The Journey of a Shoebox
It all started last October, when shoeboxes (carefully filled by local schoolchildren, families, churches, workplaces and groups of all ages across the north side of Dublin city) left Team Hope’s Baldoyle Centre bound for the Kingdom of Lesotho.
From Baldoyle (one of Team Hope’s 50 shoebox checking centres), the boxes travelled to Dublin Port, then by ship to Rotterdam, and on to Durban in South Africa. From Durban the final part of the journey was overland to Butha Buthe, a small town in the north of Lesotho.
It’s a breathtakingly beautiful country – all higher than 1000 metres above sea level – and where high desolate mountains pierce the solid blue sky. Penetrating summer sunshine gives way to cold winters, with temperatures down to minus 20 Celcius, covering the mountains in a blanket of snow, completely cutting off remote mountain villages usually only reachable by horseback or on foot.
Behind all the beauty lies a country with many economic and social problems. It has one of the highest HIV/AIDS rates in the world. An estimated 23% of adults live with HIV.
Despite the distance our shoeboxes had already travelled, the hardest journey was yet to come.
It was 4am when the Team Hope distribution team loaded their truck in Butha Buthe with cartons of North Dublin shoeboxes. Their journey was to take them through mountain dirt-track roads for a seven-hour drive to the remote community of Lampani, where 200 children would be excitedly awaiting their arrival.
While we travelled precariously along mountainsides and drove through several rivers, eventually the sun rose, casting a warming glow over the spectacular mountain vista. Another river, and the truck got stuck in it! After pushing and lifting to release the truck, it was time for a well-earned breakfast.
Many more hours’ drive over rocky mountain tracks, yet more rivers to navigate through, and eventually the community of Lampani came into sight. A final drive through some fields and the children were waiting, and singing!
Lampani, a community of scattered huts, is a 12-hour walk from the nearest shop, and these children had walked for up to four hours today. After all, it was the first time in their lives that most of them had ever received a gift. The truck was unloaded to the background of excited kids – the expectation and joy was palpable already.
Then came the moment to open their boxes. It was unadulterated joy! Someone in Ireland cared enough to send this, and God knows about them here, high up in the Lesotho mountains. They loved everything in their boxes.
Unusually, herd boys came to receive shoebox gifts. In Lesotho, herd boys as young as five look after cattle and sheep, living away from their families, high up in the mountains for months or even years.
Around one-third of Lesotho’s school-age boys become herd boys, embracing a unique culture, with no education, living isolated lives on the mountainside, distinguished by their clothing of a woollen blanket and wellington boots. After a hard day’s work, they retreat for the night to the shelter of their mountain hut. They are Lesotho’s most vulnerable children, risking disease, cold, and human and animal predators.
They have been abandoned by society. Shoebox day was an opportunity for some rare social interaction before they walked off alone, again – but smiling with their gifts!
To bring some dignity, hope and a lot of God’s love to children like these, take part in this year’s Team Hope Christmas Shoebox Appeal. All the details are on www.teamhope.ie or call (01) 294 0222.