Untold stories: Mateboho Lehotla, Lesotho

Mateboho Lehotla in Lesotho
I wake up at five o'clock each morning to take my two grandchildren to school, then I look after the house and three times a day fetch water from the community tap 2km away. To earn money, I brew beer and sell grass for thatching houses. 

How did you get involved in campaigning for older people's rights? 

I was part of a group of grandmothers who were trained by an organisation on life skills. I was inspired by how they care for and protect older people. That is when I learned that older people have rights that must be protected. 
 
I identified one older woman who is very sick, but stays alone and has no one to look after her. I reported the matter to the chief and her care is now provided for by people in the community - I am one of them. I make sure that every two or three days I go to help the woman with cooking. 

Have you experienced discrimination because of your age? 

I have not felt discriminated against, but I have a neighbour who has a grandchild who takes money from her every time she receives her pension. The boy does that knowing that the woman cannot chase after him because of her age. 
 
There is more discrimination against older women than older men in the community. It is okay for older men to find a partner after they have lost their wife. If the woman does the same, they are insulted by their grandchildren and the rest of the community. 
 
I used to go to the public gatherings but stopped because I have realised that, as elders, we are not listened to. Even if I raise my hand, I will not be allowed to talk. Decisions are always made on my behalf. 
 
I have a hearing problem and when I say I did not hear what has been said either in a gathering or at the service provider, people are not happy to repeat it. It makes me keep silent or agree even if I did not hear what has been said.

Tell me about your proudest moments as a campaigner  

I mobilised a chief to call a gathering and talk about elder abuse in the community and how it can be eradicated. Also, I attended an event on the International Day of Older Persons, where the Prime Minister and the Minister of Social Development attended. We complained about poor service delivery, especially at clinics and hospitals, and since then there has been a lot of improvement. 

What are you campaigning for right now, and how are you doing it? 

I am advocating to reduce the pension eligibility age from 70 to 65. I see my neighbours suffer as they are not yet 70 but still struggle.  
 
I am a committee member of the grandmothers group in my village and we discuss issues affecting us and how best we can deal with them. The government should encourage service providers to decentralise services to the community councils for the benefit of older people and other vulnerable groups.  
 
And if all the services had seats and shelter, during harsh weather conditions we can feel safe and protected. Older people cannot stay there for a long period of time - they need to be seated. 

What effect has campaigning had on you as an older person?  

I have self-confidence, because I am able to represent older people on any platform. I used to hate the youth because of how they treat us, but I have taught myself to love everyone regardless of their age. I no longer think only for myself, but I do it for everyone. 
 
I learned that I am still important, and valued. I learned that becoming older is not a curse or illness, but a grace. 
 

Do you have a message for other older people around the world?

To all the elders, greetings! Let us love and understand one another as we together will make a difference to the world. 

What does your perfect world look like? 

My perfect world is one where there is no abuse to any person, regardless of their age. 
 
With thanks to Help Lesotho 
Read more stories from older campaigners.

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