improved by your generosity.

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      We love working with Habitat both locally and internationally. There is a real sense of accomplishment with every build, and helping families is what it’s all about. Thanks for reading and commenting!

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      What an honor to hear from you. We received your poem at Thornybush Game Preserve. Someone left it on the bed when they cleaned the room. We immediately read it and loved it. So much applies to our experience in South Africa. Best wishes for continued success.

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    1. Oh, the Places We See

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read and respond. It was a moving experience, one that is still ongoing, I hope. We all wanted to help this family — even to the point of moving in or doing something extra for the yard. Sometimes what comes along in our lives really touches us beyond belief.

  3. gallivance.net

    Fantastic and generous work Rusha. I haven’t been involved in a Habitat Project, but I have lived through a couple of African coups, and as an outsider, you can only keep a low profile and hope for the best. Sorry for the delayed project. Hopefully, it will be finished soon. ~James

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      Thanks for taking a look at one of our favorite – yet short-lived — Habitat projects. It remains dear to our hearts, and we are pretty sure much has been done after our evacuation. At least we were assured by the Global Village staff that the work would continue. Hoping for good things to come for that family — so deserving!

  4. Woolly Muses

    Sorry to hear that your project fell short of its target, Rusha. But accolades for the work completed. My visits to Africa have only strengthened the desire to return one day.

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      Thanks for your comments. I have a feeling that the house may be completed even as I write this. The community workers were quite efficient, and the sentiment supported getting this family in their new abode quickly. Here’s hoping all is going well. Perhaps I’ll hear something soon.

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      We were pretty amazed at what we did, too. But community members had built the foundation. We kept adding rows of block and mud. When we say, “It takes a vilage,” we may not know how very true it is in Africa. Thanks for reading!

  5. freebutfun

    I was once in Ghana to build a hospital in a remote village, so this post made me remember the bond we made building with the locals. We weren’t evacuated though, the village got its hospital but I wonder if our group was the one to learn most out of the cooperation. Lovely poem.

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      You are so right — we were the ones who benefited. I’ll be touched by the experience for many years to come. Glad you were able to complete your project. Although we didn’t, I’m sure it will be continued. Thanks for visiting!

      1. freebutfun

        Well, there was still some finishing to be done, but we got the building up 🙂
        Thanks for bringing good memories back and also raise the awareness of the situation in quite many countries. We are the lucky ones who can flee, and we don’t have to leave our homes to do so.

      2. Oh, the Places We See

        You are right in so many ways. We are quite fortunate; however, we found the families, even those in need, to be quite positive and caring. Sometimes I think we have too much to appreciate life as it can be lived. Thanks for commenting!

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I only work with teams — and most of the folks are much stronger than I. But my heart is big and the needs are great. There’s a lot to be done in so many parts of the world. Appreciate you.

It makes our day to hear from you.