By Lekhetho Ntsukunyane
MOKHOTLONG – A village far from civilisation but close to God, that’s what could best describe Postola – one of the rural settlements in the Malingoaneng constituency that recently received water and sanitation facilities from the Lesotho Red Cross Society (LRCS).
Located deep in the mountain range that connects three districts – Thaba-Tseka, Leribe and Mokhotlong along the Matsoku River – Postola is one of the remotest locations in the highlands of Lesotho.
The name translates to Apostolic and was inspired by the late Prophet Zacharia Mashongoane who led the Christian religion at the village in early 1900s.
Prophet Mashongoane passed on in 1918 but today he is still remembered by the villagers as a powerful figure that instilled Christianity at Postola.
Remote and uncivilised as is, some of the traditional norms are tabooed due to entrenched religious beliefs at the village.
For one, although boys still attend the traditional initiation in the mountains, they do not receive muthi implantation, which is a common practice believed to protect the initiates from evil forces, from traditional healers.
According to the 75-year old ’Mamaoeng Mpoea, the traditional implantation and incantation are anti-Christian “and forbidden in Postola.”
Postola made history on Saturday May 19 when it held a ceremony to appreciate what the LRCS has done for the villagers, becoming the first community to thank the humanitarian organisation in that fashion, according to Secretary General Kopano Masilo.
In a small and scattered village of a total 28 households, which is typical of the country’s many remote settlements, the LRCS, through its Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) for Lesotho Rural Communities project, has donated 26 ventilated pit latrines, a clean-water storage tank of 7500 litres and four standpipes.
The project, which started in September last year and ended in March this year in Postola alone, has cost M378 000, according to Project Officer Nare Toromo.
Other villages that the project covered around Matsoku include Mohlehli, Ha-Moses, Mosifaneng, Ha-Meno, Sekokoaneng, Mahonyeling, Mongobong and Ha-Ralithebe.
MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism (MNNCIJ) observed most of these villages were hard to reach, with horses and donkeys used as the main mode of transportation.
For Postola, villagers travel around 15 kilometres to Ha-Seshote for health services, schools, mortuary and other essentials. Almost half the distance is inaccessible by any motor vehicle.
Villagers talking to MNNCIJ in separate interviews indicated when they bought substantial household items such as beds and wardrobes, or building materials, they first had to organise quasi-feasts and cater for the village men who would carry the goods for a distance equal to more than five kilometres on foot or on horseback.
When the Matsoku River is flooding, there is no movement at all between Ha-Seshote and the villages it serves across the river, including Postola, the villagers added.
For the ailing, the situation is worse; the villagers narrated how they organised wooden materials and built a support structure that served as a stretcher to ferry bedridden individuals across the river. The same was practice for heavily expecting mothers and the deceased.
“We don’t have any other means, it’s our way of life. Often times patients die on the way,” the community councillor, ’Maseeiso Moeketsi, said.
Ms Moeketsi added before the LRCS’ WASH project took momentum in Postola last year, the village was rocked by waterborne diseases such as cholera, dysentery, diarrhoea and giardia.
“The Red Cross representatives should know before implementation of this project we suffered more. From time to time we nursed diseases caused by lack of clean water and hygiene at this village. Much of our people felt sick. Some of them died on way to health centres, which you have noticed how far they are located from Postola,” Moeketsi said.
Spick and span could describe the environment at Postola on Saturday. Ululations, chanting and song were an order of the day as the villagers on horseback welcomed the LSCR delegation. Some drove their decorated cattle to compliment the reception.
The village chief, Mokete Mashongoane, said they thanked the project drivers, Messrs Toromo and Lebohang Makoae, of the LRCS “for opening our eyes and making us realise the power of cleanliness within our small community. Not only did the project officers help us build the water tank and toilets, and installed the taps, but they also taught us a lot about applying hygienic measures in our daily activities. We are a transformed community now.”
Mr Toromo told MNNCIJ the main challenge implementing the project was means of transport.
“Our trucks can’t reach these areas, as you have noticed how the difficult the terrain is here. We made arrangements for us to drop building materials such as bags of cement at the school in Ha-Makopela (about five kilometres away from Postola and across the river). We then asked the villagers to use their donkeys to collect the materials from there. It was not an easy task. We paid them M20 per donkey per trip,” Toromo said.
There were still post-project challenges, Toromo added, “where now, because of culture, some fathers-in-law refused to use the same latrine their daughters-in-law used. Some of them have resorted to using their neighbours’ toilets instead.”
Before coming of the project, Chief Mashongoane indicated they used to help themselves around hills, “where often we interfered with each other and did not enjoy privacy while we also contaminated the environment.”
Speaking as a guest of honour, Mr Masilo appealed to the Postola community to unite and help one another.
“My passionate appeal to you is to help one another. No child, orphaned or not, should go to sleep hungry when there are other families that enjoy the meal. The poor villagers should not feel marginalised. That way, you are going live harmoniously in line with the humanitarian spirit that the Lesotho Red Cross advocates for,” said the secretary general.
Entitled Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) for Lesotho Rural Communities, the project started in July 2014 and ends next month.
WASH Senior Project Officer Thabang Toloane told MNNCIJ the project was funded by to the tune of over M22 million by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). It was technically supported by the Australian and British Red Cross societies, he added.
“The actual project cost was M22,198,610.00 from DFAT. There was also an additional M2,901,390.00 that came as a direct cost from the British Red Cross (BRC), while there were other indirect costs that were also covered by the BRC,” Mr Toloane said.
The project has covered 17 villages in Mokhotlong and 14 others in Mohale’s Hoek. It also covered 11 schools in the two districts. A total of 1500 households have benefitted through construction of latrines in the districts.
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