Her joy lies in finding a family for vulnerable kids

IRENE SEME

She is passionate about facilitating adoption of orphans and vulnerable children to ensure they get the opportunity to experience regular family. Facilitating adoption of Basotho into American families is her specialty. But what really drives her to follow this unusual way of life?

After losing her mother to maternal mortality in 1999 while birthing the last born in the family, ’Malefa Semakela and her four siblings had to be raised by their father who was working at the mines in South Africa at the time of his wife ’Mathato Semakela’s passing.

Speaking about her father, ’Malefa said she always felt loved by her father Mahakane who always ensured that they had all their needs even in his absence. In 2001, ’Malefa was sent to boarding school while her siblings stayed at home with a helper together with the infant sibling while her father was at work. They were day schooling.

Then in 2004, her father decided in agreement with her to move her from the boarding school to day schooling so that she could assist with taking care of their youngest sibling since at the time she was a bit older and her brother and sister needed to move to higher learning institutions.

Even though she grew up without a mother, ’Malefa said she always empathised with her school mates in high school who were raised by single parents just like herself. Asked why that was the case, she said: “In my heart I never felt the absence of my mother that much because my father made sure that all my needs were met.”

Despite that her father was overwhelmed by raising four girls while her bother was the only boy his father had. ’Malefa said she adores her father’s parenting style because he went beyond boundaries to satisfy his children. “At Holy Family High School in boarding there were visitors’ times, but my dad was such a hero for me because he made arrangements with the school management that he should be allowed to see me even after hours because as a miner he would only be home for a certain period and needed to see all his children and spend some time with them,” said ’Malefa with teary eyes.

“To me that was a bold move for a father to go to nuns and plead with them to break their rules just for him to see his child. I think the sister in charge agreed because of my father’s approach,” she added. After completing high school, ’Malefa furthered her studies with the National University of Lesotho (NUL) studying Social Work. Asked why she opted for social work, she said: “While I was in boarding school I felt more privileged than other children who were raised by single parents because their needs were not met.

“So I’d always wonder within my heart what it is that could be done to help those children; I had no idea there was a course like social work.” She continued: “At one point when I visited my father at the mines we went to a particular office so, being curious, I asked the lady in the office what she does and she said to me, ‘I help people who come here crying; you see when miners’ wives have lost their husband to death, they come to my office crying’. I thought to myself, ‘seriously you are seating here to wipe people’s tears’.”

“I asked the lady again to explain to me what she does because I was there with my father and we were not crying,” she laughed again and I think the lady was just trying to make me understand as she thought maybe I was too young to understand. Nonetheless she told me and said, ‘I am a social worker and my role is to help miners and their families when there’s a deceased in their family just like you’.”

’Malefa said immediately when the lady described Social Work, she felt it in her heart that this was exactly what she wanted to study towards. Then when she went for career orientation at NUL and she was thrilled she was offered the particular course. During the orientation, ’Malefa felt head over hills with this course as when its theories and aspects were explained, she knew instantly that was her calling.

After obtaining her first degree in 2010, she persuaded a Master’s Degree in ‘Post adoption experiences of adoptive parents in Maseru Lesotho’ – the reason being that subsequently to her first degree she volunteered at the community resource centre named ‘Bana-pele Resource Centre’ in Ha Mafefooane Roma.

“My engagement with child adoption began there. I would engage with children and I learned the difficulties they are faced with in their families. I found out that some were not growing up in their biological families,” ’Malefa noted. Some years later ’Malefa found a job at an American adoption agency where she coordinates adoption of Basotho children into American families.

“The issue of adoption is within me and I think it has always been what God wanted me to do even though I wasn’t aware. I advocate for legal adoption for a reason. My father was adopted while he was young because his mother died while birthing him – another maternal mortality,” she sighed.

She continued to explain that she only got to know of her father’s story about adoption when she told his father about the kind of job she had found. “When I told my dad that I had found a job and I will be dealing with legal adoption of children, my father was very quick to respond to congratulate me saying: ‘Yes, that’s what you are born to do my child.’ So I was very surprised and asked him, then he told me his adoption story,” ‘Malefa said.

She noted that her father was adopted into a neighbouring family in his village when his mother died and although the adoption was not legal his father was lucky to keep his family names while other children who were adopted into the same family had to use the foster family’s surname.

’Malefa’s father was later sent back to his family after he came back from initiation school and had turned 18. At stage he was considered a man so he then started a new life with his biological family but said it was not easy to get used to the family so much that even to this day, his own children know his adoptive family as their relatives.

She said in Lesotho, Basotho don’t really understand adoption and only a small group does. “Basotho don’t feel the necessity to legalise adoption and they feel it is the responsibility of any family member who affords to take in an orphaned child to raise them,” she emphasised.

“They fail to understand the birth rights of a child that are enshrined in legal adoption. It is important to legalise the relationship that one has with the child because that child will need an identity. It is now illegal to just take a child and live with him or her without legalising that process,” she said.

When speaking about this issue, ’Malefa became very emotional and so firm that she kept moving on a chair as though she wanted to stand up so she could be heard properly.

“Children need to grow in a family and there are a number of ways to be in a family: biologically, by adoption, foster care and guardianship. It doesn’t really matter which option you choose as long as it’s what you want,” she declared. Even though she said she doesn’t facilitate adoptions locally, ’Malefa said most Basotho don’t manage to get through with the adoption process as they fail at some legal stage and one of the reasons is that they don’t give all the necessary details.

Reminiscing about her mom, she said she always remembers her mom with memories that she used to read for her and her siblings while they were young. With a big smile she said: “To this day I love to read. I read to people in a taxi; I read for my children and teach and encourage them to read. I give people free books because I have plenty of them that are donated to me by the Americans.”

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, ‘’Malefa made an arrangement with paediatric ward in Roma Hospital to read stories to children and their parents as a way of offering therapy. She said she encourages people to read because she wants to erase the mentality people have that ‘if you want to hide information write it down’. She emphasised that there is so much knowledge to gain through reading.

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