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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For more information:
Habitat for Humanity Lesotho: http://www.habitat.org/where-we-build/lesotho
Habitat for Humanity Lesotho: Mountain View Newsletter: http://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!