Grass roots solutions to keep kids safe and in school

Published: 11 February 2016 11:00 CET

Beibi Rakolobe, Lesotho Red Cross Society

A deep gorge separates the village of Ha Moila from the health clinics, schools, churches and public buildings in the larger town of Morifi in Lesotho. During the rainy season, the gorge fills with water as the Makhaleng river swells into this, and neighbouring tributaries. Despite the rising flood waters, school children and other villagers continue to make the dangerous crossing each day.

Falling sick during the wet season in Ha Moila is perilous. There is no means for cars to reach the village to provide emergency transport. Treatment can only be sought after wading through the water-filled gorge. Many children skip days of school because the waters are too deep to cross, even with the help of adults.

“Examinations are the most stressful time because, should the dam be full, external students may fail to sit for their exams,” said Mr Ralekoala, a teacher at Morifi High School. “Unfortunately, exams are during the rainy season.”

Teachers from both the primary and secondary schools explain that for those children who do come to school, crossing the gorge often means they arrive late. When it rains during the day, students’ concentration levels drop as they start to worry about whether they will be able to get home. Often, teachers release students early if the rains get too heavy.

In September 2015, the Lesotho Red Cross Society, with support from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), began working with the people of Ha Moila to establish a Community-Based Disaster Response Team in the village. The group now comprises of four volunteers trained in swimming and water safety, and other volunteers trained in fire safety, first aid and home-based care, as well as representatives from across the community, including minority groups, such as people with disabilities.

The Red Cross has provided training to each of the volunteers who then work to pass on their knowledge to other villagers. There is a tradition in Ha Moila of adults helping school children to cross the gorge. Thanks to the Red Cross and the water safety volunteers, community knowledge of water safety has increased.

The Community-Based Disaster Response Team is also working to reduce the risks associated with crossing the gorge by constructing poles with markings of different colours that show when it is safe and when it is risky to cross. They are also planning to build a footbridge and have secured materials and identified a suitable location.

The bridge is just the beginning for the response team. Members also want to look at reducing food insecurity, improving access to safe water and sanitation, and educating the community in home-based care and risk reduction. By tacking the problems prioritized by community members, this village is reducing its vulnerability to disaster once step at a time.