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Saving Mokhotlong . . . One Tree for Every Breath

by Sunday Express
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The inspirational story of a man who defied the odds to become one of Lesotho’s respected businessmen

Tsitsi Matope

As a child, Teboho Kobeli knew only education could set him free from the shackles of poverty, which had become synonymous with his family.
As he herded his family’s livestock in the bitter cold mountains of Mokhotlong, Teboho’s desperation took away a piece of him every single day.
He would daydream about being in the classroom alongside children of his age, only to wake-up to his depressing circumstances.
Young Teboho’s major concern was to ensure none of the sheep fell off the notorious cliffs in Mokhotlong, which is more than 2 600 metres above sea level.
Despite the dangerous terrain, the consequences of losing even a single of the animals were then unimaginable.

While from time to time, he would momentarily forget and play with other children in the mountains, it also broke his heart to imagine he might just end up working for an annual
payment of three sheep for the rest of his life.

Each day brought fresh worries and soon, the boy realised unless he did something about his situation, his hunger for an education and a better future might kill him.
The only passport to the future he had then envisaged beyond the imposing mountains in the faraway district of Maseru, was education.
However, going to school was not his dream alone, but also of many children of his home village of Tlokoeng in Mokhotlong District.
Sadly, it was a lavish dream many of the parents could not afford.

After losing hope, many children in the village gave up and bitterly accepted a life they were not quite sure where it would take them. Driven by sheer determination, young Teboho was one of the few people from his village who refused to give up.

At the age of 13 years, he left for Maseru to stay with his aunt’s family while attending ‘Mabathoana High School.
“My aunt’s family was also poor but it was the price I had to gladly pay for a better tomorrow. Despite the odds, I considered myself lucky to have at least found a family that was willing to accommodate me and give me the opportunity to go to school,” Mr Kobeli, who is now the Consul General of Seychelles in Lesotho and also the Managing Director of Kobeli Business Services said in an interview in Mokhotlong last week.
While his story is that of miracles born out of fierce fortitude, hard work and the courage to take risks, Mr Kobeli who is now a successful businessman, never forgot the pain and picture of poverty in one of Lesotho’s highest lands.

He narrated his life story during the two-day St James High School Awards and Career Guidance Expo held in Mokhotlong from 9-10 May.
“My suffering as a child planted something in me that says, remember the importance of education and how you almost died when you thought you would never have a chance to make it to high school,” he told the Sunday Express.

Driven by the passion to open the minds of students, Mr Kobeli launched the awards and career-guidance initiative at St James in 2005.
While his initial intention was to motivate the students and empower them with life-skills, he realised the school, which was constructed in 1955, also needed to be refurbished and new offices built.
Last year, Mr Kobeli started mobilising resources to enable the upgrading of the school.
“We are still sourcing funds to refurbish the school and complete the administration block which is currently under construction.”
This year’s theme of the awards and career-guidance expo was “Saving Mokhotlong, One Tree for Every Breath”. The event was marked by the planting of more than 100 trees at St James High School.

According to Mr Kobeli, the theme seeks to reverse the effects of deforestation in the district, which has left the environment scarred and heavily eroded.
He said it was his wish to introduce a major tree-planting competition to encourage the local communities to grow medicinal, fruit and non-fruit trees.
The expo was supported by various companies and attracted motivational speakers, career-guidance specialists and senior government officials from various districts, including Maseru.
“My wish is for more companies and organisations to join this initiative so that we can roll it out countywide. There is great need in many of our schools. A large number of children, including those with both parents, do not understand what we mean when we say they should behave responsibly. In many instances, children make mistakes while they think they are just playing,” he said.
“I believe as parents, government, private sector, civic organisations and other stakeholders, we all have a role to play in shaping the future of these children. It is wrong to assume what they want when we have not told them what they should expect.”
During the event, 24 best-performing students in the 2013 Junior Certificate and Cambridge Overseas School Certificate (COSC) examinations received awards sponsored by Kobeli Business Services, Trend Group, Metropolitan Lesotho, Econet-Telecom Lesotho, Maseru Toyota, Ellis Bloemfontein, Khatleli Tomane Moteane Architects, Senque Hotel, Lesotho Flour Mills, Matekane Group of Companies, Premier Foods Blue Ribbon, Lesotho Highlands Development Authority, Lesotho Highlands Water Commission, National University of Lesotho, Nien-Hsing International, EV Cosmetics and Phokeng Communications.
“The thinking behind awarding best-performing students was to motivate them to continue working hard and also inspire those not performing well.”
Retsepile Kalaoane was honoured for her leadership skills while Teboho Malapane was last year’s best performing student in the COSC exams.
Malapane from Mateanong Village in Mokhotlong, who is the last of six siblings, is the only one who went up to COSC level in her family.
“Life has not been easy because both my parents worked in other people’s fields to put food on our table. With the bursary I got from the government, I managed to complete my COSC. I am grateful for the support I got from government and also feel honoured to be the recipient of this important award,” Malapane said.

Although she dreams of becoming a medical doctor one day, Malapane is not sure whether she would be able to get a scholarship to do an International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme to allow her straight-entry into medical school if she meets the requirements.
Like many other students in similar circumstances around the country, Malapane is now pinning her hopes on an admission to study for a Bachelor of Science (BSc) degree at the National University of Lesotho, where she will do at least two years before she can qualify to study medicine abroad.
There are also many other students at St James who aspire to study medicine, and engineering at university.

Jakote Theko, Lebohang Mokhali, Khiba Khiba and Sekoala Nkokana, who are all in Form E, said they would like to study civil, structural, mechanical and electrical engineering, respectively.
But the boys are not sure whether they would be able to make it to IB level before they can get sponsorship to study engineering in South Africa.
“This career-guidance expo helped me to understand what is required of the degree programme, which I would like to pursue after school. What worries me is that after COSC, I have to either do IB or a technical diploma course at the Lerotholi Polytechnic for me to make it to a South African university where I would like to further my studies,” Jakote Theko said.

Liteboho Thene and Liteboho Phaila, both bright girls in Form E, said they are good in sciences and would like to study medicine.
They also have to take the longer route after spending five years in high school.
“I would like to become a veterinary surgeon. I will do a BSc degree after my COSC and then apply for a scholarship to study veterinary sciences abroad,” Phaila, from Thaba-Tseka said.

According to Dr Molisana Molisana, a lecturer in the Faculty of Sciences at the National University of Lesotho, the government is currently working on introducing a new syllabus — the
Lesotho General Certificate of Secondary Education.
“This will help to meet the needs of the students and also address challenges associated with COSC students failing to meet the entry requirements to pursue certain degree programmes abroad,” Dr Molisana said.

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