After I graduated from UCLA, I was constantly running into acquaintances who wanted to know what my post-grad plans were. Most of those pre-departure conversations went something like this: “I’m moving to ‘Le-soo-too.'” When I was met with a blank stare, I elaborated, “It’s spelled like Lesotho? It’s in Southern Africa? It’s kinda in the middle of South Africa?”
I get it. Lesotho is obscure. That’s why I’m going to give you the greatest-hits tour of my months of research, so you can be on the other end of those blank stares, dazzling onlookers with your knowledge.
First things first: Lesotho is drop-dead gorgeous.
At this point, it’s probably clear how Lesotho got the nickname “Mountain Kingdom.” This leads me to my mom’s favorite Lesotho fact: it has the highest low point (more than 4,500 ft) of any country in the world.
Is anyone wondering about that second photo? Yes, it snows in Lesotho. And Lesotho is in the Southern Hemisphere, so that snow falls in July, not December. The cold, dry winters are balanced by hot, humid, rainy summers, or so the [Lesotho Meteorological Services] tell me.
I’m going to do my history major thing now: Lesotho won its independence in 1966, after being a British protectorate since 1868. Its political history is tumultuous, as different political parties and army factions have competed with the royal family for power. In fact, there was an attempted coup as recent as 2014 (but not to worry, effects of events like these are rarely felt in the rural areas where volunteers are stationed). Now, King Letsie III’s role is largely symbolic, and the Prime Minister presides over a parliamentary system.
As a Peace Corps volunteer, I’ll live and work in a community of Basotho people. That’s right, the Basotho people live in Lesotho and speak Sesotho – easy to remember. Most Basotho are Christian as a result of missionaries in Southern Africa. For income, many households in Lesotho rely on farming or migrant labor in South Africa’s mines. The nation’s main exports are water, electricity, and textiles.
The World Bank classifies Lesotho as a “lower middle income” country, but what does that mean? Poverty is a reality in Lesotho, where the U.N. defines 40% of the population as ultra poor. HIV/AIDS is also a major concern in Lesotho, where an estimated 24% of adults are HIV positive. One of my favorite development indicators (and there are many – did I mention I studied this?) is the human development index, or HDI. The HDI is a composite of several factors, including life expectancy, level of education, and income. As of 2014, Lesotho had a below-average HDI of .486, ranking it at 162 out of 187 countries.
Issues of poverty and development are beyond complicated to quantify, let alone address. When you’re in a classroom, the numbers can all start to seem, well, like just numbers. This is one of my main goals of living in Lesotho: I want to begin to understand the human experience of life in the developing world, not just the statistics.
That brings us to Peace Corps Lesotho! From the [Peace Corps Welcome Packet]:
The Peace Corps was invited to work in Lesotho soon after independence in 1966 and the first Volunteers arrived in 1967. Since that time, a relatively constant number of between 80 and 90 Volunteers have served at any given time, except for a brief period in 1998 when the program was suspended.
To date, over 2,300 volunteers have served in Lesotho. Current volunteers are working in the education and health sectors in all 10 of the country’s districts. I am proud to join the long tradition of volunteers in Lesotho!
Want to learn more? You can find Lesotho’s government website [here]. The [World Bank] and the [CIA World Factbook] have collected interesting data. More on the HDI generally can be found [here], with Lesotho specific information [here]. Finally, read more about Peace Corps’s work in Lesotho [here] and [here]!
All photos licensed under Creative Commons.