The small mountainous nation of Lesotho, landlocked by its neighbor South Africa, is home to two million people. According to UNICEF, of these, more than 40 percent live below the international poverty line.

Lesotho is also home to the second highest adult prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the world, leaving more than 150,000 children orphaned and under-prepared or unable to enter school.

In the rural districts of Lesotho, where three-fourths of the population resides, residents depend primarily on herding livestock and cultivating agriculture to support their families.

Unfortunately, food shortages aren’t uncommon in the region, and according to Lesotho’s Ministry of Social Development, during times of shock and hardship, children are often pulled from school, put to work in the fields and have less access to health care.

With the additional strain placed on relatives taking in children that have been orphaned or sent away by their families during hardships, the risk of worsening food insecurity often becomes a reality.

In 2009, the European Union joined forces with Lesotho’s government to create a program in support of orphaned and vulnerable children.

Simply titled, the Child Grants Programme (CGP), the project is designed to give cash grants to improve the nutrition, health care and education of vulnerable children.

Since its introduction, CGP has made a noticeable impact on the overall well-being of those who participate in the program. After receiving the grants, families are more able and likely to invest in the children in their care.

According to the most recent data from 2014, CGP is responsible for an increase in birth registrations by 37 percent, a 15 percent decrease in childhood death under the age of five and an increase in school enrollment of boys by 6 percent.

As a nation where nearly 23 percent of children ages 5-14 work, and where boys, in particular, are more likely to leave school in order to work, an increase in boys’ enrollment in school is a critical indicator in the program’s success.

Since March 2014, CGP has been extended to nearly 20,000 families throughout the nation. The Ministry of Social Development reported that CGP has not only benefit the direct recipients of the grants but also their communities.

“The CGP had a significant impact in strengthening the informal sharing arrangements in the community,” The Ministry reported, “particularly around food.”

The program, originally funded by donations in partnership with the European Commission and UNICEF-Lesotho, is now fully-funded and operated by the Lesotho’s government. Due to its success and positive results in the 10 districts in which it is currently operating, the government is considering offering CGP as a nationwide program.

Lesotho hopes that the program will begin to stimulate the economies of the beneficiaries by having an influx of cash to spend within their communities at local businesses as they purchase goods and services.

Although it is too soon to know if CGP will greatly change or transform Lesotho’s economy, the program has already benefited and elevated the lives of approximately 65,000 children.

Claire Colby

Sources: CIA World Factbook, Kingdom of Lesotho, The Guardian, UN, UNICEF
Photo: worldglobetrotters