Lesotho is an arid, landlocked, independent constitutional monarchy, surrounded by South Africa. Beginning in 1979 Plenty International, Plenty Canada, and Plenty Lesotho promoted village-scale technology, including running water, sanitation, solar energy, forestation, agriculture, nutrition education, and healthcare in a region with sixty villages and a population of approximately 10,000 Basotho tribe people. In 1982 Plenty Canada took over administration of the Lesotho projects. Plenty International, with the help of numerous donors, established a clinic and a system of local healthcare workers in 1985.
The situation in the country was difficult. The 1.4 million citizens of Lesotho were extremely poor, predominantly Basotho people. Seventy percent of the income-earning population made less than $350 a year. Half of the adult men migrated to South Africa where they spent eleven months of the year working in dangerous mines. Plenty volunteer Don Edkins wrote, “Families are screwed because the men have to do migrant labor in the mines of South Africa, leaving the women to be the soul and strength of the village. Yet they are oppressed by customs such as the buying of a wife for 24 cows, so she becomes the property of the man, often for the worse.”
Plenty volunteers learned to build Lesotho’s traditional-style stone-walled huts from local masons while adding solar showers, heating, and electricity. A desperately needed footbridge over the Quthing River was built. Village water systems were installed. Irrigation systems were developed for community gardens and drought-resistant trees planted to reverse soil erosion. Nutritional education led to villagers beginning community gardens, plots of soybeans, and local women learning to make tofu and run a soy dairy. A clinic was built and village health workers trained. All of these projects enhanced the self-sufficiency and local sovereignty of the people.
The Lesotho projects grew from the heartfelt desire of Africans to help Africans.
In March 1979 Plenty Lesotho was established as a charitable society to undertake an Integrated Rural Development Program in the Quthing District under the Ministry of Cooperatives and Rural Development, Government of Lesotho. Projects undertaken include reforestation, a communal fruit and vegetable garden, soybean nutrition and agriculture, and sanitation. A Village Technology Training Center is being built at Ha Makoae as a base for future projects of the Integrated Rural Development Program, being a part of the Third Five Year Development Plan 1980/85 of the Government of Lesotho.
— Don Edkins (May 1980 Mount Moorosi, Quthing, Lesotho)
Mwana Bermudes: The Plenty Lesotho project was started by two families: Don and Marianne Edkins, and Fernando and Mabel Paixao. Lesotho is surrounded by South Africa, which in those days was still under the apartheid administration. However, in Lesotho during that time, one could live free from harassment as long as one didn’t openly interfere in South African politics. In order to get away from their country’s apartheid system, Don and a few other South Africans moved to Lesotho and started a small community project in one of the rural villages.
More or less at the same time, after living in exile in Europe for a while, we (Mwana and Karani) returned to Mozambique when it became independent from the Portuguese colonial administration in 1975. After working back home for a year and a half, we became fed up and disappointed with the new Marxist dictatorship and decided to leave our native country again. It was then that our friend Fernando Paixao gave us a Farm newsletter with a picture of the community’s teacher Stephen Gaskin, another photograph of the Farm Band’s Walter Rabideau playing his electric guitar, and the first published news from Plenty, the Farm’s non-profit organization. We felt immediately attracted to the Farm as the type of community we had been looking to join as a spiritual sanctuary. We also realized that these American hippies had the great vision of stepping out into the Third World to share resources and technology with the people of the underdeveloped nations. That had been my own dream for quite some time.
Meanwhile Fernando and Mabel left Mozambique and connected with Peter Schweitzer who sent them to the Plenty project in Guatemala. In Guatemala they met Don and Marianne Edkins and became close friends. Don told Fernando that they had been in Lesotho starting a hippie commune in a village but it was too “flower childy” so he wanted to start a proper rural development program with Plenty. Fernando and Mabel Paixao agreed to join them in Africa after they completed their training in Tennessee in 1978.
Karani and I also wrote to Plenty U.S.A. and asked them for assistance regarding technical training and joining the Farm. They considered our application and replied to us with a positive invitation. We started our training on the Canada Farm and then, in the summer of 1978, we drove down to Tennessee and continued training on the Farm, the headquarters of Plenty U.S.A., where we stayed until 1980. When our H-3 training visas in the United States expired, we moved back to Canada. Larry McDermott was Plenty Canada’s new executive director and he invited us to volunteer for the new rural development project in Lesotho, Africa. We were excited to return to our homeland, and promptly accepted his offer. Some of us worked planting trees to pay for the tickets of the various volunteers who would come to join the Lesotho project. In 1980 we joined the rest of the African team. With Plenty Canada and Bread for the World’s (Brot für die Welt) financial assistance and our strong focused minds, we carried out the Lesotho project in the Quthing District of the Kingdom of Lesotho.
David Agnew: Canada was funding the project, having funded Plenty projects in Guatemala. But Canada didn’t want to fund an American project so some of us American ‘Farmies’ living in Canada founded Plenty Canada. The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) not only matched money we raised three-to-one, they also matched our labor as an ‘in-kind’ contribution.
We were loaned property by the Lesotho government right beside the Quthing River. This gave us a strong, unprotected spring, river bottomland, and, although it hadn’t been maintained and was thus not very productive, an orchard!
Plenty Bulletin, Winter/Spring 1981: Living with the Basotho in their high mountain villages, our Plenty volunteers felt deepened by the spirit of community. The Basotho are a traditional people who hold the land in common.
Don Edkins circa 1980: It’s been so amazing to become part of this community, to live so near to the dignity of these Mountain Basotho. The village is poor, the land is not plentiful and rich… Life is very slow here, for why be in a hurry? The mountains change slower than the people, and they are content. The spirits of the ancestors are revered and made peace with, and so will ours be, by future generations. Life is with natural rhythms, slow as the seasons.
You talk with everyone you meet, and the questions are always, “Where have you come from? Where are you going?” And for everyone, it is, “Greetings, my father,” or, “Greetings, my mother, how are you living?” And you answer, “I am living well, thank you.” And to everyone you meet you say, “Stay well, my mother,” or, “Stay well, my father.” There is much respect.
We are fortunate to be living in the village of the Principal Chief of the Quthing District — for Morena Tsepo is to be respected and we learn that well. Chief Tsepo here says, “You are very acceptable, you have made a good start. We do not want to lose you.”
There is a Basotho saying, “A chief is a chief by the people,” and so it is. But the authority of the chiefs is declining. Amongst their people, they are chiefs. But the real authority lies with the government, and they do not want the power to be with the chiefs. For us too, we must have good relations with the government, and be in good relations with the chief and people where we live. The Basotho side of the government is good to deal with. They are young and willing to share with others who are really out for Lesotho, respectful of its land and people.
Being the only development organization that actually lives in the villages (where 96% of the Basotho live) we are treated very well. Millions of dollars and hundreds of development workers and scientists are in Lesotho, yet their influence beyond Maseru, the capital, is limited.
Mary Agnew: The people of Lesotho, even in their sorry, impoverished state, are cheerful, proud, friendly, and honorable. They have a passion for singing and the sound of their voices raised in song could often be heard drifting through the air, sometimes from very far away.