‘The pop­u­la­tion is dy­ing’

UNFPA As­sis­tant Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Retšelisit­soe Nko says Le­sotho faces a real threat from dis­eases such as HIV

Lesotho Times - - Big Interview -

THE United Na­tions Pop­u­la­tion Fund-le­sotho (UNFPA) in April 2015 en­gaged Ed­ward Retšelisit­soe Nko as As­sis­tant Rep­re­sen­ta­tive—an im­mense un­der­tak­ing for the 36-year-old.

Mr Nko speaks with Le­sotho Times ( LT) reporter Pas­cali­nah Kabi about his job and how he hopes to use the po­si­tion to cham­pion the in­ter­ests of Ba­sotho youths in light of the coun­try’s high un­em­ploy­ment and Hiv-preva­lence.

LT: You hold the dis­tinc­tion of be­ing the sec­ond Mosotho to oc­cupy the pres­ti­gious post of UNFPA deputy rep­re­sen­ta­tive, which is quite an achieve­ment for some­one who is only 36 years of age. But could you tell us in brief, who Retšelisit­soe Nko is?

Nko: I am an aca­demic, an en­thu­si­as­tic writer and de­vel­op­ment spe­cial­ist. I am some­one who re­ally cares about see­ing the good end of Le­sotho, and achiev­ing not tar­gets but de­vel­op­men­tal pri­or­i­ties.

I went to the Na­tional Univer­sity of Le­sotho (NUL) where I grad­u­ated with a Po­lit­i­cal Sci­ence and Pub­lic Ad­min­is­tra­tion de­gree. This made me very pas­sion­ate about de­vel­op­ment and anal­y­sis.

My pri­mary ques­tion has al­ways been: why is it that de­vel­oped na­tions call coun­tries like Le­sotho un­der­de­vel­oped and why does Le­sotho have an ex­ces­sive labour-force?

Al­though I never loved law, I did Labour Law with the Univer­sity of Cape Town, spe­cial­is­ing in Hu­man Rights and In­dus­trial Re­la­tions. I wanted to un­der­stand our coun­try’s labour-force and why it can­not matchup to this coun­try’s de­vel­op­ment pri­or­i­ties. I then worked as an ar­bi­tra­tor at the Direc­torate of Dis­pute Preven­tion and Res­o­lu­tion (DDPR).

I have al­ways had this motto: ‘If I don’t be­come busy I be­come silly’ so one af­ter­noon, I surfed the in­ter­net to ex­plore South African uni­ver­si­ties as I wanted to fur­ther my stud­ies. Af­ter com­ing across a Gov­er­nance and Po­lit­i­cal Trans­for­ma­tion course, I pur­sued a Master’s De­gree with the Univer­sity of the Free State and was pre­sented with an hon­orary aca­demic ex­cel­lence award for pass­ing with dis­tinc­tions. Sub­se­quently, I worked as a Gov­er­nance Ad­vi­sor at the Ir­ish Em­bassy here in Maseru. Af­ter some­time, I felt I wanted to do a Master’s De­gree in De­vel­op­ment Stud­ies but I was re­fused en­try. I was so an­gry I con­fronted the Univer­sity of Free State man­age­ment and I was told, ‘young man, you are crazy; you have to do a PHD be­cause you have such good grades’.

In 2011, I pur­sued my PHD, ma­jor­ing in De­vel­op­ment Aid Ef­fec­tive­ness and Gov­er­nance, which looked at how we re­late good gov­er­nance and aid. Do we see aid con­tribut­ing to good gov­er­nance and do we see coun­tries im­prov­ing af­ter re­ceiv­ing aid? How did I come across this job? One day, I came across a news­pa­per ad­ver­tis­ing this job. For the first time in my life, the re­quire­ments were just talk­ing to me but at the bot­tom, it was clearly marked ‘women are en­cour­aged to ap­ply’.

All the peo­ple who had oc­cu­pied this po­si­tion in the past were women and to make mat­ters worse, I was the only man out of the six short­listed can­di­dates, so I be­came frus­trated look­ing at the prob­a­bil­ity of me get­ting the job. But I did get it in the end.

LT: As a young Mosotho, what are you bring­ing to Unfpa-le­sotho?

Nko: UNFPA is a big, um­brella in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tion look­ing at mak­ing the world’s pop­u­la­tion healthy and when I look at Le­sotho, it’s re­ally a sad sit­u­a­tion. Le­sotho is in a cri­sis; the pop­u­la­tion is dy­ing. Be­cause of this back­ground, what I am bring­ing to UNFPA is more en­ergy and en­thu­si­asm to en­gage Le­sotho and Ba­sotho, gov­ern­ment part­ners, the pri­vate sec­tor and busi­ness com­mu­nity, to form a coali­tion in fight­ing th­ese dis­eases dec­i­mat­ing Le­sotho’s pop­u­la­tion.

I would want to use the el­e­vated plat­form I have been af­forded here at UNFPA to as­sist and give Ba­sotho the rel­e­vant in­for­ma­tion about how we can pro­tect and save our na­tion. When I look at how young Ba­sotho are dy­ing be­cause of HIV and AIDS, teenage preg­nan­cies and early mar­riages, I be­come de­ter­mined to use this UNFPA man­date to ad­vance voices and mes­sages for the protec- tion of us all. There are coun­tries with small pop­u­la­tions like Le­sotho, but they are very rich be­cause their cit­i­zens are healthy. But in Le­sotho, our eco­nom­i­cally ac­tive pop­u­la­tion be­tween the ages of 20 and 29 years, is dy­ing from Hiv-re­lated causes.

LT: So what is UNFPA’S broad man­date and how are you us­ing it to help Le­sotho?

Nko: The UNFPA’S man­date is to pre­vent HIV and AIDS and pro­mote sex­ual re­pro­duc­tive health (SRH). Be­cause of my cur­rent po­si­tion, I want Ba­sotho to be equipped with knowl­edge that would help them as in­di­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies, to stay healthy.

When one vis­its a health­care fa­cil­ity, one finds it with many young peo­ple and as a re­sult, our pro­duc­tiv­ity suf­fers. What I want is for the UNFPA to part­ner with gov­ern­ment, civil so­ci­ety, com­mu­ni­ties, and politi­cians and say let us fight th­ese con­di­tions which are wip­ing out our pop­u­la­tion, for the coun­try’s econ­omy to grow.

LT: As a young per­son, how are you go­ing to use your el­e­vated po­si­tion to cham­pion is­sues af­fect­ing Ba­sotho youths and en­sure they are eco­nom­i­cally ac­tive?

Nko: That is one of my job-de­scrip­tions and as head of in­no­va­tive pro­gram­ming, I am lead­ing pro­grammes en­gag­ing the youth to find means and ways through which they can sur­vive.

For in­stance, we are about to in­tro­duce in­no­va­tion fund­ing in which we will be giv­ing the youth some small start-up funds to es­tab­lish their own ini­tia­tives which are nor­mally around SRH and good health pro­mo­tions.

I will give you an ex­am­ple of how we will achieve this; we have three re­source cen­tres in three of the coun­try’s 10 dis­tricts, work­ing closely with the Min­istry of Gen­der and Youth, Sports and Recre­ation. The plan is to have th­ese re­source cen­tres in all the 10 dis­tricts.

We have vol­un­teers and our own UNFPA Skills De­vel­op­ment Of­fi­cers based in the dis­tricts and we will soon be con­duct­ing train­ings on com­pre­hen­sive sex­ual ed­u­ca­tion (CSE) and be­havioural skills chal­lenges. Out of th­ese train­ings, we will be ask­ing the youth to come up with cre­ative ideas which can help them make a liv­ing out of this ed­u­ca­tional pro­gramme.

If it means go­ing to a vil­lage shop-owner and ask­ing that for ev­ery can­dle sold, they put a con­dom on it so that peo­ple can un­der­stand the im­por­tance of us­ing a con­dom, it’s a project that can be funded be­cause it will be bring­ing in­no­va­tion and help­ing save the pop­u­la­tion.

I re­mem­ber that dur­ing an In­no­va­tion Day com­mem­o­ra­tion in Se­monkong, the youths there in­formed us that they now know how to sew leather side-bags. What they were sug­gest­ing was to put a branded small, in­side pocket say­ing “it is your right to say no to un­pro­tected sex”.

They are pro­duc­ing th­ese beau­ti­ful bags while also car­ry­ing th­ese very im­por­tant mes­sages, and this means in­come as well as CSE and that is in­no­va­tion.

Other youths were sug­gest­ing that be- cause our re­source cen­tres are mostly far away from their schools, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for learn­ers to ac­cess them, they want school­books to have printed CSE and SRH mes­sages which the youth could then con­sume and eas­ily re­mem­ber.

They are go­ing to print them and this sim­ply means mak­ing an in­come for them­selves. Dif­fer­ent dis­tricts are also ex­pected to come up with good, in­no­va­tive ideas for oc­ca­sions such as World AIDS Day and make money out of such ini­tia­tives.

LT: There is this per­cep­tion that Ba­sotho are not afraid of HIV and AIDS but rather preg­nancy. In your re­search, have you come across this?

Nko: It is se­ri­ous cause for con­cern but when you sleep with a woman with­out pro­tec­tion, the first thing they think of is “where do we get the morn­ing-af­ter pill” not “this has been a mis­take, can we go and get Post-ex­po­sure Pro­phy­laxis (PEP).”

The sec­ond thing is our youths don’t think about get­ting an HIV test af­ter this “mis­take” but rather rush for preg­nancy tests. So I think it is not a ques­tion of fear but we should also ask: are we mak­ing the mes­sages reach the peo­ple?

Peo­ple don’t have the cor­rect mes­sages and cor­rect in­for­ma­tion, which is why we are try­ing to get mes­sages across by es­tab­lish­ing com­mu­nity net­works. We can even start by hav­ing com­mu­nity net­works for herd-boys to give them the plat­form to dis­cuss is­sues of con­doms and HIV.

We fur­ther have a Sex­ual Be­havioural Change Co­or­di­na­tor (SBCC) who is pri­mar­ily work­ing on coun­selling peo­ple, so trust me, it is not a ques­tion of fear, it is a ques­tion of be­havioural change.

Even though 65-70 per­cent of our youth say they have knowl­edge about HIV and AIDS, they are at best ig­no­rant so the more we pass the in­for­ma­tion, the more we work with our gov­ern­ment and part­ners like the Le­sotho Planned Par­ent­hood As­so­ci­a­tion (LPPA) and Le­sotho Net­work of Peo­ple Liv­ing with HIV and AIDS (LENEPHWA), the more our peo­ple will have the knowl­edge. It’s just like the more stu­dents read the more they learn.

We fur­ther need to en­sure that peo­ple have ac­cess to com­modi­ties and treat­ment. We will not be talk­ing about treat­ment as such; UNAIDS can talk about it while we talk about preven­tion.

LT: It is gen­er­ally ta­boo in African fam­i­lies to talk about sex­ual is­sues. Do you have CSE and SRH pro­grammes tar­get­ing fam­i­lies?

Nko: Even though they are not at best deeply rooted in the vil­lages, we do have pro­grammes of that na­ture. But like I al­luded to ear­lier on, the youth re­source cen­tres fur­nished with com­put­ers and recre­ational cen­ters, dur­ing their in­ter­ac­tion, chil­dren learn CSE and SRH mes­sages. I am proud to say we have some area chiefs reg­u­larly vis­it­ing such places.

The only link that is a lit­tle bit flimsy for now is that of faith-based or­gan­i­sa­tions as there are some churches which are still not quite pro fam­ily plan­ning ser­vices. On 12 Oc­to­ber this year, UNFPA pleaded with churches to preach on mes­sages sur­round­ing child mar­riages, etc.

It will take time for our com­mu­ni­ties to fi­nally get to a po­si­tion where they will freely talk about is­sues of sex with their chil­dren but we have to start for us to get there. For in­stance, I have a 12-year-old daugh­ter I must talk to about is­sues of hy­giene, sex, pads and not be­ing in­ter­ested in re­la­tion­ships at the mo­ment but ed­u­ca­tion.

So the idea is for us to try and pass mes­sages that par­ents and teach­ers will use in a con­struc­tive way. We must also give young peo­ple an al­ter­na­tive; if you say “don’t have sex” give them an al­ter­na­tive and that is what our re­source cen­tres are do­ing.

We are fur­ther try­ing to build recre­ational ca­pac­ity in our coun­try and re­sus­ci­tate our recre­ational spirit be­cause we want some­thing to oc­cupy our youth; to give them an op­tion.

When one vis­its a health­care fa­cil­ity, one finds it with many young peo­ple and as a re­sult, our pro­duc­tiv­ity suf­fers. What I want is for the UNFPA to part­ner with gov­ern­ment, civil so­ci­ety, com­mu­ni­ties, and politi­cians and say let us fight th­ese con­di­tions which are wip­ing out our pop­u­la­tion, for the coun­try’s econ­omy to grow

UNFPA As­sis­tant Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Retšelisit­soe Nko

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Lesotho

© PressReader. All rights reserved.