by Judah Newby
Welcome to the African country of Lesotho.
It is not well-known by any means, but in places where it is the country is recognizable by being completely landlocked inside of South Africa, with small populated villages accounting for its citizens, and also as one of the continent’s most literate countries.
Add to that list of characteristics: one-third of their young men are shepherds. And by young men, we are talking boys, as young as five, taking care of flocks of cattle and sheep of the wealthy.
Coverage of these “Shepherd Boys of Lesotho” initially was found in a 2007 report of the education of countries in southern Africa, with a singular line stating the lack of education for young men in Lesotho due to their profession as shepherds in the many high, ragged mountains. Known as the “Kingdom in the Sky”, Lesotho boasts many rising peaks that grace the otherwise wide open sky. The contrast of flat villages with the surround mountains adds both geographical as well as social barriers between the two lifestyles.
Many of these young men tending the flocks are earning an annual income of just one cow, or perhaps 12 sheep, for their round-the-clock responsibilities. This payment is reportedly just enough for them to support their families in the villages, some of whom they have not seen for months on end, and in some cases, even years.
Indeed there has risen various efforts to make a difference in the currently dire straights for these kids. The most notable action was taken by the prince of Lesotho, Prince Seeiso, the younger brother of the King of Lesotho. Seeiso partnered with England’s Prince Harry to form a charity called Sentabale, which is dedicated to bring education opportunities at night for these boys to attend, as well as furthering the fight against HIV/AIDS. Lesotho is one of the most effected countries in this regard, with a rate of disease reaching 23% of adults ages 15-49, according to UNAIDS.
Even with the schools, the distance needed to be trekked from the isolation of the mountains, in weather that can reach as 4-below regularly at night, is of great difficulty for the boys. However, many are known to make trips of 15-20 miles roundtrip in order to attend school sessions, which can run as frequently as four times a week.
In addition to education, efforts in the evangelical field are being made. A recent video and request for support from Africa Inland Mission International details the goals of the team to help these marginalized of the marginalized with friendship, supplies, and prayer, and many have reported to have come to the Lord.
These shepherd boys can be easily seen as unfortunate outsiders, with little hope. However, an obvious form of community brings them close to each other and shows a friendship that very few may identify with, because of the commonality shared in the struggles of their daily life and work. And yet, just as that sense of community is witnessed when they are gathered together, the reality of stark isolation and challenges to be faced alone sets in, with each shepherd heading back into the mountains to return to their flocks by night.