Plight of boy children forced out of school

’MATHATISI SEBUSI

MASERU - More often than not, working as a herd boy is perceived as one of the most menial forms of employment associated with poor, illiterate men and boys. Herd boys endure terrible weather conditions and go hungry for extended periods while they seek better grazing pastures for their livestock. It is not a secret that men as old as 68 herd their own flocks of sheep and goats because they have no one else to do the job for them while their children are attending schools.

There are also boys as young as 13 years of age who have been forced out of school by circumstances such as poverty to look after other people’s animals for money. All these boys can ever do is dream of the day they will enter a classroom; an opportunity that rarely comes to them given the type of life they are already forced to lead. What only lies ahead of them are massive responsibilities that are mostly too much to bear and a bleak future with no escape in sight.

Some of these underprivileged children have the urge to acquire an education like their peers and equally compete with them in life. But Lefu Ratoe of Setibing on the outskirts of Maseru had other dreams different from those of other boys his age. Instead of seeking an education, Ratoe aged 17 opted to herd his flock and condemned himself to a life of solitude up in the mountains with his animals. He says life among the animals in cattle posts located in some of the country’s most rugged terrains beats anything he could think of.

“I prefer living up there alone with my animals; the rains and snow and harsh cold weather are part of a herd boy’s life and I am prepared to dare them to ensure my sheep and goats are well fed,” he says. They only went as far as Standard 7 at school before he abandoned the life in conventional classrooms for another form of education at initiation school. “When I was up in the mountains at initiation school, I had time to introspect and made a decision about my life. I can both read and write but if I go to school, I don’t know what would happen to my family’s flock of sheep and goats because no one can look after them as well as I do.

“In spite of working in harsh weather conditions, I am making very good money formy family from the wool and mohair we harvest from the animals. Most of the boys I grew up with and went to school with are not even working, so looking after my animals is not a lost cause altogether. “The high unemployment rate in the country threatens the future and there is good money in wool and mohair. Someone has to take care of the sheep and goats that produce the wool and mohair, that is why I am looking after our flock.

“If we don’t take care of the animals, there is a risk of losing production of the two important products,” he says. He adds that he did not quit school because his parents could not afford fees but because he was keen to ensure that his father’s legacy was well protected. Both Ratoe and his younger brother herd their father’s herd of 20 cattle and a flock of 78 sheep and 90 goats. “If the animals are well taken care they stand a chance of multiplying within a short time and boost their current production of both wool and mohair,” he says

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