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Children’s centre launched amid pomp and fanfare

 

Mohalenyane Phakela

KING Letsie III on Thursday officially opened the ‘Mamohato Children’s Centre in the presence of its founding patrons, Prince Seeiso Bereng Seeiso and Prince Harry of Wales in a festive ceremony held in Thaba Bosiu.

Among the international and local guests in attendance during the launch included dignitaries, donors, trustees and Sentebale ambassadors.

The £2 million (about M43.3 million) centre will be the flagship facility for all of Sentebale’s work and provide 1 500 vulnerable children with residential camps where they can learn how to manage their condition and deal with the stigma associated with the disease.

The vulnerable children include orphans, children living with HIV those with disabilities and herd boys who tend livestock in the remote highlands. Sentebale is a charity founded by Prince Seeiso and Prince Harry in 2006 to assist the country’s needy children.

Sentebale patrons Prince Seeiso and Prince Harry (4)
Sentebale patrons Prince Seeiso and Prince Harry

The centre was named after King Letsie III and Prince Seeiso’s mother, the late Queen ‘Mamohato Bereng Seeiso, who was also renowned for her philanthropic initiatives. It will also be used to hold a range of events and workshops to benefit vulnerable children such as hearing assessments for children with hearing disabilities, training workshops for organisations caring for vulnerable children, peer educator workshops and forums as well as hosting camps delivering psychosocial support to children living with HIV.

According to the Sentebale website, the camps are meant to ensure 10-19-year olds living with HIV access and adhere to their anti-retroviral treatment, “feel supported in school, at home and in the community, and are able to lead healthy and productive lives”.

The opening ceremony was made all the more colourful with song and dance courtesy of the Sentebale children’s choir and herdboys who performed Liphotha. Sentebale ambassador and English soul singer Joss Stone capped the day’s festivities by performing around the campfire before the firework finale.

In remarks to welcome guests to his village, Thaba Bosiu Principal Chief, Khoabane Theko, lauded Prince Seeiso and Prince Harry for their determination, saying they were following in their late mothers’ footsteps. He said Queen ‘Mamohato and Prince Harry’s late mother, Princess Diana, left an indelible legacy in their efforts to help vulnerable children.

During the ceremony, Prince Harry had a joyous reunion with Mutsu Potsane, an orphaned boy he first met 11 years ago. The pair have been pen pals since they first met at Mantšane Children’s Home for Orphans in 2004 when Mutsu was just four-years old.

The pair embraced as they met, with the prince remarking how tall Mutsu had become.

On his part, the 15-year old said he was very happy to see the royal.

“I’m very comfortable around Harry, he is very comfortable around me. We click,” said Mutsu.

In his address, Prince Harry movingly described his experience of bereavement following the death of his mother in 1997 in a car crash in Paris, France. He said the tragedy had inspired him to help youngsters who had lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS or contracted the disease themselves.

“Eleven years ago, when I made my debut visit to Lesotho, I was amazed by the beauty of this country,” Prince Harry said.


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“But, amid that enchantment, I was struck by the extreme poverty and the living conditions of the children we met as we toured around the country with Prince Seeiso.

“Behind the beautiful smiles of those children, one could see that they needed care and support. I realised that we shared a similar case of the loss of a parent and the fact that most did not have the chance to enjoy their childhood as they had turned into parents taking care of their families at a young age.”

He added: “Although our situations couldn’t have been more different, I felt an overwhelming connection to many of the children I met.

“They were far younger than me, and of course, their situation was a great deal more challenging than my own.

“Nonetheless, we shared a similar feeling of loss, having a loved one, in my case a parent, snatched away so suddenly. I, like them, knew there would always be a gaping hole that could never be filled.

“It was no longer a question of when but how we could help the children, so Prince Seeiso and I felt we could have a long-term impact on them and we have learned a great deal throughout the past 10 years.”

In honour of Prince Harry’s mother, the centre’s dining hall was named after Princess Diana, while the welcome block, which was partly designed by the royal, was named after his late nanny, Olga Powell.

“Through this facility, we will boost the physical and emotional well-being of the children, and give them tools to cope with different situations,” he said.

“This centre is the heart of Sentebale, reflecting what we have accomplished and where we want to go. The challenge remains unattended as Lesotho ranks number two in the prevalence of HIV infections. So we are hoping to increase the camp attendance from 400 to 1 500 children.”

Prince Seeiso echoed similar sentiments saying much like Moshoeshoe I and his army who fought to protect Thaba Bosiu from invading armies, Sentebale was waging a war to protect young Basotho.

“For some, it seems impossible that the battle can be won, but as we stand here at the foothills of Thaba Bosiu, where our people battled with stones and spears to protect this nation many years ago, we vow to combat these challenges facing vulnerable children,” he said.

“Our final destination is still unclear, but today we can see how far we have come. Positive criticism has made us what we are today. It is not the sweet words from people that uplift our spirits, but the smiles on these children’s faces.”

He said there was still a lot more to be done, but there was reason for optimism.

“With a joyous heart and a smile, I would like to thank everybody who has walked this journey with us, especially His Majesty for giving us this piece of land to construct the centre,” he said.

On his part, King Letsie III said that the royal family availed the land to assist Sentebale achieve its objective of assisting vulnerable children.

“When it was brought to our attention that Sentebale was looking for a permanent place for their camps, we were pleased to offer this land as our contribution to this work that is impacting positively on the lives of the children,” His Majesty said.

“These initiatives come from the strong desire we inherited from our late mothers to offer vulnerable children the opportunity to grow up healthy as they will later on contribute in the development of the country.

“The work which will be done here will contribute to the psychological, emotional and physical development of the children.”

King Letsie III paid tribute to Prince Seeiso and Prince Harry for their hard work in ensuring Sentebale remained afloat despite facing many challenges.

“I would like to thank my two brothers for the sacrifices they made over the past 10 years. But there is still a lot of work to be done. Brace to redouble your efforts because there are many children out there who still need help,” said His Majesty.

Speaking on behalf of the beneficiaries, Matšeliso Morahanye (20), who received a bursary and is currently a third-year Law student at the National University of Lesotho, lauded Sentabale for giving hope to Basotho children.

“I have been a beneficiary of Sentebale since I was a Form C student at St Stephens High School a couple of years ago, and am still benefiting from the bursary which covers tuition and other living expenses,” she said.

“Thanks to Sentebale, I am a smart, educated woman who is destined to make a positive contribution to society. Sentebale gave me hope, and may God continue to bless them.”

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