Pontšo Tšoeunyane is a young enthusiastic African who is inspired to bring positive change and impact on people’s lives in her community and beyond, across the social spectrum. She holds a Master of Science in Sociology and BA Degree in Sociology and Social Anthropology from the National University of Lesotho. She serves as a Senior Child Welfare Officer for the Ministry of Social Development in Lesotho, where she has been acting for the past two years as Director Operations and Community Development Manager. She has experience in social and child protection systems,, social policy development and Implementation, orphans and vulnerable children programme management, social science research, community development programme coordination, life skills development, leadership skills, counseling and general administration.
Pontso has had an impact on many people through her work as a civil servant and a volunteer in various projects. At an early age of 13, she had shown her passion to serve by volunteering in a number of organizations such as the Lesotho Red Cross Society, Scripture Union, Church Ministries, Mafeteng Talented Kids Club and Hlokomela Bana, which are all organisations that work on community, group or individual psycho-social support. She has since continued on this journey and is now exploring other ways to reach out to the vulnerable through various partnerships and networks. With her leadership skills and ability to juggle multiple responsibilities concurrently, she is now involved in a number of voluntary works, which impact on the lives of mostly women and girls, and also other members of society. These projects address some of the world’s most pressing challenges and make salient contributions into the implementation of the African Union Agenda 2063 and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. She is currently committed to her own project on Climate Change and Environmental Conservation in her community. She serves as a Co-Programming and Training Chair for GLOW Camps (Girls Leading Our World) (in partnership with US Peace Corps and Ministry of Gender) where she empowers nearly 200 girls in post-primary schools through life skills orientation..
She is a member of the Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI) Alumni Association Lesotho, YALI Network, Enviro-Friends, Lesotho Red Cross Society, Social Protection.org, International Sociological Association, Selibeng Book Club and She Leads Africa.
Pontšo has special love for unique African crafts, art and designs. She works with her sister-Motselisi Tšoeunyane on fashion designing, using a culturally prized Basotho traditional fabric , Seshoeshoe
In 2017, Pontšo was selected to participate in various leadership programs, where she shared her own ideas and learned best practices from other think tanks and young talented minds not only from the African continent but also other parts of the world. She has always dreamed of travelling to all African countries, and through over 200 networks and connections that she has established over time, she is on the path to achieving her dream. Pontso has completed over 10 online courses with YALI Network, and one short course on Markets and Livelihoods with Gordon Institute of Business Science, an affiliate of the University of Pretoria in South Africa.
- Awarded a Diploma for the first place in individual competition in the world ‘ready for labor and defence’ Festival held in the framework of XIX World Youth and Students Festival. Novgorod Region, Russia.
- Selected as Africa’s Brightest Young Mind in 2017. BYM Summit. Johannesburg, Sandton, South Africa.
- Certificate of Appreciation for joined efforts to build strength, stability and self-reliance through shelter in Ha-Mofoka, Jerusalem village In collaboration with Habitat for Humanity in Maseru, Lesotho.
- Acknowledged as a Peace Agent in the 2nd Amandla Eastern & Southern Africa Fellowship. World Peace Initiative Foundation in Limuru, Kenya.
- Recognized As a Young Leader Committed To Transforming Africa. Public Management Track. Young African Leadership Initiative Regional Leadership Center Southern Africa in Pretoria, South Africa.
- Selected as a Young Global Changer and a Young Expert. The Think Summit Global Solutions, German G20 Presidency in Berlin, Germany.
In an interview with the Publisher of Green Savannah Diplomatic Cable, Sunday Oyinloye, Pontso speaks about child development in Africa, rural urban migration, environment, and other issues
Rural urban migration is common in Africa, what are the problems and how best could these challenges be addressed?
Empowerment and capacity building of women in the rural areas should be the main area of focus in addressing the challenges that affect rural populations, particularly women. Many women in the rural communities are very innovative; all they need is support and opportunities. There are significant challenges suffered by many of these women including that in some cases they have to leave their families in search of employment opportunities, mainly in the cities. Consequently, the failure to secure employment may render them vulnerable and prone to risks of prostitution, assault, sexual harassment, HIV/AIDS infection, human trafficking, drug abuse, rape etc. Some of these women leave their kids alone in the rural areas, compelling them to take family responsibilities at a young age, and the vicious circle of vulnerability continues from one generation to the next. The older kids become providers to their younger siblings, and in order to fulfill such responsibilities they may find themselves in compromising positions, further exposing them to risks such as child trafficking, child marriages, drug dealing, prostitution and unplanned pregnancies. Often, the consequence on these burdened children is that they drop out of school, and get deeper into this dangerous way of life.
High incidences of rural to urban migration, without sufficient resources and opportunities in the urban areas to which people move further exacerbates the already existing challenges in the urban areas such as pollution, overcrowding, high crime rate, the spread of disease, drug abuse, high unemployment rate, and rapid deterioration of infrastructure. In particular, where women are at the receiving end of some of these challenges, the situation may breed other kinds of social ills such as gender-based violence, unplanned pregnancies, etc. .
In many of such cases where women face significant challenges to survive, it is not for lack of skills but that of opportunities and resources. Capacity building and opportunities for livelihood establishment therefore present favorable means through which many of these intertwined socio-economic challenges may be addressed.
Many of the women in rural areas possess skills based on indigenous knowledge, which could be channeled towards economic and social development in their communities and beyond. In this regard, there is a need for collaborative efforts between governments, the private sector, and NGOs to create viable opportunities for these women to produce and unlock barriers to access the markets. Most of the raw materials are in the rural areas, community profiling should be done where the assets will be beneficial to the rural communities. There is great potential in these rural area and we normally say educate a woman, educate a nation! Women who have been disadvantaged to complete their education should be given opportunities to further their studies and have access to the entrepreneurship world and access to resources.
Would you want to take us into the world of land reclamation and environmental conservation which you are noted for?
When I first moved to Masooe area (residential site), I was looking for nothing but some posh suburb with beautiful mansions. However, I lived in one of the beautiful and spacious flats and right next to my flat was a huge donga. A donga is steep sided gulley created by soil erosion. Amongst many ill effects, there were dangerous reptiles coming straight from this donga. Many people in this area would find these creatures in their houses and some kids were rushed to hospitals for being bitten by reptiles as a result. These dongas were turned into dumping sites where all rubbish was dumped. The community is populated with mostly children between the ages of 3 and 10, who get exposed to greater risks as they play with dumped garbage such as used nappies, condoms, needles, used sanitary pads and other rubbish. Unfortunately, some community members keep building houses on the same piece of land that is affected by soil erosion. These residents are negatively affected as their houses are already cracking and gradually falling. Furthermore, two female corpses were found dumped in a donga from a neighboring village. Culturally, there are negative connotations attached towards dongas as they are associated with evil practices. This is where I realized a need for a project through which dongas could be rehabilitated and sensitize the community on soil erosion, adaptation mechanisms to climate change and environmental conservation.
As a leader who is inspired to bring a change, I wanted to make things better for everyone. I knew as a tenant I could find another place in town and run away from the trouble I was witnessing but the change agent in me saw an opportunity of growth and impacting lives for the better. I was literally the only tenant in this compound at the time, as most people who lived in the compound moved out, and those who remained in the community were those who owned houses. The most concerning part was that the donga kept deepening due to changing climatic conditions. I started conducting interviews to better understand the impacts of the donga on residents in the area. I approached the local authorities including the chief and community committees for approval to carry on with this project. I started sending out proposals to the relevant stakeholders, government ministries, NGOs, business community seeking support to control and prevent these dongas. This is where I partnered with Envirofriends Organisation and started conducting meetings and public gatherings where we sensitize the community about climate change and environmental conservation. It has been a tough journey as all these need a lot of funding and so far I have been using my own personal funds, while I am working hard to find more resources to rehabilitate this land which will be used for agricultural purposes and create jobs for over 200 people. The community has been very supportive and the remaining challenge now is to find resources to start the project towards the mitigation of soil erosion in the area. We are also continuing with the search and mobilization of stakeholder support.
I believe leadership is about being selfless and changing lives in the best possible ways. I believe everyone needs to be a leader in their own community; even in the smallest of ways we can all make a worthwhile contribution in other people’s lives. The question is: as an individual, what are you doing to make things better, are you waiting for the government to do things for you? Are we running away from challenges or embracing them and turning them into opportunities? It starts with us as individuals to strive for change. In Sesotho we have a saying that ‘ntja peli ha e hloloe ke sebata’ and ‘letšoele le beta poho’ meaning two is better than one and unity is strength. Let us promote the spirit of Ubuntu spirit that we are and live our lives to the fullest.
The problems associated with girls in Africa is worrisome, you have been involved in a number of training programs for these girls, what has been your experience?
Unfortunately the young girls in Africa face challenges of early marriages, child headed households, drugs and sexual abuse, teenage pregnancy and other life threatening incidences. This has made our African girls to be prone to vulnerability, which, among other things, may negatively affect their level of self-confidence. In this era of ‘blessers’, our girls need to know who they are and stand for what they believe. With the collaboration from the Ministry of Gender in Lesotho and USA Peace Corps, we gather over 100 girls from post-primary schools for a camp called Girls Leading Our World (GLOW) where we equip them with life-skills sessions/activities on decision making, career planning, HIV education, self-esteem building and self-defense skills. We encourage, support and empower girls to bond as a team during games and events, eat meals with them, play, and earn their trust and respect. I serve as a positive female role model for ALL campers at Camp G.L.O.W and this has been a wakeup call for me to become a role model not only to these girls but all the young girls and live exemplary life as a change agent.
These camps have 90% positive impacts noted in the pre and post survey completed before and after camp. That impact is what we want. The GLOW clubs continue in schools where their teachers adopt the role of being their advisors and mentors. The GLOW camp is held annually during Lesotho’s independence holidays and I am already looking forward to attending the next one and scale up to the whole country and beyond.
In most African societies, there are certain taboos and cultural norms that create barriers between parents and their children. Children may even feel less confident to seek advice from their parents and freely engage in issues and challenges that affect them. It is through forums like GLOW camps that teachers do not only serve as ‘those who teach and discipline the students’ but also serve as advisors, mentors and coaches. During the course of the year, GLOW clubs meet regularly at the schools where they are able to confide and engage with their confidantes, advisors and peers who also understand the importance of opening up, healthy communication, peer guidance and leadership. I believe that this kind of empowerment should commence at a primary school level where pupils can be equipped with leadership skills at a young age, for children are the leaders of not only tomorrow but also today. Through these forums, there is a lot of voluntary work and development programs which are aimed at addressing challenges and developments that can be employed in schools and communities.
Many nations in Africa parade old men as their Presidents, would you say African youth are ready for leadership?
African youth are not only ready for leadership; they are more than ready. I have interacted with over 300 young brilliant minds from 54 African countries and the diaspora, who have the potential and attributes of not only being leaders but being good leaders. Africa has invested well in its youth and it is time to reap what it has been sowing. Our old men, we love you but it is high time that you take a step back and let young people take the reins! There are so many leadership programs such as Young African Leadership Initiative, Mandela Washington Fellowship, Africa’s Brightest Young Minds, YALE and schools like African Leadership Academy and African Leadership University whose mandate is to groom and nurture the African leaders we want and need. I truly believe that the time has come for the youth to take a lead and leave a legacy, as Thomas Sankara alluded ‘I want us, young people to put a mark and lead like never before. I have a dream of to make young people the genuine pillars of development and progress but this dream cannot be actualized alone…’ this is where we should step in as young people because we are young, vibrant and smart. Leadership begins with us!
In September last year, you were selected as Africa’s brightest young mind. How did it happen and how did you receive the news?
My journey with the BYM family as we call it is a highly esteemed privilege I ever got! It is a very competitive program that selects 100 young leaders who live in Africa and are making an impact in Africa. These go-getters are selected on the basis of their commitment to positive social change through their impactful development and entrepreneurial initiatives. It is a highly competitive program as applications are usually over a thousand. I was in the office at my workplace when I literally shut off my computer, tears streaming down my face in owe of worship and gratefulness to God when I got that special email ‘congratulations Pontso, you have been selected as Africa’s Young Brightest Mind in 2017…It was indeed an honor and privilege. This is after a vigorous application process that dug details on ways of which applicants are making impacts in their respective communities. It is not just for everyone!
As innovative young leaders, we spent a week together working on social and environmental challenges, sharing ideas, participating in activities, group work, presentations and discussions on important issues that affect African countries. High esteemed guests were invited and we got to interact and establish professional contacts with them. This is not only limited to the selected topics but covers our personality traits assessment and self-discovery, this has helped me to better understand who I am, how I should relate and work with others, positive attributes about me at work and what areas I need to improve on. It was a life time investment for me as I always refer back to this. Pitching our innovative ideas was also one of the highlights. My group and I are intending to implement the idea we presented during the summit.
You are also a peace agent, what are your roles?
As a way of contributing to peace and security as stated by Agenda 2063 and UN SDGs, my role is to facilitate peace through meditation. This practice of meditation and mindfulness is an effective tool for cultivating peace from within to the outside. If we find peace in ourselves, it is easier to give it out and share it with the world. You cannot give what you do not have. My approach to world peace takes an individualist approach, where you give what you have and get what you see. If you have inner peace, your level of self-gratification, contentment and confidence improves and this peace extends to other people. Let us build and allow peace be infectious and experience the peace that Christ promised to us before His resurrection. Finding my inner peace was facilitated by the 42 days online meditation through World Peace Initiative and its Peace Revolution program. This program offers an online peace coach and an online journal where one records daily meditation experiences. It is a good opportunity for those who find it difficult to open up and confide in their friends and family. The peace coach is only online and you are free to tell them your deepest secrets that you need to unload.
There are some good acts of discipline to follow which include, not to lie, not to cause injury or kill, not to engage in sexual misconduct and refraining from intoxicants. There are a number of fellowships that are included as part of the program and I was honored to be selected as a participant for the Amandla fellowship for Southern and Eastern Africa. This was a great experience which has improved my organizational skills, cultural competence, interaction skills and dealing with stress and conflict in a more effective way.
Meditating and interacting with 20 peace rebels and peace architects was a good experience for my personal and professional growth. It was my first encounter to meet the monk and I was really happy as he was the instructor in our meditation programmes and attended to all our questions. My role still continues as that of enforcing peace through meditation. In November, 2017 we led a meditation “peace in peace out” session during the GLOW camp where I was also part of the career panel at Kolonyama High School in Leribe district. I love what I do because I have seen people smile with gaze of gratitude after meditation and that is what matters! That little impact means a lot to me. At least I made someone smile!
What should the world expect from you in 2018?
I believe that 2018 does not bring any kinds of luck, miracles and all the good things we all want. It’s a 365 days year just like any other year. What matters most is the efforts, decisions and actions we take not what the year holds for us. I have learned what works and what does not work in terms of implementing certain goals and I intend to improve by at least 80% and impact more than 80% of lives in my community. There is no way I can change the whole world but I intend to first change things for the better in my community, then scale up to the level of the country, Africa and the World at large. I am a firm believer of change. I also make a promise to myself and the world, to be happy and make others happy. I am intending to invest more on innovative ideas that challenge my intellectual capacity and explore all ventures that promote and improve other’s way of life. I am ready to track my progress and proactively engage with unending opportunities. I look around and I see hope in each of us … there is hope for Africa!