. . . as Habitat takes family of 13 out of a single roomed shack

Nkesi’s pipe dream comes to pass

MATHATISI SEBUSI

MASERU – Life could not be harder for 53-year-old ’Maseromo Nkesi of Ha Motloheloa, Maseru who lives in a one-roomed windowless corrugated iron shack with her five children and seven grandchildren. For the Nkesi family, the adage “there is no place like home” is a mere statement that does not necessarily carry any inkling of comfort because life in their cold shed is but a frantic scramble for space.

Food is a scarce commodity that the family has to go an extra mile to acquire as nobody in the 13-member unit has a regular source of income. Nkesi was forced to take care of her troop of grandchildren aged between two and 10 when their respective mothers dumped them at her doorstep, claiming they were going to find employment in South Africa. But her daughters have not been true to their word because since they all left, none has ever returned home or even sent money for the upkeep of the family.

To keep her huge family fed and clothed, Nkesi does odd jobs in the neighbourhood like laundry work, and collecting and selling used metal cans for recycling. She also collects and sells firewood, wool and mohair. None of her five children aged between 14 and 25, all of whom she is staying with, is working.

On a good day, the woman makes at least M50 which she uses to buy food for her big family but when push comes to shove the family lives on handouts from neighbours. “It is embarrassing to beg for food from neighbours but sometimes that is the only way we are able to put food on the table, otherwise we go to bed on empty stomachs. You can imagine how distressing it is to go to the same house over and over again to beg for food,” she says.

Nkesi, who describes herself as a strong-willed person, says the sight of her two-year grandson Thabo going to bed hungry while his stray mother is somewhere out there doing only God-knows-what kills her spirit. But hunger and abject poverty are not the only plight the family faces on a daily basis. The minute rundown shack is another life-threatening hazard that is not suitable for 13 people.

Whenever it rains, water seeps through the corroded roof and under the door. The floor also gets muddy because the shack does not have a floor slab. One of Nkesi’s children, 18-year-old Keketso says: “We are faced with several challenges as a large family living in a single room. Privacy is an issue as some have to wait outside when others take a bath in the house regardless of the weather conditions. Sleeping arrangement is also an issue as we live and sleep in one windowless room.”

The family relies on the nearby bushes for sanitation and fetches water from a community tap which is located about an hour’s walk from the shack. But through the intervention between Habitat for Humanity Lesotho and a team of 14 volunteers from the United States, the family now owns a proper home and toilet. Habitat for Humanity Lesotho seeks to empower and transform communities in Lesotho by helping build decent, clean and affordable shelter for Basotho families.

Speaking at the handing over ceremony of the two-roomed house and a toilet to the family last week Friday, an ecstatic Nketsi said owning a proper home had always been her dream but without any feasible assistance, it had remained just that – a fleeting illusion. “But now we have a proper home and we will be able to go out with pride to look for ways to put food on the table knowing that we have a strong roof over our heads to return to,” she said.

National Director of Habitat for Humanity Lesotho ’Mathabo Makuta, expressed her gratitude to both the American volunteers and Habitat for Humanity Lesotho for their noble gesture. Makuta said the act not only changed the Nkesi family’s life but it also made a significant contribution to their future because they now have a decent and safe place to call home.

“We have now strengthened their resilience and this has helped them to become better citizens, especially the younger children,” she said. She also applauded the team, (which was dominated by women) that helped build the house, saying their contribution empowered another woman whose life has improved considerably.

The leader of the American volunteers, Sarah Reddiger said they were humbled by the reception they received from the Ha Motloheloa community, adding they would be able to take home more than what they would leave in Lesotho. On behalf of the team, Reddiger expressed profound gratification for being able to participate in improving lives in Lesotho. The US ambassador to Lesotho Rebecca Gonzales described community service along with voluntary work as integral components of the American culture, saying they were humbled by the opportunity to be part of the construction.

Gonzales commended the striking 51-year-old partnership between the USA and Lesotho, saying that together the two countries have achieved several milestones especially on people-to-people interactions. “What you may not know is that some of the young Basotho we send on official programmes like YALI and Fulbright also contribute their labour by participating in Habitat for Humanity builds in the United States. It is a great example of Basotho and Americans working together to impact positive change in both our countries.

“We can all attest to the significant challenges that face many people here in Lesotho, including access to proper housing. Living in sub-standard housing poses a significant risk to health, safety and wellbeing of the impoverished,” Gonzales noted. She said addressing these concerns takes concerted effort and partnership, like the one created for the Nkesi family.

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