Lessons from Lesotho

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Imagine this: it’s your first day at work. You are still feeling jittery because you’re the newbie. You are not sure who’s who and who does what. Suddenly at the end of the working day, you were told that you have been assigned to a project in Lesotho and you are expected to fly there – all this happening in less than 10 hours after you first reported for duty in the morning.

Then imagine that you are someone like me, who has never travelled anywhere for work, whose background has always been in digital and e-commerce operations, and who is now being asked to help organise an event in Lesotho.

Things escalated very fast, didn’t they? First day in and everything’s a whirlwind (cue Whatsapp emoji looking dizzy).

The view from the hotel we stayed at.

Lesotho, or the Mountain Kingdom they call it, is a landlocked country surrounded by South Africa and two thirds of their land are just mountains! The country is also called the Kingdom in the Sky as Lesotho is located in the highlands where it lies entirely at 1,000 metres above sea level. By now, you can roughly gauge how the weather is – and we went there during the winter season! My Malaysian body was crying throughout my time there. 

For the past few months, PEMANDU Associates has worked very closely with the Government of Lesotho to assist their efforts to create more investment and jobs for the Basotho.

(Fun fact: Basotho are the people of Lesotho while Mosotho is one individual of Lesotho.)

The COMMUNICATE team was assigned to support PEMANDU Associates to hold an exhibition-like event in the country’s capital, Maseru, where the public can view detailed projects targeted to help increase job opportunities and encourage more private investment into the country. This event was called the Jobs and Investment Summit.

Long story short, our team had two deliverables: 1) to summarise content to be displayed at the exhibition and to provide advisory in organising the event, and 2) to create a book called the Roadmap – something similar to an Annual Report but instead of detailing out results, it details out plans leading up to those results. These two make up Step 3 and Step 4 in PEMANDU Associates’ Big Fast Results (BFR) Methodology – 8 Steps of Transformation©. You can read about all 8 Steps here.

Example of information displayed at the event.

So fast forward two months after my first day, there I was, taking my first cross-continent flight, and to a continent that is so unfamiliar to me! Was I nervous? Very. It also doesn’t help that I’m a nervous flyer. The worried look on my mom’s face as I bid my family goodbye and my father’s ‘Where’s your passport? Where are your boarding passes?!’ reminders also didn’t help much. I was in full battle mode though, ready to take up the challenge!

Two connecting flights later and with a combined flying time of 13 hours (with little turbulence, thank the Lord), I arrived in Lesotho. The landscape – it blew my mind! Even from the plane, you can just see it was just one mountain after another. The air was fresh, there were no tall buildings – truly something different from the view I was used to. At night, you can see a lot, and I do mean A LOT, of stars decorating the canvas above. As a city girl, even this simple view made me very happy.

I stayed in the country for about two weeks and those two weeks were all about work. I, unfortunately, never really had the chance to properly observe the people and the culture there but overall, my experience there and being part of the project taught me two major things that have impacted me personally.

  1. Passion and persistence

One thing I observed was the passion of the Basotho in wanting to better themselves. Lesotho has been plagued by the issue of unemployment and to the people, it feels like a rut they can never get out from. However, when we started communications about the event, positive feedback poured in, with most of them saying that they are ready to take up the challenge of overcoming unemployment. I was so blown away by their passion, which was evident in the size of the crowd that turned up on the event day! I was not expecting so many people to show interest and some attendees even sat on the floor to copy down initiatives that were displayed. 

The whole experience was very heart-warming to me. But I also felt a pang of pain. These people are so determined to turn their lives around but the situation in the country does not present them with the opportunities to do so. However, I could see that their spirits have not faltered, and they keep marching on to find ways to improve their lives. Sure, there were instances of anger and disappointment here and there, but you can see that at the end of all of it, all the Basotho want is to have a better chance at living their lives. They are not scared to talk about their views and they are clear about what is needed to do for the quality of life to improve in Lesotho.

One of the Basotho taking down notes at the event!

Their persistence and passion really blew me away. Life in Malaysia has been easy for me so I never really understood the struggles of others – not until I got to Lesotho. The Basotho taught me to never let the fire to improve oneself die, even if the situation tries to stifle it. And also they taught me to be thankful for everything that I have.

       2. Comfort zone is what it says it is – comfort!

I mentioned earlier that I have been working in the digital space for a majority of my working life. That also means that a majority of my working life was spent behind a laptop screen. That life has been my comfort zone and Lord, do I love it. I don’t usually have to deal with a lot of people and I don’t have to go out in the public to get things done (I’m assuming at this point of this article you can assume I’m an introvert). 

However, with this task, I had to break down a lot of barriers. I had to go out and meet new people. I had to work with strangers with a radically different cultural background from my own. I had to talk to different parties to get things done – a 180 degrees change of my previous experiences.

This didn’t happen very often before!

In the nights leading up to my departure to Lesotho, I had to keep telling myself that the comfort zone is not there for me to just wallow in it. It’s there for me to challenge myself to go beyond the lines of comfort, and also for me to look at the new experience in a more positive light. Meeting new people means meeting new friends and working with people of other backgrounds means getting to learn about new cultures and opening one’s mind to others’ worldview.

It’s not easy and I don’t think it will ever be but what I have learned is that if I choose to stay in my comfort zone, I will never learn, I will never know the world, and I will forever be the same person who is stuck in her own mind. And I know that person is who I don’t want to be.

As I’m writing this article, I find myself missing Lesotho. I miss their spirit, their friendliness and their hospitality. Sure, most of them are strangers that I will never have the chance to get to know or probably will never cross paths with again, but what I do know is that their courage in the face of such struggle is enough to encourage me to soldier on with life despite its many challenges. I genuinely hope that the same courage will be powerful enough to drive their pursuit for a better life and a better future for future generations. 

My teammate, Yana, and I with some very lovely ladies who were headed for a wedding!