“Ikhaheng Basali,” the name of the community women’s group that I work with, translates to “wives building themselves up” or “women strengthening themselves.” Lately, that strengthening has been literal – we’re talking about food!
Long time readers (hi Mom) might remember that this women’s group was born after a workshop last year, where my counterpart and I learned about community HIV work. We held a meeting with women in our village to gauge their needs and interest, and then the group began to meet. Since that time, the group has grown to include around 50 dues-paying members (though individual meetings usually have around 20 attendees). We meet every Wednesday (except during planting and harvesting seasons). The women have elected board members. We have dabbled in a variety of projects: HIV education, craft making, and even dance. My counterpart and I are even writing a grant application to fund a workshop/retreat of sorts for the members.
As I mentioned, our most recent work has been about food. This began when the women mentioned that a challenge they faced was affording nutritious food for their families, especially since vegetable prices have been going up due to drought. To address this, we worked with Action Aid (a local NGO) to get seed donations. Some of the women were trained in conservation agriculture, so they taught the others how to do something called “trench gardening,” which is a better method for the current conditions. Then… we waited for the vegetables to grow!
Now, the ladies have plenty of beetroot, carrots, pumpkin, and greens, so we wanted to use this opportunity to learn about nutrition. My counterpart and I met with a local government nutritionist, who was kind enough to share her resources. One thing she gave us was a cookbook, written in Sesotho, that uses vegetables in healthy and creative ways.
For the last month, Ikhaheng Basali has tried a new recipe each week! The women bring their own vegetables, and the other ingredients are bought using their group dues. We cook together, and at the end of the meeting, everyone goes home with food for their families and a new recipe to use again. It has been so much fun!
We have made pickled beetroot, carrot chutney, pickled greens, and pumpkin jam. The women (myself included!) have a lot of fun cooking together and learning new ways to use the same old foods. These recipes are all for canned foods, so they will last long into winter when the gardens are dead. Tomorrow, we will finish on the topic of nutrition with a lesson about making a balanced meal and the relationship between nutrition and positive living (healthy living for HIV positive people).
Projects in Peace Corps can be really difficult. I might not talk about the failures much on this blog, but they are constant. Everything from small meetings to large events can fall through. Good ideas don’t always pan out in practice, and incentives and funding are a constant struggle. My goals and my community’s goals are not always aligned. On top of that, even fun events don’t always feel sustainable. Sometimes it’s hard to even know if something went well given the language and cultural barriers. This means that successes feel even more fruitful when they do happen!
I’m not saying that Ikhaheng Basali is perfect, but it is definitely special to me. Throughout highs and lows (and there have been a lot of both), my counterpart and I have found ways to get member feedback and constantly improve the group. By connecting the dots with local organizations, I feel hopeful at the prospect of the group continuing past my time in Lesotho. The women in my community have a wealth of knowledge, and I feel honored at the chance to help create a forum where they can share it with me and with each other. On top of that, this project has been so much fun and so personally fulfilling because it has helped me get to know the remarkable women in my community. I am proud to share our progress!