In 2004 when Prince Harry, His Royal Highness Prince Henry of Wales, was 19, he spent a year travelling around the world to explore and to gain an understanding of other cultures. He spent time in Australia, Argentina and Botswana, but it was the two months he spent in Lesotho that touched, moved and inspired him.
Lesotho is a landlocked kingdom in southern Africa, completely surrounded by South Africa. The country has severe social problems. Thirty percent of the population of 1.8 million is HIV positive. There are 360,000 orphans live mostly in rural communities. In many of these family units the oldest child has taken on the role of the parent, even if they themselves are sometimes not even teenagers yet. They have little access to education, health care and other basic needs. About a third of the young men (and boys as young as ten) are sent away from their families to tend sheep, goats and horses. This brings some money into the family, but sadly they have no access to education. In 2013, 23% of the adults (15-49 years old) live with HIV/Aids and more than half of the population struggle to survive on less than $1.25 per day. Unemployment, poor infrastructure, floods and the changing climate, have all impacted on poor harvests, crop failures and led to poverty.
Prince Harry visited Lesotho as the official guest of Prince Seeiso, the younger brother of the King of Lesotho, King Letsie III. Seeiso took Harry into the mountains for a stay on the family cattle-post and it was here; away from the modern world, under the stars that the two princes decided that together they wanted to make a difference. They had both lost their mothers and wanted to continue the work these amazing women had done to ease the lives of others. The seeds for the charity ‘Sentebale’ were sown. ‘Sentebale’ which means ‘forget me not’ in Sesotho, the language of Lesotho, would do what it could to support victims of extreme poverty and help fight the Aids epidemic.
“The dream of Sentebale was born: to give the less privileged and often forgotten vulnerable children a chance of some schooling – and thus a ray of hope for a better future.” Prince Seeiso of Lesotho
One of the focuses of their work is to work in partnership with organizations that are already doing wonderful work in Lesotho. This includes collaborating with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and local and national government service providers. This streamlines the development work and produces more successes.
Due to HIV/AIDS so many children with the disease feel they have no reason to carry on. ‘Sentebale’ runs week long camps where the children are taught how to deal with their illness, hygiene and nutrition to help them realize that they can live fulfilling and productive lives. The children participate in sports, games, drama and craft activities which raise confidence and self-belief. They are taught the importance of taking their medication as prescribed. This includes providing them with watches to stick to regular timetables. When taken rigidly, the medication works to its maximum and the children feel healthier, happier and have the strength to care for their siblings and for other suffering family members.
The princes have set up education programs to encourage the children to go to school. Two thirds of the children do not complete their secondary education as they are providing care for their families and lack money needed to pay for their schooling needs. Funding has been provided to remove as many barriers to education as possible. These include paying for school uniforms, school fees and basic school materials such as books and pens. Five herd boys’ schools give 800 boys access to skills training without abandoning their family obligation of herding. Here the boys have access to basic schooling as well as HIV/Aids and sexual health education, counseling for those affected by the disease, first aid and a range of other skills such as construction, beekeeping and beadwork.
“Unless we think big, unless we are ambitious, nothing will change.” Prince Harry
‘Sentebale’ means so much to Prince Harry. The welcoming, friendly people of Lesotho have made such an impact on him. He has often said that Princess Diana is in his thoughts every day. “By doing this I can follow in my mother’s footsteps and keep her legacy alive.” Because of the hard work of Princes Harry and Seeiso and the legacies of Princess Diana and Queen Mamohato Bereng Seeiso, ‘Sentebale’ is transforming the lives of the children and families in the beautiful, mountainous Kingdom of Lesotho and giving them hope for the future.