Lesotho has the world’s second highest HIV rate. In the tiny mountainous nation known as ‘the Kingdom in the Sky’, illness is an everyday reality that touches every part of family life. But families are not giving up on the next generation. Behind the headlines of doom and gloom in Africa, there is a hidden story that shows the formidable power of love to come through despite all the odds.

Mrs Matseki is typical of the rural farmers who have been hit hard by HIV. Her husband contracted HIV while working in a South African mine, and passed it to his wife. He died suddenly years ago, but Mrs Matseki is not sentimental about his memory: “In those days, when he was still alive, life was even more difficult for me and my children because he spent all his money with another woman. My heart used to be painful.”

Scraping a living from the land

Now 55 years old, Mrs Matseki cares for three grandchildren whose parents are either sick with HIV-related illness or working away from home. The grandmother scrapes a living by piece work and growing vegetables such as carrots, beetroot, spinach, rape seed and maize on her small plot of land. Mrs Matseki is often sick herself but she keeps on for the sake of her family.

Anti-retroviral medication is available in Lesotho. Mrs Matseki travels 9.5km to the nearest village for her supply, spending R16 (80p) on the medicine. Anti-retrovirals are not supposed to be taken on an empty stomach, but Mrs Matseki used to struggle to find enough food and water to take them in the proper way. She faced a bleak choice between life-saving medicine and the food needed to stay healthy.

A hopeful future

Mrs Matseki recently enrolled on a training programme with international development charity Send a Cow. She has been meeting with other local farmers and learning how to use techniques like composting and natural pesticide to improve their farm yields. It’s the first positive thing that has happened to the family for a long time, and it has had a major impact on Mrs Matseki. She says now she has dreams and ambitions, where previously she had none.

The farm is becoming greener. Water conservation methods have been introduced to protect against drought, and planting has been designed to protect soil from erosion. Vegetables grow better, giving the family nutritious food to eat and sell. Things are improving, step by step.

This is the hidden Africa that gets left out of the newspapers: the quiet stirring of inspiration in the hearts of people who had lost hope. The slow building of confidence for women who used to live from day to day, unable to see beyond the next meal. This is story of how people living with HIV can come to see themselves as more than a label, or a ticking time bomb. Mrs Matseki is beginning to feel human again.

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