Read, Debate: Engage.

The Lesotho night schools

July 12, 2017
topic:Child rights
tags:#Africa, #education, #HIV Aids, #Lesotho, #Night Schools
by:Bob Koigi
Sandwiched between two snowcapped mountains in one of the remotest parts of the Southern African country of Lesotho, a host of schools defy the harsh weather, standing conspicuously in the rugged terrain that can only be accessible by foot or on horseback.

But these schools have been a haven for tens of young Lesotho boys who have traditionally been locked from accessing formal education and healthcare but instead work as shepherds and herd boys.

Traditionally in Lesotho, young boys have always assumed the role of tending to livestock in a cultural practice deemed vital in their initiation to adulthood. But in the recent past, most of the boys, as young as five, have been forced to take up herding as an income generating activity, the majority pushed by their families to help them earn an income. They are sent far away, in mountains and in unforgiving terrains where it at times gets unbearably cold in a country where all of the land lies above 1,000 meters, the only such country in the world.

It is estimated that up to a third of the country’s boys of school-going age work full-time in tending to livestock. The payment is usually a cow, smaller animals or even year-round milk supplies to their families.

But for this, they have to spend long days and nights away from their family members, and live with the constant fear of attacks from wild animals, livestock rustlers and diseases associated with cold weather, sometimes temperatures go as low as -4 Fahrenheit (-20 C).

But the schools in the mountains are giving them a reason to feel as part of society once again while equipping them with fundamental lessons.

Started in 2006 through a charity dubbed Sentebale, an initiative of Prince Seeiso, the younger brother of Lesotho’s King Letsie III and Britain’s Prince Harry, the schools run night teaching when boys have free time and the livestock are resting.

According to Sentebale, the thirst for information and quest for education by the boys is so strong that they walk long distances to get to school. The schools are the only way they can access formal education.

Conducted four nights each week, the schools train boys how to read and write, key subjects like English and Mathematics and how to operate various technologies like mobile phones in order to benefit them in their daily activities like checking the weather updates. And in a country that ranks among the highest in HIV/AIDS prevalence rates in the world, estimated at around 24 per cent of the adult population according to UNAIDS data, the schools have also introduced trainings on preventing and managing the disease.

The boys are also given a hot meal every time they attend classes.

But beyond the formal education, the night schools have also created the perfect spot for social gathering among the herd boys. These boys have for a long time been used to the lonely and isolated life as they scatter and move around Lesotho with livestock in search of dwindling pasture. The boys are now able to share experiences in the classes and encourage each other.

Sentebale’s immediate aim is to reach more herd boys through rolling out extra night schools, but the ultimate dream is to put to an end the practice of using children as herders and denying them the right to education. Sentebale hopes that other options can be explored to support rural economy and empower families to find other income generating activities that also protects children’s right to education.

The night schools concept has reverberated beyond the Southern African region and caught the attention of other African countries struggling with the same predicament. In East Africa, where majority of the pastoralist communities are known to rely on the family to raise and tend to livestock, the boy child has been on the receiving end, barely managing to access formal education. A group of scholars now say Lesotho’s model is a path they would want to pursue in safeguarding the interest of the pastoralist boys. “It is one of the classic examples of ensuring even as we respect cultures we also allow the children to move with times and access formal education which is a fundamental right that they are entitled to. Night schools offer the best solution to navigate through this because they don’t interfere with the ways of lives of the pastoralists. Ultimately though, we hope to convince these families, the need to let children enjoy education like every child should,” said Kasana Leiyan, a Maasai pastoralist from Kenya’s Kajiado County who advocates for the education of the marginalised communities.

Article written by:
Bob Koigi
Bob Koigi
Author, Contributing Editor
But the schools at the mountains are giving them a reason to feel as part of society once again while equipping them with fundamental lessons.
Call to Action
Help the Youth Mentoring Connections supporting kids to find out about their own talents and abilities!
youth mentoring
Support now