Small is Beautiful

Children in a community room at Ts'Osane in LesothoWith no paid staff and a one-room office in its founder’s home, Firelight Foundation grantee Ts’osane Support Group (TSG) is an example of a small organization that has grown—not in size, but in the depth of support they provide for local children in need. For a decade, TSG volunteers have operated on a shoe-string budget, focusing their attention on households made vulnerable by HIV and AIDS in their community, which is a township on the outskirts of Lesotho’s capital city, Maseru.

In the process, they have become a model organization and a mentor to other groups.

TSG was founded in 2000 by Thakane Ts’osane, a widow who mobilized her neighbors and started the volunteer support group. It quickly grew to more than a dozen members. The volunteers began by providing family-centered, home-based care for households caring for relatives with HIV, which remains the heart of their program. TSG volunteers make regular home visits, focusing on the needs of the entire household, particularly the children.

A woman stands smiling outdoors in Lesotho

Family members who are ill with AIDS are vulnerable to social isolation, depression, and often lose the ability to care for their family’s basic needs. Children are often forced to leave school to care for their dying parents. TSG volunteers help with a range of tasks – food preparation, household chores, hygiene, and basic medical care. The volunteers relieve youth so they could attend school, offer emotional and spiritual support to the suffering, and monitor the needs of the young children in the homes. At first, “we were not aware that we were providing counseling, but that was what we were doing,” explains Ms. Ts’osane. “We would sit down with them and try to solve whatever problems they have. We were a bit closer to the children than even their relatives. They saw us caring for their ill parents and helping them.”

Soon the TSG volunteers—keenly aware of the children’s most pressing needs—began raising money to pay school fees to keep children in school and provide staple foods to prevent children from going hungry in households that lost a breadwinner to illness or death.

Firelight Foundation was one of TSG’s early funders – beginning in 2003 Firelight support enabled TSG to keep dozens of children in school and better nourished each year.

Safeguarding Children’s Futures

Later, TSG volunteers began helping caregivers establish tailoring businesses. This program gives caregivers the skills and the start-up capital to engage in a livelihood that will help feed, clothe, and pay the schools fees for children in their care.

Recently, TSG also began helping families caring for children who had lost their parents to establish vegetable gardens. This strengthens the family economically, reducing their dependence on outside goods and improving nutrition.

Firelight has supported both the tailoring businesses and the home gardening efforts. Ts’osane has stayed small and maintained volunteer leadership, but also keeps learning to offer high quality support to vulnerable children and families.

About six years ago, new support groups began approaching TSG for guidance, which the organization informally provided. Firelight grants have allowed TSG to more formally mentor new groups, sharing its small but powerful approach to protecting vulnerable children.