When I met the ever-smiling Nkhetheng in a kitchen in Pokane, in the mountainous kingdom of Lesotho, he was leading a group of villagers in some exquisite harmonies which filled the room alongside the fragrance of chutneys, pickles and jams which they were making as they sang.
Nkhetheng Pitso, 55, is married with ten children and knows all about the struggle to grow food in Lesotho’s challenging climate. This is his story:
“When I was younger I worked in the mines, but I came home in 2004. Now I’m a farmer, but at first it was difficult to feed my family. I used to try gardening but the crops would die, as I didn’t have the skills I have now. But things changed after I got involved with the Red Cross in 2008.
“The Red Cross officer encouraged unity in the village and I started volunteering because I was nominated by my community. I was taught about growing vegetables and now I give advice to others. Being a volunteer has boosted my confidence and I feel honoured in the village. We now have food to eat and before we struggled in the community. Now we can help each other.
“We were given seeds and the gardening is now very successful. We were also given water containers and taught to capture and store rainwater to use during droughts.
“Most of the community members are very poor, even me, but we know we will definitely get vegetables from my garden, such as spinach, radish, cabbage, carrots, tomatoes and pumpkins. Now I can grow vegetables all year round and sell some to meet other family needs. But I just give vegetables for free to those in my village who don’t have the money.
“In 2009, the Red Cross taught us to preserve food. Before that I only knew to preserve peaches and didn’t have so many recipes.
“I would love to open a restaurant but buying the utensils would be expensive. My children are so impressed by my skills and always recommend my food. I’m often asked to cook for people’s funerals.
“In February 2011, I was diagnosed with TB, but I wasn’t shocked because I had been in Red Cross workshops where I was taught about TB, so I knew I could get cured. As soon as I had some signs I went straight to the clinic.
“The Red Cross care facilitator was very close to me and my family, giving us support. She always came to check I was taking the medicine properly and I was still very active while taking the treatment, which I completed in July 2011.
“I was also tested for HIV and my wife too but we don’t have it, although many people in the community have been affected by HIV. Before, people were very ill but since the Red Cross came there are no longer bedridden people, all are living a better life and we are learning about HIV prevention.
“I’ve always loved for my children to be educated and now I work hard around here to pay for school fees so they can have a better future. I’d love my family to have peace and happiness and I’m doing what I can to make sure they get what they need so they are not sad.”
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