Maseru, Lesotho 26th of April 2013
I left Norway 34 hours ago. I think I spent a couple of them sleeping on the plane. After picking up the Land Cruiser in Johannesburg I set directions for Maseru, the capital of Lesotho with about 500 – 800 000 citizens. Maseru is also known as the HIV capital of the world. I will get back to that. From Johannesburg the roads are great. When South Africa first got to know that they landed the World Cup of 2010 a huge makeover of everything the tourists might happen to see, became hugely apparent. Three hours south and one hour east of Johannesburg you have to get off these roads that the tourists might happen to see and turn left and then after a few kilometres, right again. That’s where Africa starts.
I have been queuing in this line since seven o’clock. After looking at the green Toyota watch located in the dashboard, I understand that it is four hours ago. Time has not flown by. Two kilometres before the boarder everything stopped. And one kilometre and four hours later we are still waiting. But it’s my own fault. I should have known that since it is the end of the month, all the Basotho people (people from Lesotho) working in South Africa, have collected their monthly pay and are now heading back home to see their family. Most of the men haven’t seen their wives and children for a month. Even though I have had long day, I shouldn’t complain!
I am on my way to meet the Red Cross. We are laying the grounds and structure for the next couple of weeks. I am alone in the car, but in a few days I will take the journey once more and one person will turn into a group. Three winter pale Norwegians will wait for me at the O.R. Tambo airport in Johburg. Three pale Norwegians ready to make the most out of the next ten days. Friends, but professionals in their own field will be travelling with me. Our mission is to make a movie. The first part is already captured at Skøyen in Oslo, where our friends at Visma do their business and eat their lunch. We are here to follow the path of a PictureAid picture. From its humble beginning – a moment in time, a second of fascination, a person, a situation that is frozen, immortalized, portrayed and hung on a wall.
What are the effects?
Can the power of photography actually change? Is it more than just a situation and information that is turned into a beautiful moment and looked upon? I believe it is. And I want to show exactly what a single moment of time immortalized with the powerful tool of a camera can create for the lives of those portrayed. That is our mission.
Mafateng, Lesotho, 2nd of May 2013
Mpho and I have actually developed quite a friendship. She is only 15, but has the life experience of more than one adult. She is trying to fight the HIV virus living inside her body, something she knows that grew and killed both her parents and her aunt. Today she is living with her elderly grandparents and her cousins in a small cabin in the highlands outside of Mafateng, three hours east of Maseru.
I first visited Mpho Mokotjo and her family in January as I was travelling around the country with the Red Cross to visit some of the children we support. There was something special about this place, this girl and her family. Something that made me spend two full days with them, and something that instantly grew into a friendship! Mpho wants to become a doctor so that she can support her family. And one day, take care of her grandparents as they have been taking care of her.
«One day I will become that doctor, so that I am also able to help other children in my own situation. But I have to stay top of my class».
Currently she is the best. She is young, but makes me feel younger. Around the light from a single candle she reads out loud. Every night she passes on the knowledge and the education she proudly learned during the day at school and teaches her grandmother a few words in English. «Amotle – It means beautiful».
Mpho is one out of as many as 120 000 orphans in Lesotho- a small country with a population of about three million. I realized that so much good could easily be done in one place, because this is the country for the future. This is the kingdom of children. The kingdom of dreams and ambition. Children that need just a little something to be able to reach their potential. A chance to be educated and a chance to turn their dreams into reality. No parents and no one to take care of them while growing up. It’s absurd to travel the countryside of Lesotho and see that it is packed with beautiful, young and hopeful faces everywhere, managing on their own, or with one or two elderly grandparents. Seventeen year old girls as the head of a family with eight siblings. HIV/ AIDS has hit this country hard and left it without parental guidance!
The soil of Lesotho is green, and the mountains are beautiful and packed with water. This is a country with great potential for the coming generation, but so far the potential is untapped. Eighty percent of Lesotho lives in the countryside in idyllic and beautiful surroundings. They grow the vegetables they need for everyday nutrition themselves and a chicken and a cow supplies the meals. A life in the moment, not for the future. There is no money. It doesn’t exist. But schools fees do. As well as exam fees, uniforms, shoes, bags, materials and books. The schools are there. Their futures just waiting to get utilized and realized. So close but still so impossibly far. That is why educational support is so important, and that is why with every picture we sell education is provided for a local child.
“I am twenty years old and my horses name is Tobake. I bought him in the neighbouring village of Hatjobe two years ago.” Mphale is humble man, with great passion in taking care of animals and farming. I had just finished portraying him on his horse when we began to talk and got to know each other. “He is beautiful. How much did you have to pay for him?” I ask. “He cost me 500 Rands (350 NOK, 50 USD).” His eyes lit up with great pride. “Really, 500 Rands?” I was astonished how cheap you could actually get a beautiful horse like this.
“So how long did you have to work to save up the money for your horse?” I ask him. He looks at me and answers without hesitation or the need to calculate.
Mphole has worked as a herd boy since the age of six. The age when he started to take care of himself. He is placed in the category «normal» in the Lesotho countryside and his youth is shared with tens of thousands other boys and girls which start their work at the age of five or six. You start out with the small animals like sheep and goats, and as you get older you work yourself up towards cows and horses. There is nothing wrong with this choice of labour, but what is wrong is that there are no choices.
Mphole has worked as a herd boy since the age of six. The age when he had to start taking care of himself. He is placed in the category «normal» in the Lesotho countryside and his youth is shared with tens of thousands other boys and girls which start their work at the age of five or six. You start out with the small animals like sheep and goats, and as you get older you work yourself up towards cows and horses. There is nothing wrong with this choice of labour, but what is wrong is that there are no choice.
Oslo, Norway, 27th of May 2013
We spent five days together with Mpho and her family. I think the filmmakers Kristoffer Kumar and Sven Arild Storberget were blown away by the hospitality in the mountainside. We followed Mpho to school and back. Collected water and made food. Every night we would play soccer with their home made ball, put together out of plastic bags, until the sun set over the mountains. These are great memories, and for the team that followed me to Lesotho, something they will never forget!
A special moment for me will always be the moment when the children actually got their own framed picture to put on the wall, the same pictures that are hung on the walls in Norway.
Lineo Mokotjo (11) is the cousin of Mpho and stays together with her and the two other cousins. He likes to work in the garden, play soccer and ride the donkey. The picture of him riding the donkey is hanging in the Visma canteen in Oslo, and now also at his grandmother’s wall in Mafateng, Lesotho. His eyes and face was filled with pride when I told him and gave him the picture. His picture is giving his «sister» Mpho the possibility for school. And also hopefully in the near future he will be able to get the education he so clearly deserves.
Safely back in Norway, I am always inspired whenever I get back from a journey like this. I am truly looking forward to see the result of the movie we made and pass it on to all our friends that is helping us make PictureAid a possibility. It is only possible through companies and organizations like Visma, with great values and creative thinking in terms of decorating their walls!
Is it really that easy?
I believe it is. Today fifty children receive education because of companies that have understood that their white walls have greater potential. If we can only build a brand that is a natural option for everyone looking to decorate their walls, if we can make them understand that they can use this decision to create a future. If so, in few years’ time
PictureAid will create a huge difference around the world, and we can time fifty by ten. Something big is about to happen, and a great deal of it catapulted from 16 pictures a year at Karenslyst allé at Skøyen!
Small choices in daily life create a huge impact for a new future. Photography has the power to inspire, influence, change and create. Not only for the one’s portrayed, but hopefully also for the observer.
Thank you for being a part of the PictureAid movement, things are just getting started.
– Kristian Harby