A big, white pickup truck pulled into the compound, one afternoon at Rachel’s Children Home, an HIV/AIDS orphanage in Maputsoe Lesotho. A tiny figure cowered in the truck’s bed. Two police officers emerged from the truck and instructed the figure to hop out.
The officers explained this figure-a young girl-was to be left at Rachel’s Home. She brought nothing with her. No suitcase. No passport. No birth certificate. Legally, this child does not exist.
She is one of over 100 thousand orphans living in Lesotho, a small, African kingdom, roughly the size of Maryland, decimated by the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
The child wore a hoodie full of holes and pants covered with dirt, short enough to draw attention to her bare feet.
One of my team members, Jane McWilliams, reached her hand out to the child. The child accepted and we could see her face for the first time. She smiled. We learned her name was Nyane Lesenyeho and she was 12 years old.
Over the eight days I spent at Rachel’s Home, I had the pleasure to get to know Nyane. I learned she loved to play, could speak English very well, she had a brother living in another city, and man, could she dance.
My favourite memory of my second trip to Lesotho is spending an entire Saturday afternoon dancing to traditional Sesotho [the language spoken by the Sotho in Lesotho] music with the children. Nyane knew the most moves, which was bittersweet to watch. Joy poured out of her as she danced, not for show, but for herself. This meant she had a family who taught her to dance, who loved to celebrate. What happened to them? How did she end up on the streets? I don’t know the specifics, but I do know just under one quarter of Lesotho’s population of two million is HIV positive and everyone has been affected by the horrors of AIDS.
Nyane might’ve slipped through the cracks, if not for Hilda and Godwill, evangelists, who started Rachel’s Home nearly 10 years ago. Hilda said she felt a strong calling to sell her home and move her family of seven, to Lesotho to open an orphanage after an orphaned baby was left on her doorstep.
Today, there are 57 orphans living at Rachel’s. The children go to school on the compound until grade six and then are sent to boarding school and later post-secondary studies in surrounding cities.
Central Presbyterian Church, in Cambridge, Ont., supports Rachel’s Home. It is their goal to send each of the children to post-secondary studies because it is the only way out of poverty and despair in Lesotho.
Up to this point, this dream has been achieved. Three girls are currently attending post-secondary studies at various institutions. Tsepang Nyenye, 22, is studying accounting at the University of Lesotho. Her sister Libuseng, 24, is studying nursing and midwifery at the same school. Maleshoane Seforo, 21, is in her first year at the Integrated Business College in Lesotho. Tsepang said she wants to get a good job in order to have enough to help others. This is the mentality at Rachel’s Home – pay it forward, in a sense.
When you meet Hilda, the mama of the orphanage, for the first time, you are blown away by her sheer presence. You can physically see the rays of joy radiating from this woman. Her smile is blinding. She is unlike the typical portrayal of a third-world woman. She is always dressed well, in bright colours, with her cell phone and car keys in hand ready to tackle her never-ending list of errands. She said she is happiest when all of her children are home.
Hilda said she felt like a princess during our visit because she was given the time to rest and spend time with her children. Our team consisted of 30 Canadians from all walks of life. We built shower facilities, painted each room in the orphanage, upgraded the security on the compound and spent time with the children.
Unfortunately, Hilda has thyroid problems and is in need of an expensive operation. Central Church is looking into getting Hilda well again; without Hilda there is no Rachel’s.