A History of SOLMA
The story of how SOLMA founder Gerard Heijkoop discovered Malealea, became involved with the Malealea Development Trust, and began to expand his efforts to other villages of Lesotho
“What was the most enjoyable part of your journey?”
It was a sunny afternoon in March 2004. Friends of ours from Holland just arrived at the B&B near Sabi, Mpumalanga, South Africa, where we would spend a few days together. They had been roaming through South Africa for several weeks, so we asked them this question.
They replied: “Malealea, Lesotho. The people are friendly, the countryside amazingly beautiful, and there are a lot of activities you can do there.”
So, a few weeks later, at the beginning of the Easter weekend, my wife Jacqueline and I drove the final seven kilometres dirt road and arrived at the Malealea Lodge, oblivious to the fact that we were just about to change the rest of our lives.
Di Jones, one of the owners of the Lodge, welcomed us.
“You are a day too late, otherwise you would have met Prince Harry. He just left yesterday with his security men. They really had a ball here, just no sleep. They partied all night.”, she said, while leading us to our rondavel.
The rondavel was beautiful in its simplicity. It was downhill from the main building of the Lodge, and looked over the Malealea valley. You could hear the cow bells chiming as the cows roamed the countryside, driven by their young herd boys. Otherwise, it was blissfully quiet.
At 6.00 pm, we waited in the central area to hear the local choir. They were singing traditional local songs and it was mesmerising. The band that followed was special, too. They played self-made instruments, guitars made of oil cans, a drum made from an oil drum covered with a rubber slab, ornamented with metal rings that clanged and sang to the rhythm. They danced and sang in a way that was new to us.
The evening meal was served in the dining hall. People sat at long tables. Some of the long tables were full of large tour groups, while the others were populated with couples and solo travellers, content to mingle and share. The atmosphere was very peaceful. Food was served buffet-style, and was very good. After the meal, people gathered round the fire at the deck in front of the main building. Guitars were played and people began to sing. It was a perfect way to end a long journey from Johannesburg to Malealea.
The next day, we booked an easy horse riding trip. We ordered a lunch of sandwiches from the kitchen and signed the indemnity forms with Tello Moeketse, the horse riding manager.
“Just step in the stirrup, and sway your leg over the horse” said David, Nkhabane Mokala, who would be our guide for the trip.
Back in the rondavel, we looked at the information brochures of the Malealea Lodge and discovered the local charity organisation, the Malealea Development Trust (MDT). They managed programmes for the local people living in the twenty-five or so villages in the valley.
The MDT was established in 2002 by the owners of the Lodge and Gillian Attwood, a lecturer at the University of Witwatersrand (Wits), who conducted a PhD research project on adult learning using the MDT to organise an initiative she called “Learning Circles”.
This was an organisation that did fundamental very basic work trying to meet some of the basic needs of the for the benefit of the local population of the Malealea valley. We considered it very purposeful to concentrate on a local small-scale initiative that did concrete work to uplift a limited number of people at a specific location. Only in that way is it truly possible to make a difference that one could identify and measure and follow the progress of, so we decided to donate some money to the MDT.
Rested and very motivated, we drove down the seven kilometres of dirt road and through the natural gates of Paradise Pass that separates Malealea from the rest of the world, and then back to our home in Johannesburg. Once there, we found that we still couldn’t get Malealea out of our heads, so we decided to contact the MDT to see how we could help them in the future.
early involvement with the mdt
We got in touch with Gillian Attwood, one of the MDT founders, and she invited us to visit her at her office at Wits University.
“I am glad that you came. We can use any help we can get to get the MDT going and doing what it is supposed to do.” Gillian started. “How did you get to know Malealea?”
We told her the story of our friends, our visit to the Lodge and our resolve to help the MDT from our perspective. She was very knowledgeable about Lesostho and the Malealea Valley and gave us quite a history lesson before telling us how the MDT came to be.
Gillian had started her “Learning Circles” program as a response to illiteracy in Malealea. It was an experimental method designed to help people solve their problems and learn necessary skills through collaboration. Through these circles, the MDT’s projects were born.
She then explained that what the MDT needs the most is fundraising, and that we could help most critically by raising funds for the region while we were back in our home of The Netherlands.
We were eager to begin, but at the time there were no concrete project proposals with budgets, and we knew fundraising is most effective when it is focused.
The first project that we would fund soon revealed itself in the village of Khorong, half an hour’s walk from the Lodge. We had returned to Malealea in early 2005, and while we dined and drank freely and without concern at the Lodge, we were told about the people not so far from this compound who were rendered miserably ill on a regular basis because they didn’t have access to clean water.
Khorong had two springs., One was in a valley just below the cemetery, next to a stream, and the other was down a steep decline. To reach either, the women of the village had to negotiate steep slopes before filling their buckets with 15 litres of water, and walking back home, the bucket balanced upon their head. In the summer, it was a challenging task, but in the winter the descent was downright dangerous. And all of that effort was exerted to gather water that was never clean. The springs were exposed and regularly contaminated by roaming cattle and dogs.
Gillian knew a building contractor, Ntate (Mr.) Kali Kalake, from Mafeteng, a larger town 60 kilometres from Malealea. He looked at the situation and proposed a project to develop a spring about two kilometres from Khorong and lead the water to three standpipes in various parts of the village. This project would protect the water, protecting the health of the entire village, while saving the women of the village the time and great effort to get to the springs.
In Holland, we talked to a friend of ours, who worked in the drinking water industry. He indicated that if we developed a proposal, complete with a budget, he could persuade the development organisation of the Dutch drinking water companies, Aqua for All, to fund the project.
Ntate Kali Kalake gave us a quotation of around € 8,500, and we wrote a proposal to Aqua for All. It was readily accepted, and the project could go ahead.
The next time we were in Malealea, together with the friends who introduced us to this part of the world, the villagers were busy excavating the spring, and digging trenches of 75 cm deep through the maize fields to avoid being cut when ploughed. Within a few months the entirewhole project was complete and clean water flowed freely from three standpipes inside the village, available for all..
We visited again in 2006 with our friend who organised the funds, and found a more joyous people. The people of Malealea will often say “Water is life.” Through the cooperation of many, we had brought life to this village, and we could feel it as the people sang and danced in thanks.
solma and the future
In 2007, Gillian Attwood asked us to join the Board of Trustees of the Malealea Development Trust (MDT). Jacqueline accepted the position of Treasurer. After some consultation, I did not join the Board of Trustees, but instead founded SOLMA, Stichting Ontwikkelingshulp Lesotho MAlealea (Foundation for Development Aid Lesotho MAlealea). It was founded on 18 January 2007 and shortly thereafter acquired its ANBI status (income tax exemption for donations from the Dutch Revenue Service).
SOLMA and the MDT work intimately together. As the MDT staff is local and always on the ground, the MDT has intimate knowledge of Malealea’s needs and can best plan specific projects that can address those needs. SOLMA can then fundraise for these projects, benefiting the fundamental wellbeing of the people of the Malealea Valley. SOLMA attends every MDT board meeting to maintain consistent and transparent communication, and regularly visits the sites of all prospective and ongoing projects.
Since its inception, SOLMA has raised funds for 11 MDT projects, every one of them successfully completed and every one of them continuing to actively improve the quality of life of innumerable Malealeans, from bringing clean water to more villages, to repairing and building new schools, to funding education for orphaned children. To find out more about each of our projects, please read their individual reports on this website.
Through a contact of one of the MDT Trustees, SOLMA got into contact with ‘Me (“Mrs.”) Nthabiseng Van der Lugt – Matube. ‘Me Nthabiseng was born in Ha Raboletsi, a small village between Roma and Semonkong, near Ramabanta. Though she married a Dutch doctor and now lives with him and their two daughters in Enschede, Holland, about half an hour from our Dutch home, she could and would never leave her home village behind.
In 2015, ‘Me Nthabiseng founded the fundraising organization Mohloling oa Lerato (“Source of Love”) to help the orphaned children of Ha Raboletsi and to improve their access to drinking water.
We met ‘Me Nthabiseng and her husband, and decided to help her in her fundraising efforts. We visited Ha Raboletsi several times, and were warmly received by her mother, family, the local chief, and his wife.
Presently, SOLMA and Mohloling oa Lerato are working together to raise funds for the drinking water project. The project is a challenge. The land is vast and rocky, and the centre of the village is far from the available sources. But the needs are great, and we are as optimistic as we are determined. It will take time, work, and sustained coordination, but we will make sure that the people of Ha Raboletsi will have greater access to drinking water.
In November 2018, SOLMA and Mohloling oa Lerato will start talks to explore the possibility of continuing our work together, officially merging the two organisations into one larger and stronger one. Since our beginning in 2008, we have witnessed the profound results of cooperation. Working through the MDT, we are immeasurably more effective and valuable than we would be on our own, and through our work with Mohloling oa Lerato with ‘Me Nathabiseng and her vast network of local contacts, family, and friends, we will be able to expand that efficacy to another village in need.
After 10 successful years, we stand on the precipice of a great evolution. We have done so much, but we are looking forward, and we are so excited to continue to work to improve the lives, health, and opportunity of more and more people in Malealea, Ha Raboletsi, and beyond.