‘Mannyalleng Letšela of Matebeleng in Butha-Buthe narrates how news of her daughter’s disability shattered her world.
‘Mannyalleng Letšela was a worried woman.
After carrying her pregnancy through the “normal” cycle, Ms Letšela had still given birth to what looked like a premature baby, with doctors fearing the worst for the infant.
The Butha-Buthe woman was to remain in hospital in South Africa for the next three months, as medical staff carried out tests on the baby to see what could be the problem.
“She was very tiny when I gave birth to her on 1 January 1991 in South Africa, where I had visited my husband, who was working there at the time.
“What was most worrying was I had delivered at the right time, but still my daughter was unbelievably small that it frightened me.
“We had to stay in hospital for three full months as the doctors observed her; they were honest with me and said they suspected she might not make it.
“However, after three months, the doctors said we could leave but instructed that I should be extra careful with my daughter. When I came home here in Matebeleng, my in-laws named her Mosela,” Ms Letšela told the Sunday Express.
According to Ms Letšela, she would continually thank the Lord, as days passed with her baby showing signs of improvement but still lagging behind her agemates in “everything”.
“The fact that the doctors told me to take good care of her showed that something was terribly wrong. I was also instructed to take the baby for regular medical check-ups, which I religiously did.
“But when Mosela’s agemates started to speak, my baby could not even utter a word, and it also took her longer than the other children to walk. Doctors then shattered my world when they told me that she was mentally disabled. This was the most painful moment of my life because those words destroyed my world.”
According to Ms Letšela, Mosela, who is now 23 years of age, only started walking when she was three years of age, and tried to say some words a year later, when she was four.
“The whole process was painful to watch, and when she had to go to school, it was even worse for me.
“Because she was struggling so much with her studies, she would pretend to go to school and hide somewhere until the rest of the kids were going home, and then she would join them.
“I soon realised that this was what she was doing, and it really worried me. She is a very secretive person and she would not tell me if anything happened to her. And my biggest worry was that she might be raped while hiding away in the bushes to avoid going to school, and she would not tell us.
“For her security and my peace of mind, I told her teachers that it would be wise if she stopped going to school, and I told them about my concerns. The teachers understood my fears and she left school at 18 years of age.
“What had also been frustrating her was that she could not progress like the other students and would remain in the same grade for two of three years.”
Ms Letšela, who survives through selling brooms and doing household chores for different families, and also weeding and harvesting neighbours’ fields, said life remains difficult for her mentally-handicapped daughter.
“When I am busy with my piece-jobs, I leave her with my daughters-in-law and so far, they are doing a very good job of caring for her. I just wish she could go to school so that she may acquire some skills, that could help her have a life of her own.”
Meanwhile, Mosela, together with her neighbour Ntaoleng Lesoja (16) who is physically handicapped, were visited by the Minister of Tourism, Environment and Culture, Ms ‘Mamahele Radebe, as well as Chinese Embassy, Rotary Club of Maseru and Eddy Poone Foundation staff a fortnight ago. The two were presented with various goods during the visit, with Ms Radebe warning parents not to hide their children who are living with disabilities.
“When I first came here in August this year, Lesoja had been hidden away and that was painful to hear because she also has her rights. I only met the girl later when social workers came here after reading about her story in one of our local newspapers. However, it was during the social workers’ visit that they learned that there was another lady, Letšela, who had also been hidden away during my visit. This is not right because by hiding these children, you are denying them their rights,” Ms Radebe said.
The Director for Disability Services, Ms Mahlapane Makakule-Bodiba, who was also part of the delegation to Matebeleng, said a child should be assessed by auxiliary social workers to see if she could be trained in-spite of her disability.
“We have Ithuseng Vocational Rehabilitation Centre (ICRC) in Lepereng, where children living with various disabilities are trained and acquire different skills. The centre offers training in leatherworks, metalwork, carpentry, sewing, knitting and agriculture.
“Before admission, one goes through a screening process to see what programme would be suitable for him or her.
“So what this means is even though someone could be born with a disability, it should not mean the end of the world for that individual,” Ms Makakule-Bodiba said.