In his final post about a week ago, Kevin recalled many of his first impressions of this place: endless mountains, wandering sheep, warm bundles of babies, and much more.
While in many ways it feels like I just arrived, my calendar insists that I’m already almost a month into my year-long fellowship. And even though I’m certain many of my initial impressions will remain fresh in my mind, I can already perceive how the crisp edges of each new experience have worn ever so slightly soft as they settle neatly into the folds of my long-term memory (or to the place where socks go when they disappear from the dryer, never to be found again).
Largely because I couldn’t even begin to fool myself about my absolutely miserable track record of journaling, maintaining a personal blog, or officially cataloging my life in any way whatsoever, I committed to writing out a list of my first impressions after my first week in Lesotho.
Similarly to Kevin’s recollections, the mountains are featured prominently on my list, as are the amazing variety of clouds that cast shadows on the slopes. And of course the sheep, donkeys, and horses meandering through both tamed and untamed spaces. Landing in what may indeed be the Wild West of Africa is just one of the many reasons I feel so lucky to be here; I’m originally from New Mexico and while I’m no cowgirl, I find undeniable comfort in open spaces, men (or women) on horseback, and mercurial mountain air that is in one moment a chilly, wind-whipped burst scented with dust and rain and then suddenly penetratingly hot and thirsty.
For the most part, these observations aren’t necessarily directly related to TTL. Yet at the same time, one of the most salient characteristics of TTL is its Basotho-ness. TTL is supported by a global community of generous advocates but is at its heart an organization that is run and managed locally, responding to local needs and local possibilities. That may sound almost trite, but it’s hard to over-emphasize the importance of this detail. Internal ownership of any solution–whether for health, poverty, education, sanitation, or another issue–is an essential ingredient to sustainable success. Though I’ve just arrived, I’m already as impressed by TTL’s success in this area as I am passionately protective of it.
TTL’s work and the geographic, economic, and cultural context in which it takes place are inseparable. Take the mountains, for example. They are indeed staggeringly beautiful, but if you are one of the thousands of Basotho living in rural mountain villages, the mountain terrain is also isolating–especially when roads are limited and extreme weather predominates (the climatic pendulum swings between torrential rains or drought-inducing aridity; currently, many parts of Lesotho are experiencing massive flooding and subsequent crop damage, the extent of which won’t be revealed until harvest season). TTL’s outreach team is, in many cases, the only connection such villagers have to health care and nutritional support.
There is no denying the complexity of the challenges involved in serving the population of orphaned and vulnerable children we target. There is also no denying the positive impact that TTL is having in Lesotho. As the coming year stretches out in front of me, I look forward to sharing stories of successes and setbacks with you, and will do my best to integrate as much of the texture of this very special place in the process.
The TTLF Fellow is a representative of the North American organisation Touching Tiny Lives Foundation. Based for one year in Mokhotlong, Lesotho, the TTLF Fellow serves in an administrative support capacity for the Basotho charity Touching Tiny Lives (TTL).