BY: Sma Phethoka

‘Imagine sleeping in a cave, far away from home. because you are scared of your father and stepmother.

It is cold and dark here and I am hungry but at least it is peaceful here”, says the 12 year-old Tsepo (not his real name) from Ha Ts’osane.

Tsepo lost his mother in 2019, followed by his father re-marrying thereafter “I was not even over the loss of my mother, and there was my father’s marriage to this woman who hates me so much. The pair both traumatize and beat me to the pulp. They call me all sorts of awful names, and that kills me inside,” he reveals, tears filling up in his eyes.

“The word ‘Moleko’ was unknown to me. It pierced through my heart like a dagger, up to a point where I contemplated running away. My father and stepmother call me all sorts of names”.

“Some beating marks are still visible on the boy’s body, especially those on his back, which reveal that they are recent.

Tsepo’s ordeal was reported to the Child and Gender Protection Unit (CGPU) of the Lesotho Mounted Police for investigation and action, while he also received counselling from us, the Lesotho Red Cross Society, LRCS”. This is according to the Society’s Psycho-Social Support Officer, Mr. Lithapelo Kutlenyane.

“We carry such traumatized people through the journey of life, and try to convince them that not all people are bad, as we refer him to his neighbors who hide and feed him at the height of his tormentors’ wrath”. Mr. Kutlenyane stated, adding that LCRS has reassured the boy that his state of affairs would be redressed.

Expanding on the Society’s interaction with the many people who experience abuse in their homes, and whose cases were referred to his office, he says the boy is one of many people experiencing abuse in their homes, the officer has revealed that cases of abuse at home have swelled during this time of the COVID 19 pandemic as families are forced to spend more time together.

“Tsepo’s case was identified as one of communities’ response to LRCS’s call soliciting people to report any kind of abuse, using the Society’s tollfree number 80011967”.

He attributed this wave of abuse to the economic strain during these hard times when people’s movements are restricted and forced to stay at home as a result of job -loses and the lockdown.

Mr. Kutlenyane also indicated that in an effort to address the social hardships imposed by the pandemic, the Society has partnered with the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) as well as the United Nations Children’s Fund UNICEF Lesotho in establishing the Mental Health component under the Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE) Project

The project is aimed at assisting victims of all forms of violence including sexual, verbal as well as gender -based violence in coping with their ordeals. Protection issues, Psychosocial support, psychological First Aid, are also covered in the project.

The project has also captured the case of a 14- year old girl who was abused by her older sister’s boyfriend who is a taxi driver. Each time the sister (Manthabiseng) left for work at one of the textile factories, the boyfriend would sexually molest her younger sister as it would be just the two of them at home during the day.

‘Manthabiseng reports that her taxi driver boyfriend has abused her little sister for more than three times.

“My sister used tell me that she was being sexually abused, but I just brushed it off and reprimanded, saying that she was being silly. However, after sometime I noticed a big change with her behavior. She was not happy and withdrawn, while also fearing being in the same room with my boyfriend. It was at this point that I sat down with her and asked her what was really happening. After she had related her story, I went straight to the CGPU to report the assault, and also kicked him out of house”, Manthabiseng indicated.

Chief Pena-Pena is the area chief for Ha-Pena-Pena in the district of Maseru. He says he is also aware of the adverse effects of job losses and lockdowns emanating from the pandemic.

“Factors such as restriction of movement, closing of schools, and the loss of all the means of earning a livelihood have left many people in my area food insecure. Other social ills in this area include job losses and crime, leaving the bulk of the population living under stressful conditions”, Chief Pena-Pena emphasized.

He expressed his gratitude to the LRCS, indicating that he is impressed with the project, especially its mental health, protection and nutrition components, which he said are prevalent issues of concern around his area of jurisdiction.

“For the past six months we have been seeing in our midst, people who are mentally challenged, stressed up and traumatized as a result of COVID 19. These people in trying situations need all kinds of support to minimize their stress levels”, the chief said.

A total of 32 COVID-19 hotspot villages have been reached in the six districts since the inception of the project jointly funded by UNICEF Lesotho and IFRC.

Psychosocial support awareness, protection issues, Malnutrition, referrals and case reporting (family visits, group discussions and gatherings were part of the initiatives rolled out by LRCS volunteers in Qacha’s Nek, Quthing, Mafeteng, Maseru, Leribe and Mokhotlong. This endeavors reached at least 2484 people, 927 males and 1557 females.

“Our communities welcome Red Cross activities in areas of mental health, protection, while we hope that Red Cross Volunteers will continue to work in our villages and also recruit young people to volunteer for them to form youth clubs. This could encourage them to engage in sports and other body training activities to keep them busy, to boost their self-esteem away from the world of crime and drug abuse, while also reducing cases of unplanned pregnancies, depression and stress.

Meanwhile, Chief of Kolonyama, Chief ‘Nena Moshoeshoe, indicated that he was much aware of the challenges faced by his villagers during these difficult times of COVID 19, and therefore promised to build strong relations with the Red Cross to help the people in need.

“Crime and violence are a major concern in my area of jurisdiction, and it would be good if we could work together to prevent related challenges, such as stress, depression, trauma and anxiety,” Chief ‘Nena explained.

On the other hand, Chieftainess Maliteboho Mathelira of Peka emphasized the importance of the mental health issues, and suggested that these be addressed at the household level so that the information obtained could remain confidential.

She expressed her gratitude for the suggestion box she requested that is placed in their midst by the Red Cross to make easy for them to communicate privately with the Society.

“This instills the villager’s confidence, knowing that their cases are in the custody of professionals from a reputable organization.  She said that since there are many villages under her constituency she would request the volunteers to work with her advisers so that they can reach more villages hence more families.

Caregivers of infants aged between 0-23 months old are also victims of the repercussions of the lockdown imposed by the COVID 19 pandemic, hence their incorporation in the project.

At least 21 health centers have been visited reaching 1172 caregivers, that is, 1144 females and 48 males

Mr. Kutlenyane indicated that this category of people is also stressed up, hence the project also targets them, so that they can fulfil their daily task without any challenges when left behind to give care to the little children.

“LRCS set aside the first week of January 2021 to impart psychosocial support to lactating mothers and other caregivers targeting this group of people who visited some health centers, hospitals and communities in the districts of Qacha’Nek, Mokhotlong, Maseru and Mafeteng.

“The initiative was rolled out with the aim to reach groupings of the targeted population at a place of safety, convenience and comfort”, he pointed out.

The project is also in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, whose District Health Management Teams in the four districts made necessary arrangements for the meetings targeting the COVID-19 hot-spot health centers for the Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) activities.

End