By Mandisa Kalako-Williams
Unlike us, mere mortals, who start getting ‘’ old and tired’’ at 50, the Lesotho Red Cross Society (LRCS) has become stronger as it matured over the past years.
One of its strong points has been its consistent presence in ALL ten Districts of the Kingdom of Lesotho, where the real people and their needs are found, and where solutions to community challenges are crafted, in consultation with the people themselves.
Whether this presence took the form of Health Centres in Kolojane, Kena, ThabaBosiu and Mapholaneng, or the Centre for Children with Disabilities at Ha Majara, or the Youth Development and Environmental Protection project in Tlouoe, the common thread through all these, was the ownership held by surrounding beneficiary communities.
The Society can attest to being one of the pioneers in addressing the early signs of present-day Climate Change, when the country was hit by uncharacteristic snowfalls in October 1987, with devastating results…., followed immediately by floods.( The last similar late snow had been seen in 1964, the elders told us!)Thousands of sheep and cattle died, herdboys were stuck and stranded in the outlying cattle-posts (metebong) in Mokhotlong, ThabaTseka and Qacha’s Nek, roads were impassable, supplies could not reach the mountain areas; the planting season was adversely affected, as the fields were flooded.
With the help of its local, regional and international partners, the Red Cross mobilized funds, material and human resources, bought and ferried tons of food, clothing, blankets and medication to the affected areas. The Society hired helicopters from South African Defence Force, bought Jet A1 fuel from as far out as Durban, and literally ran a major relief operation! Local trucking companies were the best partners; we could call DG Kou and others at short notice, for an overnight trip to the suppliers, as well as up to the accessible parts of the highlands.
One positive spin-off from this relief operation was the training of Red Cross Action Teams – the first responders – drawn from all the districts; they were tutored in vulnerability and needs assessments, logistics – procurement, storage/warehousing, transportation and distribution of relief items, as well as report writing.
This and other experiences sharpened the Society’s Planning and Budgeting capability, as there were rigorous accountability expectations from the many donors; the stakeholder relations with the media, at home and abroad, were at a high level. The Society soon became a reference point for others in the SADC Region, owing to their impeccable accountability, transparency and open dealings with partners, which included the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the League of RC (now called the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, IFRC), the Partner National Societies – Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Britain and Japan). At home, the Office of King Moshoeshoe II, as Patron of the Society, was leading the stakeholder relations, followed by the Government of Lesotho, and some corporate partners. Fundraising for the day-to-day operations was always a challenge, as donors tend to be attracted to disaster relief operations, and income generation included raffles, dinner dances and ‘’Runs or Walks for Humanity.’’
Community Health Care continued to be a major flagship of the Society – First Aid training and services, Blood Donor Recruitment and the rural Health Centres in some remote mountain areas. The Society was one of the founder NGO’s of the Lesotho National AIDS Service Organisations (LENASO), later affiliated to the SADC Southern African AIDS organisation, SANASO. The HIV/AIDS work was strengthened by the organisation’s partnership with relevant units of the Ministry of Health.
The Society soon became a source of hope and support for children affected by and infected with HIV, through its programme involving Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC), where support is provided, to address some of their basic needs.
Communities began to associate the Society with assistance, support, health and community development, whether in times of disasters or during peace. This was further brought to light during the 1987 Snow and Floods disaster operation. Shortly thereafter, the Society, in partnership with the South African Red Cross Society, held a central role in providing services during the historical visit of Pope John Paul II to the country.
An outstanding feature that set LRCS apart from most organisations was the cooperation and seamless continuity of its governance leadership. To date, the support of previous Presidents, Chairmen and Board members remains a marvel to watch. This works well in terms of retention of institutional memory, business continuity and the maintenance of the good values underpinning its humanitarian work. The Society has also been consistent in attracting, recruiting, employing and retaining management and volunteers of a very high calibre.
One can only conclude that the Society’s logo, the symbolic Basotho Hat, truly carries and lives by its mantra, ‘’ReThusaSechaba’’, as it has done for the past half a century, standing firmly by the Basotho nation, as an integral part of the country’s development. Another 50 years of excellent humanitarian work lie ahead!
KHOTSO, PULA, NALA!!
Actually who is Mandisa Kalako-Williams?
Mandisa joined the Lesotho Red Cross Society in 1986, as Information, Fundraising and Dissemination Officer.
She became the Society’s spokesperson, liaising with the media, during the 1987 Snow and Flood Disaster, while participating in Regional (SADC) communication and Public Relations activities.
She served as an intern at the Geneva-based Federation of Red Cross in the 1990’s, before returning to South Africa in 1992, where she worked as Operations Director for the SA Red Cross until 1997.
She has been assigned various roles within the RCRC Movement, both at home and abroad:
She is a true legend and stalwart of the Red Cross of our time.
She has carried out assignments as Consultant for the Swedish Red Cross and the Federation in areas of Community Development, Health and Disaster Management;
Her favourite phrase: ” I am a true product of the Lesotho Red Cross Society, they put the foundations for what I was to achieve later in life!!”
She was appointed as Coordinator of the Pan African Conference (PAC) of the Red Cross Red Crescent in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 2012;
She was elected as President (Chair ) of the 30th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in 2007;
She served on the Board of the International Federation;
Representing the Federation in various Disaster Management and HIV meetings and workshops worldwide;
Holding the reigns as the Society’s Secretary General from 2008 to 2011;
Holding the position of SA Red Cross President up to 2008;