In the country of Lesotho, a mountainous region landlocked by South Africa, there are two playing fields, although neither one of them results in a fair chance of winning a life away from poverty’s grasp. Instead, the two fields paint similar pictures of poverty with contrasting colors. The first field, the lowlands, is statistically less impoverished than its towering companion, the highlands. Agricultural impacts are not the only factor impacting poverty. Here is some information about the impacts on poverty in Lesotho.
According to UNICEF, 82% of children living in the highlands are multidimensionally poor compared to 53% of children living in the lowlands. This is due to the fact that the natural landscape of the lowlands is more suitable for agricultural endeavors as opposed to the rocky, mountainous terrain of the highlands. Since the majority of Basotho, the proper term for the country’s natives, grow their own food, a season of drought could greatly impact not only the current year’s harvest but future harvests as well because seeds would not reproduce for the Basotho to use the following year. Children lacking food and proper nutrition also increase student growth. In 2014, stunting impacted approximately 88,900 of 275,000 Basotho children. Stunting can result in a compromised immune system and poor cognitive performance which adds an unnecessary barrier to childhood education and future employability.
One of the impacts on poverty in Lesotho including both the highlands and the lowlands is the absence of proper and consistent education. School is free for elementary-aged children. However, after these years, children have to purchase school uniforms to continue their education. This pulls many children out of the cinder-block classrooms and back into their homes. At home, they must often care for younger siblings or other abandoned children even though they have yet to reach puberty.
Allison Barnhill of Reclaimed Project, a nonprofit that partners alongside local churches to educate, equip and care for orphaned children, spoke with The Borgen Project saying, “Education is a huge part of it [poverty]. If you want to grow up and change the country, you have to be educated.” Reclaimed Project acknowledges this need by providing uniforms and school supplies to children in its program. These children also receive educational training outside of the classroom after each school day at one of Reclaimed Project’s orphan care centers. The care centers are located in two different highland villages and allow students to grow forward. Later in 2020, Reclaimed Project plans to open a skills training center to teach high schoolers and local Basotho basic computer, mechanic and sewing skills.
Another of the impacts on poverty in Lesotho is HIV/AIDS. It is easy to tell if a family does not have the means to purchase school uniforms. However, there is a type of poverty the Basotho people face that others cannot see. It is invisible and inescapable. HIV and AIDS fell upon the country of Lesotho in the 1990s, creating a wave of economic and social destruction. Currently, it affects 74% of children under the age of 2 with 23.2% of adults affected. Many victims of the disease are Basotho who once held steady jobs and now must succumb to treatment interventions.
Unfortunately, Basotho culture still highly stigmatizes this disease. Medical clinics, which predominantly serve people infected by HIV and AIDS, have specific days when people come to receive treatment. Therefore, if others witness a Basotho walking towards the clinic on this given day, they might assume that he or she has HIV or AIDS. This makes the unknown known and creates a social scar. To prevent this from happening, some Basotho willingly choose to avoid treatment and risk death to maintain their social standing. Overtime, refusing treatment can result in the inability to work, further lengthening the downward economic spiral of poverty.
Fortunately, with the passage of time comes the gradual reformation of these ideals. Within a five-year time span, the average percentage of full acceptance of Basotho living with HIV increased by 3.5%. This indicates that community acceptance is improving. However, HIV/AIDS treatment funding is limited and a burden on the government of Lesotho. In fact, the government funds less than half of Lesotho’s HIV/AIDS response. The majority of funding for HIV/AIDS reform comes from international resources. Therefore, the country relies heavily on the generosity of middle-income countries and nonprofits.
Speaking on the many dimensions of poverty, Barnhill stated, “The issues are always compounding. If you’re living on the brink, it doesn’t take much to push you over the edge.” Fortunately, by 2030, the number of people living near the edge should reduce as the World Bank works with the Government of Lesotho to reduce extreme poverty. Even though poverty plagues the country of Lesotho, the country has come a long way from its roots. Lesotho continues to grow forward, creating branches of prosperity and leaving a budding of hope.
– Chatham Kennedy
Photo: Chatham Kennedy