In which Emily gets really grassroots

Greetings readers! First of all, here is an awesome video about PC Lesotho that some PCVs made:

Down to business. I would like to dedicate this blog entry to telling you all about one of my secondary projects, Community Innovative Skills Program. As a PCV I have a primary assignment through my host organization, but the work for this hardly fills a work week so I am expected to find some secondary projects in my community.

After being back at site for about a month, this secondary project literally came knocking at my door. Or rather, the project manager and now my counterpart, ‘M’e Puseletso, came knocking at my door. She told me that she had worked with a PCV who lived in a nearby village a few years ago, and that Peace Corps had directed her to me when she inquired if there was anyone in the area currently. I was thrilled to be sought out, and we started working together right off the bat.

Community Innovative Skills Program, or CISP, is a small center where orphans, vulnerable children, and their care-givers will be instructed in employable skills like sewing and baking. As Volunteers we describe projects like CISP as “super grassroots” because it has no funding from NGOs or donors. My work for CISP consists of spending one day a week with Puseletso pounding pavement in town asking for community donations in order to get the resources we need to open. Once classes are up-and-running, CISP will operate on dues paid by the students and the income generated by selling things the students make. Some of the products will be embroidered pillowcases, dresses, stuffed animal dogs, and muffins.

As with all fundraising, there are ups and downs. Sometimes business-owners agree to do things like sponsor students, provide equipment from their stock, or fund the purchase of materials. Sometimes they refuse. Sometimes there are other setbacks, like when an oven was donated, but we were not able to get a truck to transport it to the center for months. Another time a shop owner agreed to donate a cabinet, but when we went to collect it his shop had been robbed the night before and he had no stock left.

What is most interesting to me is that almost every time we explain our organization to someone, they ask if an orphan they live with or know can join. The proportion of children in Lesotho who are orphans is unbelievable high compared to the U.S.

Puseletso has big dreams for CISP. She sees us renting more rooms, expanding to teach agriculture, hospitality, and other skills. She wants to get a truck so that we can instruct disabled people in the community who cannot leave their homes. She wants to start a scholarship fund for orphans at the local primary schools so they can go on to high school (primary school is free in Lesotho but high school is not). She wants to throw a Christmas party for the students and care-givers. She has even talked about running workshops to train instructors in remote villages. They are all excellent ideas, and I do my best to encourage her while remaining realistic of our capabilities.

Working with Puseletso is always eventful. She is probably the most energetic person I’ve ever met, especially in Lesotho where the pace of life is comparably slow. She is passionate about the work, though, so all of that energy is channeled into something wonderful for the community. She is also something of a hustler. She is always sewing things like seshoeshoe (traditional dresses) and school uniforms for someone in the village in addition to selling something or other out of her handbag. One time it was Tupperware. Another it was fish and chips. Lately it’s been herbal tea. It’s fascinating seeing her get random people on the street to buy tea from her. And they always do! Also, every time we get in a taxi she tells the driver that we only have M5, even though taxi rides cost M6 in Mohale’s Hoek. If they refuse, she berates them about the noble work we’re doing until they are guilted into giving us a ride. She’s incredible.

CISP is opening up for classes soon, and I’m very excited to see the work we’ve been doing put to some use. I will be teaching some classes in basic business skills and health, Puseletso will be teaching sewing, and another volunteer teacher will teach cooking and baking. We’ve got about 20 students on the roster. Soon these kids will be able to support themselves!

Here’s a picture of Puseletso with some rugs that were donated by a local hardware store (NB: Basotho don’t usually smile in pictures for unknown reasons):