By Alison Priestley
This would be the second time I had the amazing opportunity to join the “Hand Me Down” volunteer team, travelling to Lesotho for the October 2014 re-distribution. Having been there in March 2014 for the first time I was thrilled to be back again so soon. We arrived at our base, Maliba Mountain Lodge, in the dark. It was only when we woke up in the morning and looked outside did we see the stunningly beautiful Maluti Mountains that encapsulate the valley. We met up with Daniel, the Community Trust Manager, and Dean from Clarens, who is also involved in helping the poorest communities in the area.
The 4x4’s and Dean’s red “Volksie Bus" set off at around 9:00 am and after a 15 minute drive we arrived at the Ha’ Mali village turn-off, a dirt track hidden on the bend of the one tar road in the area. Dean was first to attempt the sandy, rutted road in “Volksie”, the combie with no low range and only 2 wheel drive found it a little challenging! After a number of attempts Dean decided that he was losing the battle with nature and parked up at the bottom and jumped into “CLWOODGP” our 4x4 VW Amarok.
It was a slow ascent up the mountain with the vehicles, and drivers, having to contemplate a number of natural obstacles. The climb was made easier by our escorts – including the community elder ladies plus boys and girls of all ages singing, waving and I’ll never forget the whistles. They made us feel so welcome as we made our way up through the breathtaking views and landscape.
When we reached the gates of the Community Centre we parked the vehicles and off-loaded the bags of clothes we had brought with us from Johannesburg. We were still 20 meters up a steep hill away from the Centre, so all the children hoisted a bag each on top of their heads and walked them up to the top where the re-distribution would take place.
Inside sat the village chief, an unassuming character, sitting quietly waiting to begin proceedings. He spoke to us in Sotho, which Daniel kindly translated – he said that they were very happy and thankful that we had chosen their community to assist and wished us well. We were instructed to split the clothes into age groups and gender ready to be handed to the orphans of the village one by one. Now it was time for the re-distribution. As we left the Centre a sea of young faces at the door met us, eagerly anticipating their name being called so that they could receive their “new clothes”. It was truly heartwarming to see the children’s little happy faces as they came back with their bundle of clothes held tightly in their arms, as if it was the most precious thing they had. Some children couldn’t wait to show us what they had received and, even though there was a language barrier you could see in their young thoughtful eyes, and their huge beaming smiles that this small act of kindness had made a difference that both them and us would remember for a long time.
As the re-distribution continued, the sun beating down with little shade, the children waited patiently and orderly for their time. We were able to engage a little with them, giving hugs, making them laugh by pulling faces. It was incredibly precious to have this involvement.
The whole re-distribution took around 4 hours, and then it was time to say our goodbyes.
We slowly made our way down the mountain and as we reached the bottom we were asked to inspect the rubbish the community had collected in exchange for the clothes. The rubbish had been sorted into tins, bottles and plastics. There were 50 bags collected, which was fantastic and good to see that the community not only benefits from the clothes, but from a cleaner safer environment because of the Hand Me Down Initiative. We helped load the bags of rubbish into the bakkie, which took the rubbish off the recycling center.
What an amazing day. Being involved in the Hand Me Down Initiatives takes you through a roller coaster of emotions, but the rewards are immense. Can’t wait for the next re-distribution in 2015 ….