Joy radiates in Malealea. There is singing, there is dancing, there is laughter. The soaring mountains and endless valleys, the roaming animals, the handfuls of huts across the horizon flanked by endless, searing blue sky are all striking, but they are not what sets Malealea apart. Nor are its hardships, numerous as they may be.
It is the smiles - ubiquitous as they are dazzling - that sets this land apart.
Smiling as they walk for miles to school, to visit relatives, or to buy the things they need. Smiling when they come home to their simple hut with no water or electricity. They smile as they do it all when it is hot, when it is raining, or even as the mountain pass climbs and it begins to snow. They smile after harvesting their maize, or when tending to their chickens or pigs.
There is a peace in the face of circumstance here unknown in other parts of the world because there is an equality and a community here unknown anywhere else. Because the chief lives in the same style of simple hut as his neighbours. Because the solution to the problem of not being able to preserve meat is that a cow is only slaughtered for an occasion wherein everyone can share.
The pace of life is gentler here. People rarely need to hurry. It is peaceful. Simple.
This understanding of the culture is fundamental to our work here at SOLMA. It is why we only support projects that are locally directed. We seek not to change the way of life of the people of Malealea and neighbouring villages, but to preserve it, and we seek to do this by providing resources to projects that have been locally conceived to combat disease, improve nutrition, and increase accessibility to education.
Lesotho has one of the highest infection rates of HIV in the whole world at close to 25 percent. Mortality was so shockingly high that Malealea’s working population was decimated and today’s population of orphaned children is staggering. These children have been left in the care of other relatives, though for some that isn’t an option. The epidemic was worsened by the stigma that used to surround HIV and AIDS. Many people were so consumed by shame and afraid of excommunication by their community that they would refuse testing, feeling it was better to die in ignorance than to receive treatment in isolation.
The situation has been greatly improved in Malealea, thanks in great part to the Malealea Development Trust (MDT), a locally-directed charity deeply embedded in the community. The MDT runs a host of programs designed both to help directly with treatment (transport programs to clinics and hospitals, nutrition programs for HIV+ community members), but has also worked tirelessly to eradicate the social stigma that used to surround HIV. There are now thriving support groups that encourage getting tested and properly taking medication, all through community, song, and smiles.
Families in Malealea suffer the consequences of endemic unemployment and access to education as well. Traveling to South Africa to work in the mines has become a regular part of the life cycle of a Malealean man, disrupting family life and exacerbating the HIV crisis. Schools are often far from home, dark, and derelict, and fees render secondary school unaffordable for many children.
And yet, they smile. The hardships of life do not put them down. They enjoy their mesmerising surroundings and take life as it comes, one day at a time.
This is why SOLMA supports the people of Lesotho, especially in the Malealea valley - because their needs are as strong as their character. By backing local initiatives with our resources we have been able to provide care for orphaned children, support the growth of HIV groups, build schools that have changed the directions of children’s lives, and both created and renovated drinking water systems for villages too long neglected by the government.
We have been able to do so much, and there is still so much to do, walking hand-in-hand with the smiling, resilient, hard-working people of this joyous and beautiful place.
Founder, Executive Director