‘I was challenged to be salt and light in my community’
In the last of a series of three articles, Us Community Fundraising Manager David Brand reports on a church-led community development in Lesotho supported by Us.
The community of Ha Mafa in Lesotho is remote, very remote. We are travelling there in a battered 4x4 from St James’ Mission Hospital in Mantsonyane, high in the mountains of this beautiful kingdom, landlocked within South Africa.
Around two-and-a-half hours later, we reach Ha Mafa. The beauty of the environment is matched by the level of difficulty in reaching it. The road to Ha Mafa was strewn with boulders and deeply rutted where winter streams have eroded or washed away the track.
This is a place where salt and light is transforming the community. But this salt and light isn’t coming from outside the village, but from deep within the community itself; from a committed hard-working nucleus of villagers who are working tirelessly to bring improved health and wellbeing to Ha Mafa.
This beautiful warm morning, under cloudless skies, I’m privileged to be meeting with the Local Facilitation Team (LFT) – a group of people, supported by Us, who have become catalysts for change in their village. My ever-present ebullient translator and guide Thabiso Nyapisi introduces me and Mapaseka, who is the finance officer at St James’ Hospital, which has a satellite clinic in Ha Mafa.
The LFT keenly engages with a question and answer session set up so I can learn more about the work they are undertaking. I listen as they tell me about the challenges they face.
After every few questions, I’m taken aback when we all stand up to sing songs of praise and worship. Mapaseka leads the singing, which is designed to bond the group together, bring joy and unite them behind their common goal. Initially, I feel a little out of place as the group sing, clap and dance in a language unknown to me. Soon, though, I’m clapping along, learning first-hand how music is able to cross language and cultural boundaries and bring a group together.
The LFT outlines their goals for the community and explains what they are doing to fulfil their vision. They tell me how they want to see the community using their own hands and becoming less dependent on external support. They aspire to see the community recognise their own assets and strengths, and capitalise on these to improve their own lives.
The people use the phrase ‘spicing the community’. They see their role within their society as salt: something to care for, preserve and improve the taste of the community for all. Although the LFT is modest in number – 15 people – they can see that just as a little salt has a big effect, so they can have a catalytic impact in improving health for everyone.
The LFT is utilising a process known as SALT, which stands for ‘Strengths, Appreciation, Learning, Transfer’, but the acronym is also a description of the healing effect on their community.
The SALT process involves visiting villagers in their homes to build trust and long-lasting relationships by coming alongside them in conversation. Through engaging in this way, the LFT is educating villagers and, most crucially, helping to change attitudes and mindsets.
Through the SALT process, villagers are encouraged to recognise what assets they already have locally, and build upon these assets to develop sustainable healthy ways of living. The enthusiasm of the LFT motivates everyone they come into contact with, and changes have been seen as a result. Villagers have improved their circumstances through a range of initiatives, such things as farming fallow agricultural land, attending HIV testing clinics, and providing structure and instruction for children and young people in the community.
One LFT member said: ‘Now is the time to take charge of our lives. We meet people in their homes and motivate them to do just that’.
It’s clear that the team is having an impact, and will continue to do so over the long-term as mindsets continue to change. Sometimes this can be difficult to quantify, and the team is working on ways to record the evidence of change.
My time in Lesotho has been life-changing for me personally. Superlatives fall short of describing the work I have seen undertaken by local people, St James’ Mission Hospital and the NGO Hope Africa, which is supporting the process.
Like the people in Ha Mafa, I have also undergone a shift in mindset: I saw first-hand how people in Lesotho are being the hands and feet of Jesus Christ himself. They are embodying practical love; they are rolling up their sleeves and being the change they want to see in their own communities. And they are part of the same worldwide Anglican Communion as me.
My church in the UK is a branch of the same tree that reaches to Lesotho and beyond. What I’ve observed during this visit has challenged me to roll up my own sleeves and get involved in mission where I am by embodying and exemplifying love through practical action. The challenge for me is to be salt and light wherever I am, and to support my brothers and sisters in the world church to be salt wherever they are.