Maseru -Herd boys are a part of society that is normally neglected and in most cases perceived as nothing but a bunch of lowlife criminals that cannot be accepted by the general population. This is a group of people who consistently put their lives in jeopardy and get exposed to some of the harshest weather conditions our country has to offer. Herders’ strenuous job entails staying for months on end up in the mountains where there is barely any form of livelihood, looking after the livestock whose contribution to the economy is immense.
They are paid pitiable wages and most of them do not get money but instead are given a cow after 12 months of hard labour as payment. On average a cow costs about M7 000 and around August, the government gazetted the minimum wage at about M2,000, this means livestock herders are paid far below the minimum wage. Their living conditions are most certainly not suitable for human beings as most of them live in tiny ramshackle huts made of stone and mud with barely enough grass for roofing.
In a bid to address all the challenges that herders face in their everyday lives, Help Lesotho recently put a group of them under intensive training to equip them with life skills and teach them about their rights as well as responsibilities. One of them, Mojakisane Shao of Mohlanapeng, Thaba-Tseka describes the training he underwent as an eye-opener that has turned him into a better person who now knows his rights.
Shao, 20, notes that the training taught them to be more responsible citizens who are concerned about social issues such as their health including HIV and AIDS, hygiene, how to handle peer pressure, gender-based violence, child marriage and human rights, among others. Before the training, he says he was not even aware that it was illegal to marry an under-age girl and the repercussions of child marriage.
“To me getting married was all about spotting an appropriate woman, taking her by force if she had a problem being mine and the rest I believed would follow. But now I understand the importance of abiding by the law and not abducting a wife because it is a criminal offence. I know about health and HIV and AIDS.” Shao was shocked to learn that hitting a woman is against the law and that people get prosecuted for that.
“I understood that to be a form of communication. If a woman was playing hard to get I simply slapped her around and if she was really cheeky I would actually hit her hard with my stick to get her full attention. The training has taught me that this is all wrong. We learnt the correct way of communicating with the opposite sex without getting physical,” he smiles. He is able to communicate not only with girls but with the rest of the community because part of the training he and his peers underwent primarily focused on dispute management.
“For someone who spends most of his life in complete isolation, the training has been beneficial because it taught me how to interact and deal with life challenges, especially issues like peer pressure,” he say. He adds: “I am now able to control my emotions, I can also make informed decisions and deal with discrimination.” Help Lesotho Country director Shadrack Mutembei describes the project as an initiative that is quite close to his heart.
He has been involved in the project since its inception in 2012 and it began in Botha-Bothe where they trained a total of 800 herd boys. The following year they moved the project to Thaba-Tseka after they realised most of the country’s cases of women abuse and child marriage (abduction) were being recorded in that mountainous district. “The six-month training programme covers topics such as human rights, life skills, problem solving skills and how to overcome peer pressure and many others that will help them to be responsible community members and this is followed by another six months of practicing and digesting what they were taught,” Mutembei says.
The outcome of the project, he notes, has exceeded their expectations because the herd boys whom they had initially been told were stubborn and unruly changed into responsible, hardworking and reliable members of the community. But the herd boys were reluctant to undergo HIV testing for a number of unclear reasons as most of them proclaimed their virginity which of course was clearly untrue given their resolve not to test.
Mutembei says those who tested and were diagnosed as HIV positive were taught about the art of clean living and how best to take of themselves. “Because they are free to share their life stories and experiences with us, we are able to help them cope with the challenges they face on a daily basis,” he says. Violet Maraisane from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) says it is imperative to improve the lives of herd boys as they have been neglected for a long time.
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