Celebrating Lesotho’s rare female environmentalist gem

MATHATISI SEBUSI

Women have become more prominent and influential within the environmental movement than ever before. Many have dedicated their lives to protecting the environment, though they remain unsung heroines,  A daunting task that it is, environmental activism continues to grow to include women from every walk of life as a movement – from First Ladies and political leaders, to those holding industry accountable for environmental degradation in their communities, to women creating a commitment to a religious response to climate change.

Women you would find in the remotest and sometimes forgotten villages such as those of Taung in Mohale’s Hoek. ‘Malintle Kheleli is one of these women. Her love for the environment that was stimulated during her high school days – moulding her into the activist she is today. Today she works with youth in and out of school on multi-environmental disciplines and nature solutions that include climate change, waste management, soil and water conservation, rehabilitation of natural ecosystems. To ‘Malintle, the environment is unfolded in three dimensions, ‘in, on and for’ – meaning in life, on life and for life.

She explains the environment as an all-rounder that supports life holistically, biophysically and socio-economically while also articulating that it interrelates with climate change when climate variability changes the patterns of lives and forcing people to adapt and/or mitigate effects.

She is a village girl born at Sehlabeng, Piting Ha Tumo, in the Berea district; she attended a local primary school there. Her love for environment was stimulated during her study at St Rodrigue’s High School, a girl’s school managed by the Sisters of Good Shepherd, and her then Canadian religious sister principal, Sister Dorina Chasse, instilled in her nature management skills and without fail taught her its benefits to humankind.  During her secondary school education, ‘Malintle discovered her love for nature when she felt fulfilled after she decorated the church with fresh flowers that she planted with her late Godmother Sister Pius Phate.

Her deco was supported with soil, water and stones. After discovering her passion for environment during her high school era and throughout higher learning where she did Geography in pursue of her “in, on, of, environment” quest. Kheleli carried on from the Sisters of Good Shepherd to make a difference in the sector by working with youth. She started environment clubs in schools in 2004 and later in 2007 registered with the Law Office the Geography and Environmental Movement (GEM).

GEM is national education based NGO found in ten districts of Lesotho, which works with youth and communities on environmental issues from all walks of life irrespective of their background, gender or religion.      Kheleli notes that her successful and blooming nature activist personality was influenced by many people in the environment industry, but specifically she regards the late Jane Malephane, Karabo Thamae and Nthabiseng Majara as people who inspired her the most. She says they played a big role in ensuring that she blooms in the industry.

“I owe my being to the late ‘M’e Jane Malephane, who was a Chief Environment Officer in the then National Environment Secretariat (NES) and today’s Department of Environment, ‘M’e Karabo Thamae, who was a leader in the 1st Lesotho initiative Environmental Education Support Project’s (LEESP) – a Danish Donor  Funded Project which was intended to assist Lesotho in the implementation of local action for Agenda 21 and ‘M’e Nthabiseng Majara, who is now a country coordinator for the GEF/SGP/UNDP.

They all played a pivotal role into making me to be a person I am today, a nature activist in the making,” she says. ‘Malintle contends that despite numerous efforts on climate change that have been attempted by several role players (Government and CSOs/NGOs) in the country, the nation’s vulnerability on the ground outweighs initiatives. She says climate change response is a journey that needs everybody from various spheres of life to be on board and partake in.       

She notes that there is need for robust ‘Theory of Change’ that will translate actions from business as usual and engage into climate change adaptation and mitigation initiatives (Green initiatives).    As an environment specialist, she believes that in order to win the fight against climate change and ensure that people are well capacitated; people should be talked to with the language they understand about climate change.

“There is a wealth of indigenous science/traditional knowledge that Basotho had been using as a measure to address issues relating to nature solutions including climate change. It is a key source of information and insight in domains such as agroforestry, traditional medicine, biodiversity conservation, customary resource management, and communities in their respective locations are keen observers of their natural environments,” she points out.

‘Malintle has also taken personal strides towards contributing to capacitating Basotho on climate change and increasing their resilience and adaptive capacity towards climate change. In her chosen career, she has run sensitization workshops across the board on environment/climate change and developed Information Education and Communication (IEC) material that include School Manuals for Teachers. Among victories she celebrates in her line of work is participating in the integration of climate change into school curriculum in Lesotho.

She recalls an incident that she says happened in 2013, a bus that was supposed to ferry students from Maseru to Tšehlanyane in celebration of World Environment Day (June 5, 2013) was cancelled by an anonymous officer from one of government’s departments. She said they had around 60 students and seven teachers from nine schools, including primary students in Grades 1 and 2 while others were winners to be awarded certificates in that celebration.

She said to ensure that the journey continued, she had to walk barefooted looking putting into effect an alternative plan to ensure the trip succeeded “because I could not have the guts to inform the children that the journey has been cancelled.” “Despite the struggle, we finally made it to our destination against all odds and our heroes brought home victory because everyone was awaiting us there, our arrival made an impact and the worst came to be the best,” she recalls.

Born 46 years ago, ‘Malintle studied for a MA Development Studies and BEd Degree at the National University of Lesotho; she did her basic education at St Rodrigue’s High School. She is a woman who wears many hats, and mentioning a few she notes that she is currently a National Coordinator at the GEM; a national association working with youth on environmental issues and sustainable development. Her duties include management of technical and financial activities. Sh supervises, facilitates, ensures performance and implementation, mobilises funding, motivates, coordinates, and monitors, liaise with other stakeholders, design projects and budgets.

She is also a national expert supporting the preparation of the Lesotho National Adaptation Plan (NAP) and reports to the Team Lead of the Least Developed Countries Expert Group (LEG) and NAP Unit, under the Adaptation Division of the UNFCCC secretariat.

‘Malintle is a Technical Working Group member to the Global Environment Facility (GEF) 8 replenishment from GEF CSO Network and the head of Land Degradation and Restoration, Sustainable Land and Forest Management in dry lands and Mobilizing the Financial Sector for Environmental Goals through Blended Finance.

She is again a deputy team leader in the development of Institutional Capacity Strengthening and Gender Mainstreaming in GEF Adaptation Investments for Enhancing Resilience under auspices of the GEF CSO Network–the programme which will be operating in 75 countries across the globe following the adoption from the GEF Council Meeting 59.

She has many years of experience in the environment sector. In 2020, she became the 2020-2023-Technical Advisor Unit member of component 1 of the UNFCCC Adaptation Fund (AF) executed by World Food Programme (WFP) Lesotho under Improving Adaptive Capacity of Vulnerable and Food Insecure Populations in Lesotho (IACOV) project.

Also in the same year, she was appointed Assistant consultant for Lesotho Meteorological Services for review of Lesotho 1st Biennial Report. In 2019, she was elected Global Environment Facility (GEF) Southern Africa Regional Focal Point (RFP) (SADC states excluding islands) CSOs Network. GEF operates within the World Bank Systems as a trustee. She also Coordinates and facilitates GEF activities in the region and report at local, regional and global level.

In the same year she was a Lesotho delegate, negotiator in the Conference of Parties (COP) 25 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Madrid Spain and even became an accredited member of the United Nations Convention on Combating Desertification (UNCCD) and the Lesotho CSOs Focal Point and her role is to coordinate and monitor CSOs land management and conservation activities.

In the years 2019/20, she contributed in the development of the National Biodiversity Strategic Action Plan (NBSAP) for the Department of Environment. In the years 2018/19 she was a consultant and author of the manual “Youth Action Guide on Climate Change” for Lesotho Meteorological Services (LMS).

She was also part of the team that worked on    UNDP/MFRSC Reducing Vulnerability from Climate Change Project (RVCC) project, where she was involved in Adaptation Activities Coordination, IEC Material Development, Capacity building, Awareness Rising and was a co-author and compiler of teacher’s manual “Climate Change Adaptation Manual for Schools.”

From 2018 to date she has been a Technical Working Group member on capacity building and awareness raising in Gender and Youth category of Integrated Catchment Management (ICM) the programme coordinated by Department of Water Affairs Lesotho, to mention but a few. In 2018, she published a paper on SADC International Conference on Postgraduates Research for Sustainable Development titled  Transboundary Governance on Climate Change Initiatives: Lesotho and South Africa ORASECOM Wetlands Conservation

In 2016 she published another paper on Environmental Education Association of Southern Africa (SADC) (EEASA) titled Integration of Climate Change Education into School Curriculum. In 2014, she was awarded an award for her outstanding Performance to the Small Grants Programme in Lesotho by GEF/SGP/UNDP. And in 2016 she received Women Leadership Award in Climate Change and Energy Issues in Lesotho awarded by the Ministry of Energy and Meteorology.

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