Category: Peace Corps

Orchestrating Life

I believe in orchestrating life. I don’t wait for things to happen; I try to make them happen. Sometimes I’m all over the place, spreading seeds in many locations hoping they will germinate, and show me the “right” direction for me. Do you do that?

It doesn’t matter whether I’m in Africa, Belize or in the U.S., I  take charge, plan ahead, hoping that all will fall into place, and the strange thing about this is that I put in the same amount of passion,no matter where I live in the world.

For example, after I flew from Lesotho to Europe, and then the U.S. to visit family and friends last July, I knew that I wanted to end my Peace Corps service in Lesotho. So I started visualizing how things would proceed, and that gave me the strength to make it happen. I started with the fun part: tracking cheap flights on Google flights via different destinations, to return to Paris, Copenhagen and California, for the Christmas holidays. I then worked my way backwards to July 24th, when I returned to Lesotho, and faced a severe snow storm.

I didn’t want to feel like a failure for quitting early, so I started planning my secondary project so I could feel proud of leaving my mark at the village school. I worked on the grant proposal, and scheduled visits to Maseru, to meet with a Peace Corps staff member to expedite the process. Since I started early, my grant proposal was accepted in record time, and thanks to fundraising and all the donations you sent to my village,  we succeeded in raising $5,000 in one week, and completed construction seventeen days later. The timing was perfect; it was scheduled to end by November 30th, and due to the workers’ motivation to get paid right before the Christmas holidays, they were determined to finish on time.

Now, two months after returning to the U.S., I’m in full-swing taking courses in Microsoft Office suite, attending the Association of Fundraising Professional workshops and a grant writing course in April. I’ve had two job offers, and turned them down, for various reasons, however I’m presently working events for the Newport Beach Public Foundation library.
Basically, my calendar is so full, and I choose to make it that way. I like being busy, learning new skills, meeting new people, and orchestrating my life.

Working various events at the Newport Beach Library, CA.


motivational, Peace Corps, People  |  Tags:

Why I Left the Peace Corps in Lesotho

Many of you enjoyed following my daily life in Lesotho, so it’s been a struggle for me to know what to continue writing about after the end of my service on January 7th, 2017.

Therefore, I’ve decided to share a document I wrote in October 2016, about the pros and cons of my personal experience in my rural village. Please note that this is what I felt at the time, and may be completely different from what other Peace Volunteers go through. I thank the Peace Corps for letting me serve, and once again, this is not to “put down” the Basotho people I met, nor the Peace Corps; it’s just Sonia writing down her thoughts and sifting through the pros and cons so she could make a her final decision.

I want to stress that I do not regret my fifteen, life-changing months in Lesotho, but I cannot sugar-coat my thoughts. I am who I am, and I say what I think.

Why I want to leave the Peace Corps

My village in Lesotho is not a place for me to get healthy. It’s actually a place where I seem to age faster, become apathetic and cynical and feel “used.” Sorry to disappoint you, but if you know me, I can only say what I feel.

Gratitude is not part of the Basotho culture, and as one South African woman told me, “Africans see white people as walking ATMs.” I can tell you this is exactly how I feel, and although many white people may think this is not politically correct, I don’t care. I will only listen to you if you’ve lived in a rural village in Africa recently, for over a year like I have, otherwise, you have no idea what it’s like.

I am often so bored with my life here, to the point where I feel claustrophobic and in jail in my rondavel.

October 2016. The lowest point when I felt jailed behind the burglar bars of my rondavel. I processed my thoughts about the pros and cons of continuing with my Peace Corps service.

There is no intellectual stimulation or conversation in my rural village; people don’t read or listen to international news, and I don’t speak Sesotho (my own fault) but I do know enough about my village that it’s mostly staring at people all day long, and gossiping.

I cannot leave my village when I want to; there are only three public taxi vans in the morning, and due to a lack of scheduling, these often show up one after the other at 6:10, 6:11 and 6:12. Makes no sense, but neither does my life in Lesotho where I spend my time trying to teach children English, and after one year, they cannot even answer “Have you had lunch?”

I thrive on being active both physically, at the gym or swimming, and intellectually, talking to people, learning and attending workshops. I cannot do this in Lesotho, except when I meet expats.

My body is aching from sitting on a bed for hours with my laptop, and a mattress that hurts my back, despite the extra plank I put underneath.

I cannot stand watching how dogs are treated in my village, and people throwing stones at them.

I’ve experienced most of what I can possibly learn in my village and my school, and another year is simply a continuation of what I’ve already seen and I am becoming less integrated, more frustrated and lazy like my fellow African teachers.

I need more in my life than gossip, sitting on a chair and trying to motivate children who are too hungry and poor to realize the value of education.

In order to understand my feelings and to make a sound decision, I am writing a list of pros and cons.

Sonia’s Pros

  • A life-changing opportunity
  • Personal growth
  • Learning how to manage a project in an African country
  • Overcoming challenges
  • Overcoming my divorce
  • Gratitude for my life in California
  • Appreciation of food, coffee, books, libraries, workshops, weather, fresh vegetables, salmon, cheese, bread, wine and driving somewhere when I want to go, freedom.

Sonia’s Cons

  • No intellectual stimulation apart from radio and online
  • Teachers don’t seem to care, and spend too much time on their cell phones instead of teaching
  • The children are not learning English
  • The children spend most of Friday cleaning and not learning
  • Children are treated like “mini servants” by teachers. “Get me my food.”
  • I’m becoming lazy as I don’t see results
  • Too much gossip and my counterpart has lost interest
  • No guidance from Principal
  • No teaching shedule or bell between classes
  • Corruption and overall lack of caring about children
  • No adult intelligent conversation
  • People sit and stare for hours
  • Jealousy among villagers
  • Asking me for money constantly
  • My loneliness
  • Boredom
  • No convenient taxis
  • Stress over when taxi is coming
  • Constant shouting which sounds like anger
  • Beating animals, throwing rocks at them
  • Having to greet people I don’t know, and why is it always me first?
  • Loud, ear-piercing music
  • Dangerous taxi drivers talking on cell phone and changing gears while steering at same time
  • Dangerous roads and driving on opposite side of street
  • No friend next door to open up to
  • No restaurants or grocery stores
  • No TV
  • No coffee shops
  • Eyes staring through my plastic bags to see what I’ve bought to eat
  • Get to school and nothing happens for at least an hour and a half
  • No structure
  • No motivation
  • No one reads books
  • People stare when I carry my pee bucket
  • Lack of communication
  • Culture is lazy, and they admit it themselves
  • No showers
  • No toilet

I returned to Orange County, California on January 17th, and have ideas about what to do next. I’m going to share these in future posts; in the meantime, I’m resettling, organizing my life back in California, and enjoying my time with  wonderful friends, and of course my three sons.


Lesotho, Peace Corps, People  |  

Starting A New Chapter in My Life

After exactly 15 months in Lesotho, I decided after several months of reflection, to start a new chapter in my life. I’m returning to the U.S., and looking forward to seeing my sons more often, and being with so many supportive friends.
Before I get into the reasons why I decided to start a new chapter, I want to thank the Peace Corps for giving me the opportunity to experience work and life in rural Lesotho, and to especially thank the Peace Corps Lesotho staff, including the wonderful Country Director, Wendy VanDamme.

Sonia with Country Director, Wendy VanDamme.

I loved practicing my French with, Dr. Olga and Dr. Alex, and of course I wish to thank all the other wonderful staff members I haven’t mentioned, who helped me during my service.

I was so lonely in my rondavel and had moments where I yearned for family and friends, and someone to have an interesting and stimulating conversation with. After teaching, my legs and hips were getting achy and stiff from sitting on my bed for hours with my laptop, or a book to keep me going. I did walk in the mountains on a daily basis, talk to my “host” mother, and her family, but what I missed more than I realized were family and friends, my gym in California, and the sharing of interesting conversations. I am a “people” person and thrive on meeting and listening to others, not sitting alone for hours a day with a laptop as my best friend.
I am grateful to everyone who helped and supported me with my fundraising and the completion of my school renovation project. (only 17 days to get the roof repaired and wiring of 11 classrooms!)
I feel I’ve given, and done everything I could possibly do for my school, the children, and my community. Thanks to all the books, DVDs, clothing donations, shoes and school supplies that all of you were so kind to send to my school.
(Please note this is my personal experience and not that of the Peace Corps or other Peace Corps Volunteers.)
I’ve learned so much about myself, have grown so much stronger and way more assertive. I have no trouble saying “no” to things I don’t believe in or don’t want to do. There was so much I didn’t mention in my posts about the village gossip and jealousy, and problems at my school that I won’t get into here. One thing that I never expected, and I know I may be generalizing here, was the lack of gratitude I experienced. Many continue to expect everything to be given to them, without lifting a finger. It’s quite sad, and I’m reading an eye-opening book recommended by two friends who worked in different parts of Africa. It was written by an African author: Dead Aid. Why Aid is not working, and how there is a better way for Africa. Her name is Dambisa Moyo.
I think we are all geared to help others, but after being asked on a daily basis, “Give me money,” by children and adults, and being shoved by two people in a supermarket line in Maseru and told that I’m the one who should be grateful for helping the Basotho, not the other way around, I’ve become quite cynical about aid to Africa. I think the book explains the background, although I haven’t finished reading it. (I want to emphasize that this is my own experience, and may not be that of other Peace Corps Volunteers.)
I was also upset that after one year of teaching English and reading and computer skills, the children could not answer a simple question in Grade 7. Only one of my students out of 36, got a “first class” in the final exam. This means 60% or above. The rest got 30%-59% which is still considered a pass here. So in my opinion, the education is not improving in the rural areas, and I wanted them to do well. I’m not sure what the problem is; a lack of good nutrition? a lack of parental or grandparental involvement? a lack of interest? a lack of the basics in education? a lack of motivation? poverty and having to stay and help in the village after grade 7?
Anyway, I have no regrets, and after 15 months, I know so much more than I did before about life in the poor parts of Africa. I’ve changed, and I did make a small difference with a few of my students, so that’s why I’m ready to start the next chapter in my life.
I’m returning to Orange County, California, on January 17th, meanwhile I’m in South Africa, and then off to see my wonderful Dad and Jill in Paris. Here’s a glass of wine to celebrate my service in Lesotho.

Note, I’m still wearing the “Take a Risk” shirt I bought in Maseru. That’s what I’m doing with the next chapter in my life.

I would like to continue blogging and am asking you for ideas.
What do you want me to write about on my blog now?
  • Specific topics from my experiences in Lesotho?
  • My search for a new job?
  • My online dating experiences as a middle-aged woman?
  • Any other ideas?
  • Nothing?
Blogging-Social Media, Peace Corps, People  |  Tags:

Last Minute Glitch in Completing My Peace Corps Project

The day before the completion date of my Lesotho school renovation project, I got a phone call from my counterpart at 7 a.m.

“The contractor needs you to buy 115 meters of electrical wiring.”

“Why didn’t he tell me this before? We are running out of money.”

“He didn’t know,” my counterpart said.

“How much does it cost?”

“48 Rand a meter.”

I quickly calculated a total of 5,520 Rand (almost $400.)

This meant we were now 15,000 Rand ($1,065) over the contractor’s initial quotation for materials, and neither the contractor nor the teachers seemed concerned about this, and I know why. They thought I could keep dishing out cash like an ATM machine, despite my warning them about the $5,000 limit set by the Peace Corps.

At first my contractor said, “I’ll take the taxi to town and back.”

I knew from my weekly trips to Maseru, suffering inside a cranky, old, Toyota van with 25 people sitting on top of each other, that it would be impossible to get to town and back without wasting the entire day.


Public Taxi. This one is not yet full.

“How will you fit the wire inside?”

“I put it on the roof,” he said.

“There is no roof rack, plus the taxi has too many people.”

My contractor laughed.

This was the fourth glitch during a 17-day project requiring me to figure out a way to get my contractor to Maseru and back with the extra materials. I made sure to tell him, “Now make sure you have everything you need as I’m running out of money.”

Fortunately I’m friends with a local white business owner who has a couple of trucks. He was born and raised in Lesotho, and is therefore fluent in Sesotho and knows the contractor. In exchange for his “emergency” transportation help, I’ve given him a couple of computer lessons.

I also had to figure out how to get to the bank and withdraw the last of my project cash. I did not like the idea of carrying all that cash in a public taxi, so another friend of mine, Jennifer, the owner of a lodge said she would take me to the bank.

Later that morning, I received another phone call from my counterpart. “Can you buy one kilo of sugar and more meat for the workers?”

“There’s only one day of work left,” I said. “I just bought 5 kilos of chicken a couple of days ago. Can’t the workers eat bread and peanut butter for breakfast? I know we have a jar.”

The requests were never-ending, and I was happy when the project ended.

Fortunately, due to not skimping on transportation costs, and eliminating Phase III of the project, (the floor tile) due to overspending on materials, we got everything done on time. I kept reminding the workers that I was leaving for the Christmas holidays and that everything had to be done by November 25th, and they managed to finish at the last minute.

I bought a chocolate cake in town to celebrate, and despite the Principal, my counterpart, and two teachers not showing up, there was more cake to celebrate for those who did come to school.





My Opinion on How to Get Things Done in Lesotho


My opinion on how to get things done in Lesotho is based on treating people like I’d want them to treat me.

In the case of my school renovation project, it looks like the work will be completed before the scheduled date of November 28th.   How come? Because I believe in signing contracts, treating people with respect, and:

paying people on time, according to our agreement.  

In the U.S., projects have deadlines, and we do everything we can to meet those deadlines, because there are consequences if we don’t, like the risk of getting fired.

Here in Lesotho, the work ethic is completely different. If things aren’t accomplished on time, so what? No one is surprised; at least that’s what I’ve experienced in the 13 months I’ve been here. Perhaps things are different in the capital city, but somehow I doubt it.

For example, I was “promised” a cabinet to store all the wonderful donations I’ve received from generous people who wanted to improve my school. Supplies that we take for granted are lacking in my rural school such as: crayons, activity books, flash cards, pencils, felt tip pens, Sharpies, glue sticks, scissors, and let’s not forget the stickers that children love. My counterpart teachers advised me to keep everything at home until we could lock them up at school, otherwise they would soon disappear.

The principal said, “Children steal pens from each other,” which explains why several have nothing to write with. My Principal allows one new pen per semester, and basically “tough luck” if they don’t have a pen to write with.

So I’ve been waiting for a cabinet to lock these donations up since February, and I finally got one with a broken lock last week; it took nine months to get it, and school is almost on summer break, until January 23rd, 2017.


The Cabinet I’ve waited 9 months has finally arrived from another classroom.

Fortunately, the wonderful team I have working on the school project, replaced the lock on the same day. I no longer have to schlep everything from my rondavel, up the hill, to school.

We all know that money motivates people to work, especially in a poor rural villages, like mine. I’ve experienced time and time again, workers who are promised payment once the work is done, and who are then told, “There’s no money.”

So I’ve made sure to pay the work crew and cook, the money that we agreed upon, and they know I will. None of those excuses, “Sorry, I have no money,” a common excuse where I live.

I’ve also made sure that the work crew are well fed, as I heard, during my Peace Corps project workshop, that workers expect to get a meal. So the cook I hired, bakes fresh bread at home (there are no supermarkets in my tiny village) brings it to school, and then cooks lunch in the 7th grade classroom, since those students are no longer attending school.

Daily cooked fresh meals by a wonderful cook from my village.

Daily cooked fresh meals by a wonderful cook from my village.

So I hope that some lessons can be learned in my community on how to accomplish projects in a timely manner.

Lesotho, Peace Corps, volunteering  |  

Jealousy Over a Radio in My Village



“I’ll take the radio back to the shop if it’s causing arguments,” I yelled. “I’ve had it with petty gossip and jealousy in this village.

“This radio has caused nothing but problems, and all I want to do is help.”

My host “mother” was shocked to hear me yell at her.

“Take the radio,” she said, pouting.

I never wanted the radio in the first place. It was a gift from the electrical supply store in Maseru where I spent a lot of money on wiring, and a meter box for my school renovation project.

Normally stores give discounts when customers spend a fair bit of money, but this store decided to give me a “free” radio/CD player instead.

Exhausted from my awful bank incident, I was in no mood to argue for a preferred discount, so I took the radio, without realizing the consequences.

My co-teacher, the electricians and the contractor admired the radio, and I did not think twice about it until it caused a problem.

At first, my co-teacher said she wanted to listen to music in bed that evening.

“You already have a large radio and speakers, don’t you?” I asked.

“Yes, but I’m so tired, I just want to have it next to me so I don’t have to get up.”

I laughed, and mentioned I was curious if this radio had better reception than my tiny one.

“Why don’t you take it home,” she said. “I want to sleep.”

I tested the radio in my rondavel, and realized that the reception for BBC World radio was worse than on my small radio, and the new one took up half my table top, so I decided to take it to school.


My small radio has better BBC World reception tan the large one.

My host mother saw me with it, and said she needed a radio. Her little one sounded crackly, and so I told her she could borrow it.

“I’ll buy it from you when you leave,” she said.

I did not respond, as I knew that she would hope expect me to give it to her as a “goodbye” gift.

When I reached school, my counterpart teacher asked, “Where is the radio?”

“I left it with Mary,” I said.

“It belongs to the school,” he replied.

“Actually it’s mine to decide what I do with it,” I replied crossing my arms over my chest.

“No, it’s for the school, not for Mary.”

Now I raised my voice and said, “Why should I bring the radio to school? So you can play your music? The holidays are coming and I promised Mary she could keep it until school starts again.”

I’ve become more assertive after one year of living in my village.

When I got home, I told Mary that the teachers wanted me to bring the radio to school, and that I would let her use it during the holidays, but I’d bring it to school after that.

“Those people want it for themselves,” she said.

“Mary, I don’t care. You told me everyone is jealous here, and now you’re acting the same.”

“Yes, everyone is jealous,” she said.

“Take the radio,” she said, frowning.

“I feel like digging a hole and burying it so no one gets it,” I said.

The following day, the young electrician asked me if I had a radio. I said, “No.”

The electrician who has installed lights in the staff room at school.

The electrician who has installed lights in the staff room at school.

Now I felt bad as the crew is working hard and they know I have the radio from the store. They want to play music while they work, and I hate to disappoint them.

This damn radio has caused so many problems. I hate it. Now I look like the bad guy.

I wish I’d received a discount on the materials. This would have avoided all the jealousy in my village.




Lesotho, Peace Corps  |  Tags: ,

My Experience Working With A Contractor in My Village In Lesotho


I woke up at 4:20 a.m., excited and anxious about working on a construction project with a local contractor from my rural village in Lesotho, and his team of workers.

I kept my fingers crossed there would be no glitches, and that we’d buy all the materials at the Basotho equivalent of  “Home Depot.” After that, I’d offer lunch to everyone at KFC in Maseru, and then we’d drive back in the rented truck and reach my school by early afternoon. That was my plan.

‘M’e Mamoshaka, a teacher at my school asked me to head over to her house at 6:15 a.m. She likes to sleep late, so I was pleasantly surprised to find her up and dressed. She was frying frankfurters in oil, and wrapped them in two slices of bread and stuffed them in her purse. As we headed out the door, she tossed her empty water canteen to a woman who happened to be heading to the village tap, pushing empty canisters in a squeaky wheelbarrow. I still don’t understand how serendipity works in the Basotho culture. Their timing is perfect, while I’m always struggling with my American time schedule.

Just as we boarded the taxi at 6:33 a.m, the woman handed over the filled water canteen to ‘M’e Mamoshaka, and my contractor, Ntate Makae, magically appeared twenty seconds before our taxi van stopped by his house.

As we headed towards the main taxi rank in Maseru, traffic built up reminding me of the bumper to bumper traffic on the 5 freeway in Los Angeles. The only difference here is that when drivers get impatient, they pull over to the opposite side of the street, and drive on the sidewalk, against traffic. Are you kidding! The driver dodged cars heading straight towards us, as pedestrians jumped for safety. When we finally reached Maseru taxi rank, we headed over to the “Salman” hardware store. The store clerk hand wrote each item we needed, and I soon realized this was no “Home Depot.” After thirty minutes, I pulled out my bank card and paid.

Suddenly, two young men joined us, and I found out that they were here to work with Ntate Makae, so now I believed everything was under control, and well-organized by my contractor.


The Team

An old, beat-up truck pulled over, and a burly man gestured to ‘M’e Mamoshaka and myself to get in the front seat. At first I wondered how all five of us, plus the driver would fit inside, but I’d forgotten that in Lesotho, you can sit in the truck bed without getting arrested.

We headed over to City Lights to purchase the electrical items on our list, but my contractor had forgotten to add a meter box and the extra lights for 11 classrooms.

This time, my bank card was declined, and I panicked. I called the Peace Corps office to ask for advice, and they told me to go to my bank, and get the cash out. I was not keen on carrying cash on the streets of Maseru, but that seemed to be the only way.

So we asked the burly truck driver to take ‘M’e Mamoshaka and me to the bank. His truck wouldn’t start unless it was put into gear and pushed, or faced downhill. We finally got moving, and I started shaking my head when I saw at least 100 people waiting in line outside the bank. The line snaked around the building and I realized there was no way we could stand here. We would waste the whole day to get to the front of the line.

‘M’e Mamoshaka said, “Follow me.” An older woman stood at the information counter, and even she had about ten people waiting to talk to her. ‘M’e Mamoshaka grabbed my elbow, “Wait here.”

As soon as the older woman was free, she asked me to explain my dilemma.

“I will put you in this line today,” the woman said. It was a shorter one with around twelve people, “but next time you have to go to the end of the line.”

I thanked her, and then counted the people in front of me. Two hours later, I was about to strangle someone. I started doing leg lifts, shoulder raises and calf raises, as the blood in my body had stopped flowing. The line barely moved, and with only three cashiers for 100 people, many of them cutting in line, my patience had become non-existent.

When I finally reached the cashier, he asked me for my passport, which I didn’t have with me. I’m always scared it will get stolen in Maseru, and I only take it when I’m crossing the border to South Africa.

I had my California driver’s licence with a photo, and my Peace Corps ID with a photo as well. He didn’t seem to allow either one, until a Supervisor came by and allowed the transaction to proceed. I was just about to explode, and that would not have been a pretty sight.

Our driver stood outside smoking a cigarette. He had positioned his truck facing downhill, so he could jumpstart it.

We returned to City Lights, and I took the cash envelope and requested permission to go behind the burglar bars to count the cash. I’ve never paid for anything with this much cash, and meanwhile, the men loaded the truck.


Construction guys helping with electrical

Stupid me kept thinking this truck was a temporary one, and we would transfer everything into a much larger truck later on. I also believed that ‘M’e Mamoshaka and I would have a comfortable seat in the bigger truck, but it wasn’t until we stopped to collect thirty-one, 6 metre (20 foot) wooden rafters, and six 50-kg bags of cement, that I realized Ntate Makae was planning to use this old-piece of shit truck.

Everyone was starving, and I’d told everyone we’d stop for lunch, but they insisted on getting the truck loaded.

Five men sat on crates in the warehouse, doing nothing. We waited thirty minutes, while the truck driver said he needed to fetch gas in a jerrycan. He asked me for money, to buy gas, and we had barely driven anywhere, but he claimed his tank was empty from taking us to the bank.

“He lying,” Mamoshaka said.

“Lets go to KFC and get a private taxi to take us home after that,” I whispered in ‘M’e Mamoshaka’s ear. I had visions of this truck not making it up the mountains to my village, and the guys at the warehouse hadn’t budged in the last thirty minutes from their crates.

A private taxi picked us up after lunch, and we headed back to our village in the mountains.

Afternoon traffic was getting heavy as it approached 4 p.m. I wondered if the truck had left yet, so we called and Ntate Makae who told us they were almost on their way.

‘M’e Mamoshaka and I got home at 5:45 p.m. It was still light and we called Ntate Makae again and he said they were close to my village.

By 7:30 p.m., they were having trouble climbing the mountain; the load was too heavy for the crappy truck, so they were stuck. They had to call a teacher from my school who arranged for a second truck.

It wasn’t until  9 p.m., that I received a call to say they had made it.  Dressed in my pyjamas, I asked Mary my host “mother”  to come with me. I carried my solar light, as I cannot see a damn thing in this rural darkness.

I pointed the light at two trucks outside: one large one, and the small, dilapidated one. All of the heavy stuff, including all the wood, had been transferred to the large truck, which I later found out belonged to one of my teachers at school.

Quite proud of myself for taking the private taxi home, rather than waiting for the truck to make it to my village, I was able to go to sleep and feel satisfied that the team could start work on the following day.

Cultural Differences On How We Treat Dogs



It’s tough for dog-loving people to understand why dogs are treated poorly in many parts of the world.

In the comforts of our homes, we treat our pets like family. We buy them food and toys, we let them climb onto our beds, we cuddle them, we take them to parks so they can play with other dogs, we take them to the vet when they get sick, and we protect them from diseases by giving them their shots. In fact, us dog-lovers treat our dogs like a son or a daughter, and mourn their death, in some cases, more than the death of a relative.

But now I live in a rural village in Lesotho, where people don’t have enough money to buy milk, eggs, and meat to feed their own children, so why should they be able to afford meat, milk and dog food, for their animals?

This post is not meant to make you feel heartbroken for Shaka—the dog that belongs to my Basotho host family–it’s to point out some major cultural differences.

In my rural village in Lesotho, dogs do not sleep in people’s homes; they are solely there to guard the property. I am often awakened by dog fights in the middle of the night, often ending with a dog yelping in pain.

That does not mean I don’t have a heart, and care for Shaka.

In the beginning, Shaka followed me on my early morning walks. She took on the role of protecting me from Bo-Ntate (men) clad in the Basotho blanket. When I passed them on the dirt path, Shaka would start growling at the Bo-Ntate. I knew that sooner or later, one of them would pick up a stone, and throw it at her. My walks became stressful and unpleasant, so I started leaving her home, chained up, which also bothered me.

Shaka recently had her first litter, and Mary, my host “mother” told me her son would take care of the puppies. I believed her, until I heard that he was looking for a job, and was no longer in my village.


Shaka’s seven puppies

Shaka’s first puppy was born when I unchained her so she could get some exercise. I hated seeing that heavy chain around her neck, but Mary warned me someone could steal her and I didn’t want to be responsible for that. So I asked permission to let her run for a while, and that was when she squatted and a puppy was born. Shaka left her newborn on the grass and ran away. She didn’t seem to know what had happened. I waited for her to come back and pick it up but she was hiding in her tiny brick shelter.  I charged home, grabbed an old T-shirt, and carried her puppy over to nurse.

The following morning, I found seven puppies nursing. Shaka was starving, and needed protein and milk, but was only given a bowl of water and papa, (maize meal) the staple of Lesotho. There is very little nutrition in this starch, and the children at my school eat if every day. They also need protein to supplement their poor nutrition, just like Shaka.


Shaka stares at my front door with sad eyes, begging for something more substantial.

I cook some oatmeal and add long-life milk, which she gulps, but she’s still hungry.

I cook rice in chicken stock, and gave her the skin off a roast chicken I had bought in town.

I try to hide the food I give her, as I feel guilty that the children next door only get dry bread and papa to eat. They cannot afford butter or peanut butter. I often see the young seventeen-year-old mother, next door, picking green leaves (which look like weeds) and cooking them in her black, cast-iron pot over a fire made from twigs.

The people in my village are shocked that I care so much about Shaka and her puppies.

It’s a difficult situation, and when I explain how we treat dogs in America, no one understands that we allow them to sleep in our house, and care for them as part of our family.






Children in My Village in Lesotho




I am amazed to see how very young children in my rural village in Lesotho, are left to entertain themselves without toys or adult supervision.

As I sat on Mary’s porch, I watched these, one to three-year-olds, playing together with stones that they lined up or rolled on the tile. This kept them busy for about two hours without a single child crying or whining. They are so used to figuring out how to keep busy with nothing other than what they can find in nature.

Things are different at my school though. It came as a shock to see how children are often treated as ‘servants’ who are pulled out of class to run errands for the teachers. They have no choice, and are expected to obey, without ever questioning the teacher: “Why are you making me skip class to collect your cell phone at so-and-so’s house?”

When the child returns with the cell phone, the teacher grabs it, without a “thank you.” It’s expected. Rarely do I hear a teacher thank a student.

I understand why my own students grab pencils and pens from me, without saying, “Thank you.” I don’t put up with the lack of good manners, so I hold onto the pencil and say, “What do you say?” Often they are unsure of what I mean, so I ask them to repeat, “Thank you ‘M’e Sonia.”

I’m not opposed to children helping at school, it just bothers me when I see ten-year-old children carrying heavy desks across the school property. Once I ran over to help them lift the desk over a step, and one of the male teachers yelled, “’M’e Sonia, you should not be doing that.”


Eating porridge with fingers

Twice a day, after the morning liquid porridge, and the maize meal with dried beans for lunch, I see tiny, under-nourished, first graders schlepping buckets of water uphill, to wash their plastic lunch containers. They wash their dishes in cold water with no soap. Their hands are sticky as they scoop liquid porridge with their fingers; they don’t have spoons. The teachers have spoons and proper bowls, but not the children. It reminds me of the three little bears, where Papa Bear has a big bowl, Mama bear a medium bowl, and baby bear has a tiny bowl. This is definitely a culture where the adults get fed more, and (meat, if there happens to be a special event, like Moshoeshoe Day) and the kids don’t.

During lunch, the children are expected to serve the teachers breakfast and lunch. When they want water, the teachers point to their plastic bottle, and the child runs to the tap and fills it.

Girl mopping 7th grade floor

Girl mopping 7th grade floor

Fridays are always “cleaning” days, and the children in each grade run into the woods to get branches to sweep the floors in their classrooms and the front yard. They sweep the staff room, and attempt to dust the tables in the staff room with a dirty rag.


Sweeping the grass while the teachers stand and watch

Can you imagine asking our 1-3 year-olds in America to entertain themselves and our primary school children to clean the floors and sweep the grass?

Lesotho, Peace Corps  |  

Please Help Me Raise $5,000 to Make My School Safe


I need your help to raise $5,000 to improve the safety and education of students at my rural school in Lesotho, Africa.


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All donations are sent through the Peace Corps and are


Your donations will go through the Peace Corps Partnership Program funds website.

My community has agreed upon the following 3 priorities to help our school.


Collapsed ceiling in Grade 5

1). Make a safe classroom environment for 5th grade students.

Half the roof and ceiling collapsed in July, due to the unusually heavy snow storm, and I’m worried about our safety.

Students want to learn computer skills

Students want to learn computer skills

2). Electrical wiring of all classrooms to teach computer skills.

My village now has electricity, however, the classrooms have not been wired due to a lack of funds. Since we received four desktop computers from the Minister of Energy, the teachers and students would like to learn how to use them.

Cracks on cold cement floors in classrooms

Cracks on cold cement floors in classrooms

3). Install vinyl tiles on the floors in all classrooms.

Only the staff room and grade 7 have vinyl floor tiles, all other classrooms have cracked, cement floors which are icy-cold in the winter, and hazardous throughout.


I’d like your help to raise $5,000 and get the work completed by November 30th, 2016, before the Christmas holidays.


(Scroll Down Until You Reach S. Marsh)

All donations are sent through the Peace Corps and are



The children, teachers, community (AND ME) are all extremely grateful to you for helping us make the school a better place.

I shall post updates and photos once we receive the funds, and start the 3 phases of the project.

You can also follow our progress on my FaceBook  if you’d like.