Lesotho

Map of Lesotho

Map of Lesotho

The Country: The Kingdom of Lesotho is a high, mountainous country with cold winters and warm, wet summers.  Slightly bigger than the state of Maryland, Lesotho is physically completely surrounded by South Africa.  However, Lesotho has a separate history and government, and never suffered apartheid.

Population: Lesotho has just 2.2 million people, nearly half of them children.  It’s the only country in Africa with just one ethnic group—99% of the population is Basotho.  The homogeneous makeup of the country has allowed Lesotho to remain peaceful, avoiding much of the civil unrest that has plagued other African nations.  82% of the population lives in rural areas, most in villages of fewer than 250 people.

Food: Traditionally, women cook over an outdoor, stone fireplace.  The staple food of Lesotho is papa, cornmeal porridge, served plain or with a vegetable sauce.  On special occasions, a family may also eat eggs, beef or chicken.

Lesotho Women's WorkWomen’s Work: Nearly all Basotho families engage in subsistence farming, though only 11% of the land is arable.  Women do most of the agriculture. They walk great distances to obtain firewood and carry water from the village pump for cooking, drinking, washing, and laundry. Clothing is scrubbed by hand and hung on bushes to dry.  Girls begin training for women’s work as soon as they can carry a baby on their back.

Men’s Work: Cattle represent wealth in Lesotho.  Men and boys care for the livestock. In the highlands, herd boys as young as 7 spend months away from home, pasturing their flocks in distant valleys.  Many leave school, resulting in a lower literacy rate among Basotho boys than girls—a reversal of the pattern in most African countries.  In addition, many Basotho men leave home to support their families.  35% of employed Basotho men work in South Africa, mainly in the mines.

Health: In recent years, HIV/AIDS has caused life expectancy to drop to 39 years.  Lesotho has the 3rd highest HIV/AIDS rate in the world, with 1 in 4 adults HIV-positive.  TB is another leading killer.  Infant mortality is high, at 80 deaths per 1,000 live births.  Lesotho has just 1 doctor for every 10,000 people.  The government provides free HIV and TB care, but some patients must travel long distances for it.  Doctors’ visits for other health problems cost about $2 apiece, beyond the means of many Basotho families.

Education: Primary education K-7th grade is free in Lesotho, but some children can’t afford the mandatory uniforms, books and other expenses.  Classes are large (40-100+ students) and follow a national curriculum.  Students must pass exams to move on to the next grade.  Families pay tuition for secondary education, though orphans may be eligible for government subsidies.  Lesotho has one national university and a number of technical schools for agriculture, nursing, computer studies, etc.  The government pays university tuition for the top students nationally.

The Numbers:

The Country: The Kingdom of Lesotho is a high, mountainous country with cold winters and warm, wet summers.  Slightly bigger than the state of Maryland, Lesotho is physically completely surrounded by South Africa.  However, Lesotho has a separate history and government, and never suffered apartheid.

Population: Lesotho has just 2.2 million people, nearly half of them children.  It’s the only country in Africa with just one ethnic group—99% of the population is Basotho.  The homogeneous makeup of the country has allowed Lesotho to remain peaceful, avoiding much of the civil unrest that has plagued other African nations.  82% of the population lives in rural areas, most in villages of fewer than 250 people.

Food: Traditionally, women cook over an outdoor, stone fireplace.  The staple food of Lesotho is papa, cornmeal porridge, served plain or with a vegetable sauce.  On special occasions, a family may also eat eggs, beef or chicken.

Women’s Work: Nearly all Basotho families engage in subsistence farming, though only 11% of the land is arable.  Women do most of the agriculture. They walk great distances to obtain firewood and carry water from the village pump for cooking, drinking, washing, and laundry. Clothing is scrubbed by hand and hung on bushes to dry.  Girls begin training for women’s work as soon as they can carry a baby on their back.

Men’s Work: Cattle represent wealth in Lesotho.  Men and boys care for the livestock. In the highlands, herd boys as young as 7 spend months away from home, pasturing their flocks in distant valleys.  Many leave school, resulting in a lower literacy rate among Basotho boys than girls—a reversal of the pattern in most African countries.  In addition, many Basotho men leave home to support their families.  35% of employed Basotho men work in South Africa, mainly in the mines.

Health: In recent years, HIV/AIDS has caused life expectancy to drop to 39 years.  Lesotho has the 3rd highest HIV/AIDS rate in the world, with 1 in 4 adults HIV-positive.  TB is another leading killer.  Infant mortality is high, at 80 deaths per 1,000 live births.  Lesotho has just 1 doctor for every 10,000 people.  The government provides free HIV and TB care, but some patients must travel long distances for it.  Doctors’ visits for other health problems cost about $2 apiece, beyond the means of many Basotho families.

Education: Primary education K-7th grade is free in Lesotho, but some children can’t afford the mandatory uniforms, books and other expenses.  Classes are large (40-100+ students) and follow a national curriculum.  Students must pass exams to move on to the next grade.  Families pay tuition for secondary education, though orphans may be eligible for government subsidies.  Lesotho has one national university and a number of technical schools for agriculture, nursing, computer studies, etc.  The government pays university tuition for the top students nationally.

Lesotho Mt. HouseThe Numbers:

Median age 21
Ave. chidren/family 3
Life expectancy 39
Adults with HIV 1 in 4
HIV+ people 270,000
HIV+ children 12,000
AIDS orphans 110,000
Orphans (any cause) 1 in 6
Arable land 11%
Days of sunshine 300 per year