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Tidnish woman trying to make a difference for AIDS-ravaged country
After losing a brother to AIDS, Helen Douglas has joined Help Lesotho with its campaign to assist orphans and grandmothers of the AIDS crisis.
AMHERST, N.S. – Having seen a brother struggle with AIDS, Helen Douglas wanted to do something to make a difference in the fight against the disease.
Several years ago the Amherst native and Tidnish resident was introduced to a relatively new program founded by Dr. Peg Herbert. Formed in response to a visit to Ottawa by Basatho nun Sister Alice Mputsoe, Help Lesotho was founded to help respond to the plight of an overwhelming number of children in Lesotho orphaned by the AIDS epidemic in Africa.
The people keep drawing me back. I have friends there now and their spirit is amazing. They’re happy and resilient despite all their hardships. You have kids in an orphanage who are skipping by tying old ropes together – something that would make kids over here unhappy. Helen Douglas
“They are a small group that flies beneath the radar and I just found their approach in capacity building and development spoke to me,” said Douglas, who joined the organization in 2007 and has made numerous trips to Lesotho. “My brother died of AIDS so AIDS has become my passion. It was very personal and passionate for me, but the more I worked in Africa the more of a spark I got and the more passionate I became.”
Founded in 2004, Help Lesotho works solely in Lesotho, a country completed surrounded by South Africa that has been ravaged by AIDS. Its programs foster hope and motivation in vulnerable children, girls, youth and grandmothers.
Lesotho has the second highest HIV prevalence rate in the world. More than 23 per cent of the people are living with HIV. More than half of the country’s 260,000 adults living with AIDS are women.
There are currently 200,000 orphans in Lesotho, most of whom are AIDS orphans.
The programs six streams target root causes and community priorities including education, leadership training and psychological support. It works at a grassroots level to create an AIDS-free generation, to end the cycle of poverty and support the country’s future leaders – its children.
“The people keep drawing me back. I have friends there now and their spirit is amazing,” she said. “They’re happy and resilient despite all their hardships. You have kids in an orphanage who are skipping by tying old ropes together – something that would make kids over here unhappy.”
Along with making five trips to Lesotho, Douglas also sponsors four children while her mother has also sponsored three. Douglas keeps in touch with her ‘children’ in Lesotho, who are all in their teens and early 20s.
“I’ve taken part in several of the projects and have seen the difference it has made,” she said. “All the programs are very well developed.”
She said the programs are also led by people in Lesotho, as opposed to being led by Canadians. The programs, she said, include orphan and vulnerable children support, HIV/AIDS and gender eqity, leadership development and training, education and school projects, grandmother support and young mother support.
Because of AIDS, Douglas said, most of Lesotho’s middle generation has died. Because of that, orphaned children are being raised by their grandparents – many of whom don’t have the capacity.
Also because of the culture, the older generation has, in many cases, viewed AIDS as an attack by evil spirits. It’s through education programs like those offered by Help Lesotho that attitudes are beginning to change.
“We’re working to change this generation so they’re changing their behaviour and understanding of scientific knowledge so they understand the biology of the disease and know how to prevent it,” she said. “It’s a long process, but we’re getting there.”
In December 2015, Help Lesotho was recognized by the Financial Post as one of the top 25 charities in Canada.
For more information on becoming a donor go to www.helplesotho.org.