Why did we choose England? Surely there are schools closer to us, in South Africa for example, or other parts of Africa with whom we could have set up such a relationship?
Of course, but there were a number of good reasons behind this choice.
- We want to try to shift a certain power relation. There is a tourist Lodge in our valley, and many of our children are directly or indirectly exposed to European people who visit the valley. This relationship is a very skewed one.
In the eyes of our children it is simple. If you are white, you have money and possessions, if you are a Mosotho, you don’t.
If you are white you are clever and creative, if you are a rural Mosotho person, you aren’t.
If you are white you have plenty to give, plenty to offer the world, if you are a small Mosotho child, you have nothing to offer.
We want our children to see that children are children whatever their colour, wherever they live, but also that they themselves have plenty to offer.
We want the to see that they are smart, streetwise beyond belief, resourceful, creative, funny, skilled in ways that children from other parts are not, because they face different challenges, work and play in different contexts.
We want them to see that giving is not a one-way street, even the poorest person has something to offer, something to give. It’s not all about money.
So through connecting personally with children from England, from a context that could not be more different if we tried, they are learning about other children’s lives, but more importantly, they are learning to see their own lives in a different way, in a more positive way, vis-à-vis the affluent western world.
And we hope that the children in England are learning similarly, albeit in a different way.
- The drive to learn English in our valley is tremendously strong. It is the language of teaching and learning in our schools, like it or not. Apart from making you much more employable outside of Malea-lea, and far more likely to pass from Primary School into Secondary or High School, thereby increasing your chances of any kind of further education, it carries huge social prestige.
- Entirely practical. We happen to know a person who personally set up the relationship with us, and continues to be our go-between when we need her (thank you Julia!)
So every Thursday afternoon after school we don’t only learn to speak and read and write English, our hearts deepest desire (we speak both languages all the time interchangeably).
And we don’t only learn how to write a proper letter (and in time to come, to type a letter), respond to questions from others appropriately, to put down our own personal thoughts on paper for someone else to share.
We also take and send photographs, make things like paper toys, exchange little gifts (many of them home-made), make little videos of our choir, and about our traditional (and other) dancing, and learn to speak into a camera to tell someone else about something we like doing in the school holidays.
We play games and sing songs and have tea and biscuits and take care of the things we use that have been bought for us.
We are strict in our group.
The children themselves have made it so.
You have to approach us if you want to join, we don’t advertise.
You have to bring a parent or relative with whom you live to speak to us, so that this person can fully understand what the work of Leseli la Thutano is all about, and to grant permission for you to attend.
You have to bring your book with you every single time, and you have to be there every single Thursday. Miss more than 3 sessions in a row, and you are out unless you have a good reason to offer the group.
And you have to participate in all activities, and to show that you are serious about being a friend to someone far away and about learning to communicate with that person in English to the best of your ability.
The teachers of the local Primary School are beginning to notice that these children’s English is moving ahead in leaps and bounds, without any formal teaching, just through sheer exposure and an authentic reason to use it.
We are happy with our Leseli group, and we hope that the children in England are happy too!