Written by Help Lesotho Director, Kate, on a recent visit to Lesotho (March 2023).
It is Saturday morning and we are bumping down the dirt road on the way to Help Lesotho’s Pitseng Centre. We pass clusters of people walking along the road, some clearly dressed in funeral attire, others carrying out familial chores and errands. There is a group of six young girls walking in front of us, as they turn, their pink collars peak out of their jackets – they are Pearl Girls heading to the centre for their training day!
We drive the last 500 meters or so and grab a parking spot – just not between other vehicles!
It is a cloudy day with rain all around us in the mountains. It is the first day that the seasonal change to fall is noticeable. The cosmos are still in perfect bloom, their shades of pink in perfect coordination with the Pearl Girls!
Heading inside the Pitseng Centre, the forty girls are clearly excited to get the session started. Ntate Thabo begins the day by asking the girls to reflect on the Self-Esteem session they did during the previous training weekend.
Rets’elisitsoe shared, “In this life we should not be scared of who we are, we should just be strong in who we are.” She went on to say, “before making any decisions, I have to think first.”
On the agenda for today is the Peer Pressure module. Equipping the girls to resist peer pressure is one of the key objectives of the Pearl Program, so this is a topic that will be revisited continuously to help the girls define their values, identify positive role models, and set goals to work towards.
About half of the girls raise their hand at every opportunity to provide an answer, but Ntate Thabo finds ways to engage even the shyest participants one way or another. The girls capture information from the session in their Pearl Girl workbooks, madly writing – in perfect printing – every word they can fit in.
After an hour and a half, the girls are starting to become restless and there are nonstop requests to visit the bathroom. Ntate Thabo suggests a break, so the girls head outside with an apple and some time to play.
“I love coming here to play with my friends.” - Malebohang (below)
After a short break, it was time to head back in to the Pitseng Centre for another info session, and of course more fun!
The girls are divided into four groups for role plays. Each group is given a common peer pressure example, but it is up to them to bring that example to life. For example, one group is assigned a scenario where one of them is being pressured to drink alcohol while spending time with friends. Some of the group members act as the ‘pressure-ers’, coming up with the most persuasive lines they can. Others are the ‘resist-ers’, acting out safe responses.
The presentations are detailed and enthusiastic, with girls in the audience adding complexity to the scenarios for each group of actors to respond to. Giving the girls the opportunity to role play these scenarios is what allows them to ensure they are directly connecting what they learn to the real-life peer pressure they are bound to experience at some point. It is a powerful exercise, although one can’t help but wonder how anyone makes it through high school unscathed with such intense peer pressure surrounding every move.
Finally, it is time for lunch – rice, chakalaka (a delicious traditional dish of carrots, white beans, onion and curry) and chicken. The women who cook at the Pitseng Centre have been doing so for the last 14 years – they have it down to an exact science!
After they have eaten, the girls take full advantage of the play structure, skipping ropes, and balls! The swing set is by far the most popular activity, with a long line of girls patiently waiting their turn. Watching new friendships develop is a beautiful sight.
12-year-old Rethabile might be the giggliest Pearl Girl we've ever had! She loves to play at the Centre. She hopes to be a doctor when she grows up. (bottom left)
14-year-old Maseaka expressed that learning about healthy relationships has been the most important thing about the program for her. (bottom right)
12-year-old Refiloe shared, “I like that we learn about self-esteem.” (below)