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The veterans putting positive action in the frame

The veterans putting positive action in the frame

COVER STORY

12 Dec, 2019

Pioneering charity The Village operates a unique collaborative programme in the southern African kingdom of Lesotho, which showcases the positive impact of veterans on isolated communities. At this time of year, when we focus on the importance of giving, Quest takes a look at the contribution of a group of veterans who have chosen to give back to locals in a very practical way – turning thoughts into deeds, while also benefiting from the experience themselves

Herd boys at sundown

In the run-up to the festive season, charity The Village – motto ‘Championing the individual, building peace’ – is collaborating with the Endeavour Fund, part of the Royal Foundation, and Walking With The Wounded to consolidate its very valuable work supporting isolated communities. As part of this, a team of veteran volunteers sponsored by the Endeavour Fund have joined The Village’s project 8,000 feet up in the mountains of Lesotho, in the remote town of Semonkong. They are complementing local teams already working to support isolated shepherds, known as herd boys, as well as local education facilities and an orphanage.

The Village, which is also currently operating in the West Bank, chooses to work with veterans in this way as it believes their skills and adaptability to difficult situations mean they are able to operate very efficiently in these often testing locations. Skills such as carpentry, first aid and plumbing will be shared, and they will also be helping out at the Lesala night school run by The Village, where the shepherds are given a basic education.

In Lesotho, boys as young as five are sent to the mountains to work for local farmers, looking after animals. They spend most of their time alone in a harsh environment, with no formal or social education. In winter, temperatures drop well below freezing and in the summer boys are often struck by lightning. The Lesala Shepherd School in Semonkong is a beacon in the difficult life of the herd boys. Founded by Julius Matsoso Majoro 13 years ago, the school opens at night so that, when the herd boys have finished their day’s work, they can come down off the hills to learn English, Maths and Sesotho, and to get a hot meal. Julius was once a herd boy himself but managed to escape the cycle that traps many of Lesotho’s young men. After completing his own studies, he wanted to help other herd boys receive an education. 

The school is a safe place where they can socialise, and sign and dance. It is often the only time in a day when they get the chance to talk to another person. The Village began funding the school in 2018 when it had just eight attendees. Today that number has grown to 42, with two of the shepherds now funded to head back to full-time education. In 2010, Prince Harry visited the school, and he continues to have a great interest in Lesotho.

Russell Lewis gets involved in some carpentry work

Volunteer veteran Russell Lewis gets involved in some carpentry work

As well as helping at the school, the veteran team are providing support to Semonkong Children’s Centre, an orphanage that is home to 50 children. Lesotho has the second highest HIV prevalence rate in the world and, across the tiny country of just two million people, there are hundreds of thousands of orphans or abandoned children. The Children’s Centre is situated on the same grounds as the Lesala Shepherd School, and accommodates orphaned or abandoned children ranging in age from 5–18. The children who live at the centre are given an education at the local school, and enabled to keep in touch with – or, where appropriate, are reunited with – their extended families. 

The veterans are also helping to install a new irrigation system for the Children’s Centre’s garden, and refurbishing its greenhouse too. The impact of this work will allow the orphanage to produce enough food throughout the year for the children and the herd boys, as well as excess that can be sold at the local market.

This is the third team of veterans to travel to Semonkong in 2019. The Village, which has also collaborated on projects with military charity Walking With The Wounded in the past, believes these veterans offer a unique resource to those people it is trying to support. Veterans work effectively in a team, have valuable skills and the ability to pass them on, and are able to operate efficiently in the often harsh environment of the mountains of Lesotho. However, the value of this engagement is two-way. As well as helping the locals, the impact on the mental health and well-being of the men and women in the veteran team has proved to be extremely beneficial to them and their own rehabilitation. Volunteering allows them not only to give back but also to see their own self-worth and purpose. 

Herding to learning

From herding to learning, thanks to The Village

David Reynolds, who served in the Royal Regiment of Scotland, volunteered with The Village in July 2019 and recently returned as one of the team mentors. After leaving the military, David struggled to adjust and found himself homeless, before being supported by Scottish Veterans Residences and Walking With The Wounded. ‘Visiting Lesotho made me realise the importance of life. It opened my eyes to some of the ways people still live today. It changed the way I have been living my life. I still want to be here, thanks to the herd boys for showing me how to smile when things don’t seem to be going your way,’ he says. 

During the two weeks the team is in Semonkong, they will embark on a four-day trek into the surrounding mountains, guided by the local herd boys, to map out the route for a new mountain marathon, which will be run for the first time in 2020 in support of The Village and Semonkong Children’s Centre. Mapping of the local area is poor, so the veterans will be using their skills to map the local routes and help establish a suitable course in these beautiful remote mountains. 

Says Dominique Sinagra, founder of The Village: ‘At first glance, these veterans and the herd boys seem very different, but they’ve both experienced extreme hardship, isolation and, in many cases, poverty. After a short amount of time the two groups build a remarkable rapport of mutual respect and lots of good laughs.’ Dominique first visited Lesotho in 2010 as a volunteer at a local orphanage, where she lived and worked for a year. Since then, she has travelled and worked in various parts of the world, including South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, India, Jordan, Palestine, the United States and the United Kingdom. She founded The Village in 2018 as a way to give back to the places that have had such an impact on her. She firmly believes in creating sustainable projects that bring people together across cultures.

Dominique continues: ‘A Village is a place where people live, create, prosper, come together, and where they then stay, feeling secure. We create “Villages” in parts of the world where community has been disrupted. They are empowered by our beneficiaries and supported by the world’s veterans. Our aim is that these many small villages will, one day, create a global village.

Dominique Sinatra

The Village's founder Dominique Sinagra, on location in Lesotho

‘The charity’s activities focus on education, mental health, and ecological and economical sustainability. By repurposing the extraordinary expertise of the veteran community, we enable an opportunity for restoration and growth among communities that need it the most.’

Says Retha Mahopolo, director of the Semonkong Children’s Centre: ‘The work being done by The Village in Semonkong is remarkable. Lives are being changed and brighter futures created.’ Amy Franklin, who works as employment programme manager at Walking With The Wounded, adds: ‘Walking With The Wounded has seen first-hand the benefit of the skills, experience and confidence developed by our beneficiaries volunteering on the Village of Forgiveness project. We are delighted to be collaborating again this winter with three more volunteers going out to join the team.’

And Naomi Adie, programme manager at The Endeavour Fund, says her organisation is proud to support ‘pro-social’ projects like The Village, which enable the veteran community to volunteer and share their skills with communities worldwide. ‘Volunteering not only benefits these communities,’ she says, ‘it also benefits the veterans themselves with their own physical and mental health, providing a sense of purpose and acting positively on their own recovery journeys.’

If you would like to find out more about volunteering with The Village, and how, like David, you can make a real difference to the lives of others – and to your own well-being at the same time – you can find full details in ‘Useful info’, below.

ABOUT THE VILLAGE

The Village was founded in 2018 by Dominique Sinagra, inspired by the years she spent travelling, gathering people’s stories and studying what connects us. During her travels, she lived, worked and spoke with people in Lesotho, Uganda, Kenya, Palestine, Jordan, the UK, USA and India. She believes that the crux of the world’s problems is an inability to see ourselves in others and, through working to emphasise our common humanity, and delivering practical support on the ground, the world can be changed and individual lives can be positively impacted.
     

In the future The Village is looking to expand its work into Uganda, Jordan, India and the USA.

USEFUL INFO

www.thevillagecharity.org
info@thevillagecharity.org
dominique@thevillagecharity.org
@thevillagecharity
#WeAreTheVillage 
Registered Charity Number: 1186107

Main picture, above: Volunteers Matt Fisher and Steve Turner pictured in Lesotho

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