In two years, I’ll be gone. I’m not going to live in this village forever. I will have a direct hand in the education of several hundred Basotho students, but no more. But if I do things right, if I’m a truly effective Peace Corps volunteer, my work will be sustainable enough that it will outlast my stay.
Sustainability comes in many forms. Take cooperation with Basotho teachers, for example. By swapping classroom ideas, informally or formally, I can both improve my teaching skills and potentially introduce ideas that will be used in Basotho classrooms beyond my tenure as a teacher here. Sustainability is also huge in HIV/AIDS work, since strides in reducing stigma or increasing condom use have long-term effects.
There are many factors that determine whether a project will be sustainable or not, but perhaps the most important question to ask is: who is involved?
As a PCV, it’s not a good idea to start a project that my community members do not want or are not excited about, no matter how passionate I may be. You can imagine that without community involvement, a project would not only be difficult to get off the ground, but it would also die the second I left the village.
While I’m still getting my footing in my village, and I’m certainly not ready to start any big projects, I’ve been thinking about that who question. When I do have ideas, who are the important players in my community to get involved? Who do others listen to? Who holds the power?
With this in mind, I set out to meet the formal leaders in my village: the councilor (mocouncilor) and the chief (morena).
My mocouncilor, a woman named ‘M’e Mathebe, is a no-nonsense mother of six from Quthing (a southern district) with what first seems like an intimidating demeanor. This first impression dissipated quickly, as she warmly greets me on my daily walks and even visited when she heard I was sick.
The councilor’s job is to oversee the agriculture and livestock of a particular region. ‘M’e Mathebe’s jurisdiction is four villages in the vicinity, where she takes care of problems associated with pastures, fields, and even houses. She told me that she likes her work because it involves talking to people and solving problems, but she is ready to retire this year. Before her 4-year term ends, she will help choose the next councilor.
The morena, Ntate Moeketsane, lives across the road from the councilor. He is a soft-spoken old man, and we sat in his rondavel to chat. He has a big family – when I asked how many children he has, he had to count on his fingers before fondly telling me about them.
To be honest, it’s difficult to figure out the exact parameters of the chief’s job. The way he described it to me, a chief does “general work” for the village. He settles disputes between community members, deals with problems like burnt houses or stolen animals, and oversees certain community meetings. My ‘M’e often reminds me that if I have problems with my house or work, while I should tell her first, I can also go to the morena for help.
The morena is an important figure in local government, and chiefs of smaller villages like mine report to more powerful chiefs that preside over whole regions. This position is passed down through families, so Ntate Moeketsane took over from his father before him (usually, but not always, chiefs are men).
Getting to know these two leaders has made me feel more at home in my village. We chat when we see each other on the street, and I know that they have my back should I ever need their support. Right now, I’m just grateful for their friendship, but I also understand that they hold a lot of sway in the community. As I get more comfortable here and begin to plan projects, I definitely intend to work closely with my mocouncilor and morena to make sure those projects are wanted, effective, and sustainable.