When I started teaching English at my rural school in Lesotho, southern Africa, I was shocked by the state of the children’s clothing and shoes. Many had holes in their sweaters, wore shoes with their toes poking out, and some children could not afford socks or underwear. 60% of the children in my school are either orphans or vulnerable children.
My immediate reaction was to write a blog post and share this with my friends around the world. I did not expect anyone to offer to send clothes or shoes, as I know how expensive shipping is from the U.S. to Lesotho. Some people ran to the post office to find out shipping costs, and then offered to send money instead, so I could buy the children their green sweaters, green dresses, khaki pants, and black socks and shoes in Lesotho.
When the donations started pouring in, I received a note from a former PCV that surprised me, as I was only trying to do the right thing.
We don’t want folks connecting PCVs with “getting things” — such a Western notion anyway, as is clothing as a status symbol. So, my curiosity is around what happens 18 months from now. What will these donations have brought about, other than additional clothing options?
I discussed this with the Peace Corps, and was told that I could not accept donations, and had to wait until my secondary project. I understand that Peace Corps has rules, so I had to take down my blog post, and write to my friends to explain the situation.
Those who had already shipped made some very happy children at my school. Many have sent books, which I plan to use for teaching, and for the library, that my teachers are requesting at my school. I plan to read to the children, something their teachers never do. It seems that most of them write on the board, and make the children repeat, and copy.
I was overwhelmed with the kindness offered by so many of my friends, to send clothing, shoes and school supplies, and found a way to get shipments sent through a South African lady who has done so much for the children in Lesotho. Jennifer Thorn is the coordinator of fundraising for Leratong Community Center, and has allowed me to use her mailing address for any clothing donations. She and her family, have been so kind to pick up the donations and drive them to a town close to me.
I volunteer at the Leratong community center for children, once a week, and this has given me an idea of possibly setting up a community center for the youth in my rural village. The teachers at my school like the idea, and I hope the villagers will help make this a sustainable project for the “bored” youth in my village, who have no books, no yarn to knit or crochet, no computers, no netball, or anything else to keep them occupied after school, and on weekends. More on that project after the Peace Corps volunteers have their meeting in June with their counterparts to discuss their secondary projects, and how to fund it through the Peace Corps website.
All the teachers wanted to participate and we distributed the clothes in the staff room, where the children tried on the donated clothes for size. One small boy, who received a new pair of pants, had to undress in front of his peers, and was so embarrassed as he did not have any underwear. We gave him a pair, and his face lit up.
I shall keep you updated when I start my secondary project later this year, and can start asking for donations through the Peace Corps website.
On behalf of all the children at my school, I thank you for being so kind, and several children will be able to walk to school in the rain and snow this July, as they now have closed-toe shoes.