Behind the lens: Prince Harry’s visit to charity Sentebale in Lesotho
In March, I spent two weeks in the South African Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho with Prince Harry’s Charity Sentebale.
Lesotho is a small and mountainous country, completely surrounded by South Africa, its only neighbor. It is the only country in the world where the entire territory is more than 1,000 metres above sea level and many live in rugged, mountainous terrain, accessible only on foot or horseback.
Despite being a beautiful country, Lesotho has some horrifying statistics. It suffers from one of the world’s highest rates of HIV/AIDS, with around 23 percent of adults aged 15-49 being HIV positive. The HIV/AIDS pandemic has inflicted severe damage on society in Lesotho.
Sentebale means ‘forget me not’ in Sesotho (the language spoken in Lesotho) and was founded by Prince Harry and Prince Seeiso of Lesotho in 2006 in memory of their mothers. The charity works in partnership with the Basotho people at all levels to provide health care and education to the most needy children; in particular those suffering with the HIV infection, children with disabilities, orphans and herd boys whose livelihood limits their access to education.
I have been to Lesotho a few times before, most memorably in 2010 with Prince’s William and Harry, however, this was my first time visiting the country in the summer and I was struck by the incredible stark and savage beauty of the landscape that, at this time of year, morphs into a lush green wooded landscape punctuated by rocky outcrops and striking orange and yellow formations reminiscent of Yosemite. In winter, up in the mountains the landscape and weather can be unforgiving and Sentebale is at the forefront of tackling not only the effects of the devastating AIDS epidemic, but also accommodation and education for some of the most venerable herd boys who inhabit this most unlikely of places.
Up in the mountains near Semonkong you can often see the herd boys appear over the horizon, cloaked in their tradition Lesotho blankets. They herd their sheep and goats in all weathers and the struggle of everyday life often means education takes a back seat. Sentebale has worked hard to secure the funding for a number of herd boy schools that the boys attend, often after dark.
During my time in Africa, Prince Harry flew into Lesotho for a few days to visit some of the charity’s projects before heading to Johannesburg for a glamorous charity fundraiser. I joined him as he visited some of the projects supported by the charity in some of the more inaccessible areas of the country as well as down in the capital Maseru. His passion for the work of the charity and the people of Lesotho is clear to see.Much is made of Harry’s affinity with children, this was especially evident during a visit to Kananelo Centre for the deaf where the Prince joined in a ‘kneeling’ dance, enthusiastically swaying from left to right – the kids loved it.
In the capital Maseru, at another project supported by Sentebale he saw how partially sighted children at St Bernadette’s Centre for the blind cope with their impaired vision. It is certainly clear to see first-hand the effect that the support of Sentebale is having on these projects and despite the many adversities the people of this country face you never have to go far to see a smiling face.
One of Sentebale’s key fundraising goals is to raise money to establish a Centre of Excellence for their Mamohato Network and Camps Programme. Named after Lesotho’s former head of state Queen Mamohato, the facility will allow Sentebale to reach four times the number of children than they currently do and provide leading psychosocial care and peer mentoring for children and young people infected with or affected by HIV. I was fortunate enough to attend a number of Mamohato camps during my time in the country, the enthusiasm and energy that the children inject into proceedings is incredible, the mentoring they receive helps them cope and understand the complex issues of HIV and enables them to meet other children in the same situation.
Cathy Ferrier, Chief Executive of Sentebale, is spearheading an expansion which aims to take the charity to five countries and quadruple its income. Whilst ambitious, these plans will certainly take a framework that has been proven successful in Lesotho to many more needy children in Southern Africa.
Editor’s note: Chris Jackson is our Getty Images Royals Photographer. You can follow him on Twitter at @ChrisJack_Getty.