US Peace Corps Lesotho
Who we are
The Peace Corps traces its roots and mission to 1960, when then Senator John F. Kennedy challenged students at the University of Michigan to serve their country in the cause of peace by living and working in developing countries. From that inspiration grew an agency of the federal government devoted to world peace and friendship.
The Peace Corps' mission has three simple goals:
- Help people of interested countries to meet their need for trained citizens.
- Promote a better understanding of Americans for the people served.
- Promote a better understanding of other peoples to Americans.
There are currently 91 volunteers serving in Peace Corps Lesotho. Over 2,100 Americans have served as Peace Corps volunteers in Lesotho since 1967. Volunteers in this Sub-Saharan African nation work in the fields of education and community health and economic development.
Lesotho is a small kingdom completely surrounded by the country South Africa. The country is mountainous and has cold and snowy winters. Most of the country is rural, and geographically, volunteers are distributed throughout all 10 districts of the country.
The African Library Project's first library was in Lesotho. Due to few resources and only a few libraries throughout Lesotho, ALP's contribution of books has been extremely helpful. Peace Corps Volunteers work with the schools and communities in their areas to facilitate the application process and set up the library management system, i.e. library committee. The Peace Corps Volunteers work with the library field coordinator to ensure the books get to the schools and help train the teacher librarians.
The Peace Corps Volunteer ALP Field Coordinator works with other Peace Corps Volunteers and teacher librarians to set up library trainings. We train teachers at the schools how to use books as resources for their classes, ways they can incorporate reading into their curriculum, how to organize their library, and discuss caring for the books. We want to ensure that the books are taken care of over the long term.
In 2010, we began a pilot project with the Butha-Buthe Ministry of Education. Peace Corps Volunteers are working with the education office to build the capacity of the district education officers in library development.
What daily life is like here
Our school day is from 8 am to 3 pm daily though many students stay later to study, play sports and use the library. Many children do chores before and after school such as helping cook, cleaning their home or feeding their family's animals. Students walk to school and many walk for more than three miles to get to school. Often students will walk more than two hours each way to get to school. Some students live at the school during the school year and see their families only once a month.
Football (soccer) is the most popular sport in Lesotho. Our children also enjoy playing netball, volleyball, and running track.
Cattle are very important to us and often used as a system of currency. Many boys are kept out of school to herd cattle for the family. When a couple marries, the man must pay "lobola" or a bride price to the woman's family. Four cows is the average, but the number usually depends on the education of the woman.
Many fathers work in mines in South Africa and are rarely home. Many children only see their fathers a few times a year. Women work in the fields alongside men to grow food for their families. Nearly every family in Lesotho has a small plot of land where they grow corn and cabbage for their families.
Lesotho has long had a vibrant oral tradition with people passing along stories from generation to generation. Reading is not a common way to pass time, but this is because there are few books. Gradually, as our students are gaining access to books in our new libraries, they are enjoying the stories and have begun to like to read. We learn to read in Sesotho, then add English during our fourth year of school. To pass the exams to get into secondary school, we must be fluent in English so this is a very important skill for our students
Why we work with the African Library Project
Most Basotho have no books, the schools have only textbooks, and there are no book stores. Peace Corps Volunteers are easily able to offer guidance on how to develop a simple library in schools and communities that have had no books. Peace Corps Volunteers must put extra effort into making sure the library project enjoys plentiful support and training.
Meanwhile Peace Corps is partnering with the Ministry of Education to strengthen their capacity to develop and support libraries. We began a pilot project with the Ministry of Education in the Butha Buthe District to build a local team to train Basotho teacher librarians.
The African Library Project is an essential part of getting books into the hands of children. Peace Corps Volunteers work to ensure teacher librarians have the skills needed to keep the libraries running after the they leave the country.
How we work with the African Library Project:
The Peace Corps ALP Field Coordinator works with Peace Corps Volunteers and the Ministry of Education to identify local library projects. Each library must commit to providing a dry and secure location, as well as shelves for the books. The new library creates a library committee consisting of people who will be responsible for the library. The Field Coordinator then reviews the applications to ensure that schools or communities have a workable plan to use the books.
In Lesotho most of the ALP libraries are in primary and secondary schools. However, there are some in preschools and community libraries. Many of the schools invite the community to use the library as well. So, in many cases, the library is an asset to the whole community, not just the school.
In 2009, sixty teacher librarians attended the African Library Project Summit held in Lesotho. Teacher librarians got to share ideas and took new ideas home with them. Each teacher librarian was trained in ALP's tracking system. Since the summit, many schools have reported the number of visitors and the number of books checked out of the libraries.
What we have accomplished with ALP
Since 2005, the African Library Project has started 301 libraries in Lesotho, reaching nearly 340,000 readers. A huge success has been building the relationship with the Ministry of Education to start the pilot project in the district of Butha-Buthe. We have seen test scores of schools rise from previous years. We have heard stories of children whose life decisions have changed because of books.
Our hopes and wishes
We want every Basotho child to have access to books. This means getting the books into every school in every district.
How you can help
Organize a book drive to help start a library in Lesotho! Having books are the first step in creating a reading culture. The Basotho often say, "We are not a reading culture." But this is because they have NO books. Peace Corps Volunteers have seen changes in students and community members because of African Library Project. Whether it is correctly spelling words, remembering to put a period at the end of a sentence, teaching someone to stand up for themselves, or planting the idea of going to college, the Basotho have changed because of books. Your help can create more correct sentences, higher test scores, fresh ideas, and life-changing moments.
Our sincere thanks to the people making it happen
We cannot express our thanks enough to the African Library Project for devoting time and energy to supporting literacy in Lesotho. We would like to thank the Peace Corps staff for their support. We would also like to thank Lesotho's Ministry of Education and Training and especially the Butha Buthe District Office for their support of the African Library Project libraries.
To the US book drive donors and Peace Corps friends and families, your outpouring of support and generosity to this little known kingdom is overwhelming. Your generosity allows for the creation of dreams.
Number of ALP libraries in Lesotho : 301 (Feb 2013)
Number of readers we have reached: 340,000