Kingdom of the Sky
At first, it sounds like something straight out of a fairytale. The African country of Lesotho is nicknamed the ‘Kingdom of the Sky’ because of its stark and startling beauty – mountains of every sort, from lush green to snowcapped, jutting regally into a sparkling blue sky. To the outsider, its beauty is a wonder to behold.

For the inhabitants of Lesotho, however, and particularly the country’s children, this picturesque landscape hides many troubles. With a population of over 1.8 million, less than 30 percent of the men and women between the ages of 15 and 64 have salaried employment. Perhaps more troubling is the fact that Lesotho has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the world. Around 23 percent of the adults aged 15-49 are HIV positive. In a country plagued with disease, unemployment, environmental woes, and more, children are particularly vulnerable to fall victim to the effects of extreme poverty.

If life were a fairytale, this is the part of the story when the knight in shining armor would come riding in to save the day. Substitute two real-life princes for a knight, and reality is not that far off. Prince Seeiso, the younger brother of Lesotho’s king, and Prince Harry of England have collaborated to create a charity called Sentebale dedicated to protecting and promoting the welfare of Lesotho’s children. The charity focuses on three main issues: children living with HIV, limited access to education, and children in vulnerable positions.

To address the former, the charity began the Mamohato Network and Camps program, which provides life-skills education and psychological resources to children living with HIV. These camps, which run several times a year throughout Lesotho, focus on improving the children’s knowledge of their disease and on reducing the feelings of stigmatization that surround and HIV positive diagnosis. Given the fact that there are currently over 37,000 children in Lesotho under the age of 14 who are living with HIV, such a support network is desperately needed.

As with many of the world’s most impoverished countries, education in Lesotho is rarely a priority for families who are struggling to afford such necessities as food and water. Though primary education is technically compulsory, about 60 percent of males and females over the age of 15 have not completed school. There are many factors that contribute to this, such as rural isolation and family situations where children are responsible for caring for themselves and their younger siblings. To help counteract this, Sentebale is actively establishing schools around the country that provide an education to these groups of children who otherwise might not have the opportunity to learn in a formal setting.

One such group is the country’s shepherd boys. For these boys as young as five, the mountains represent not a place of beauty but rather a means of income. In the most rural parts of the country, becoming a shepherd is considered a cultural obligation. These boys often must leave their families for months or years on end to tend livestock alone in the mountains, just to provide a meager income or a bit of food. Sentebale established the Herd Boys Education program to provide these young men with an education while they are working; additionally, the schools give the boys warm meals and supplies to help them survive the harsh winters.

Sentebale’s third area of focus, caring for vulnerable children, is achieved in a slightly less direct manner. The children of Lesotho are considered vulnerable because of their lack of access to basic needs. Many of the children have been orphaned due to their parents dying of HIV or are suffering from the disease themselves. The country is suffering a food shortage because of climate change, meaning that access to food is becoming increasingly difficult. Furthermore, the widespread poverty means that necessities like warm clothes and a home to sleep in are not always readily available.

Sentebale’s work in promoting education and providing healthcare awareness certainly helps to counteract this, but to do so more effectively they are engaging the local community. Grants are awarded to grassroots organizations, health clinics, and other programs that are dedicated to providing care for these children who so desperately need it. They also work with these organizations to help them become more self-sufficient so as to better serve the economy of the community.

The two Princes have created a charity marked by its diversity in order to meet one common goal: to help fill the gap in care for children all throughout Lesotho. Though these children will face hardships throughout their lives that many cannot even imagine, Sentebale is doing its best to provide them with the ‘happily ever after’ that every child deserves.

– Rebecca Beyer

Sources: Sentebale, CNN, UNAIDS
Photo: Sentebale