Despite its magnificent natural beauty and rich culture, the mountainous southern African country of Lesotho faces big development challenges. Many of its remote villages can only be reached by foot or on horseback, and the majority of children grow up in a patriarchal society, with the prospect of gender-based violence, the threat of HIV, high unemployment rates and limited economic opportunities.
So, it may come as a surprise to find a gathering of attentive children and adults in the village of Hlotse, in northern Lesotho, immersed in a range of activities: playing games, learning leadership skills, and rehearsing singing and drama performances.
Joyful scenes such as this one are a daily occurrence at the Graff Leadership Centre – the organisation founded by Graff’s FACET Foundation in 2008, partnering with the local Help Lesotho charity. Located in the town of Leribe, the Leadership Centre is a vibrant hub that fosters hope, skills and motivation among the thousands of children, teenagers and grandparents who pass through its doors each year.
Working at grassroots level to target community priorities such as education, psychosocial support and leadership training – and with HIV/AIDS and gender-equity education embedded within all the programmes – the Centre aims to bring an end to the cycle of poverty and develop a brighter future for Lesotho’s next generation of community leaders in a safe and welcoming environment.
The achievements and successes of those who have moved on from the local programmes are a great testament to the impact it is having on the community. Local subsistence farmer Lerato Mofubelu stumbled across the Leadership Centre one day and went inside to ask what services were offered. On finding out that he could learn about the skills he would need to be a village councillor, he made the life-changing decision to apply for the Computer Literacy and Life Skills programme.
“The Centre aims to develop a brighter future for Lesotho’s next
generation of community leaders.”
At the end of 2017, Mofubelu achieved his aspirations and was elected as an urban councillor in the local government. He is eternally grateful to the Centre, particularly for changing his way of thinking: ‘In our culture it is common to think that men and women should have certain roles in society, but at the Centre I understood work should be shared equally.’
Annually, the Centre hosts stimulating three-day Gender Conferences for boys and girls to promote the importance of gender equality and respect. Participants are taught how to share what they learnt with their peers, extending the impact of the training far beyond the walls of the classroom.
One beneficiary who is incredibly passionate about passing on all she learnt from the Centre is Lijeng Ntokoane, a graduate from the Basotho Girls’ Leadership Corps. Ntokoane lived at the Graff Leadership Centre hostel for the five years of her high school education, and is now studying political science and public administration at the National University of Lesotho.
Ntokoane explains that by attending one-to-one meetings with her programme manager she grew in self-esteem and was able to talk openly about her grievances and the challenges faced by young girls in Lesotho, and this in turn enabled her to develop leadership skills.
‘The programme taught me that I am a very important person and that I deserve to be listened to – this was the biggest impact I felt personally.’
Academically, Ntokoane feels extremely fortunate to have studied at the Centre, where she always had access to crucial facilities such as the library and computers, and where she received extra maths and English support.
‘Really, I’m where I am today because of the Graff Leadership Centre,’ she beams. ‘It empowered me to be a positive agent of change not only in my life, but also in the lives of other people in the community, and all over the world.’