Pronounced “le-soo-too”, The Kingdom of Lesotho is a beautiful, mountainous country with a rich cultural history. Lesotho is a land-locked country, surrounded by South Africa. Lesotho’s capital and largest city is Maseru.
Lesotho was formed in 1822, it became a British protectorate in 1868 and a colony in 1884. The nation gained its independence on 4 October 1966. A constitutional monarchy, Lesotho is ruled by a king as Head of State and the Prime Minister as Head of Government. Letsie III, the current King, has been on the throne since 1996.
Poverty and inequality are key development challenges in Lesotho. According to the UNDP, 24% of Lesotho’s population live in extreme poverty with 32.4% living below the poverty line. Economic growth has slowed in recent years due to drought and weak regional demand. Despite the poverty, the World Bank lists Lesotho as a lower-middle-income country.
Health is another significant development challenge in Lesotho. Lesotho has one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world, with approximately 25 per cent of the adult population (15-49 years) living with HIV. The World Health Organisation (2023) noted that Lesotho had the second highest incidence of tuberculosis in the world with 724 estimated cases per 100,000. High health costs exert more pressure on government finances and high HIV, AIDS and tuberculosis rates contribute to persistently high inequality and poverty.
Australian volunteers have supported a wide range of partner organisations in Lesotho to achieve their development goals since 1975.
Key things to consider about volunteering in Lesotho
- Over 80% of Lesotho lies above 1,800 metres, meaning it is home to some spectacular mountain scenery.
- It can get very cold in Lesotho. In winter, temperatures can get as low as -7°C in the lowlands and -18°C in the mountains. Many houses don’t have adequate insulation. Snow in high lying areas is common in winter.
- It can be challenging to find vegetarian and vegan food. Some options may be available in main cities, but choices are usually limited.
- Volunteers in Lesotho are advised to have spare passport pages. Crossings to South Africa happen frequently.
- It can be hard to access specialised medical care. To access such care, it is common to travel to South Africa.
Culture and religion
Many partner organisations are based in Maseru, the capital and largest city, which is located very close to the border with South Africa. Life in Maseru is a blend of traditional and western cultures.
Christianity is the dominant religion in Lesotho. Lesotho observes most Christian holidays. Non-Christian religions represent approximately 1.5% of the population, and those of no religion 3.5%. The non-Christian people primarily subscribe to traditional African belief systems.
Dress can be conservative and traditional. It is recommended that volunteers wear relatively conservative clothing, and when travelling outside the city and in rural areas women are expected to wear long skirts as a sign of respect to traditions. Remember to bring warm clothing if in country during winter season.
Lesotho is home to several languages, including Phuthi, Sesotho, Xhosa, Zulu and English. The population of around 2.3 million predominately speak Sesotho, although English is also an official language of the country. People are friendly and will offer help in translating if needed. English is common within partner organisations and volunteers should get by with ease in English during their assignments.
The program provides funding to support language lessons. More information on this process will be available during the onboarding process.
Explore our Pride Guides
LGBTIQA+ program participants must be aware of the country's context before undertaking an assignment. Pride Guides are designed to introduce key issues related to people with diverse SOGISEC & their participation in the program.Learn more
Day to day life
Lesotho has a temperate climate with hot summers and cold winters. Maseru and its surrounding lowlands often reach 30°C in the summer. Winters can be cold, with the lowlands getting down to −7 °C and the highlands to −20°C.
It is important to note the effects of climate change on day-to-day life and weather patterns in Lesotho. According to the World Bank Lesotho is already experiencing the negative effects of climate changes, including increased droughts, soil erosion and desertification, and reduced soil fertility. The country is likely to become generally hotter and drier across projected future climates.
Telecommunications access in Lesotho is similar to Australia however internet speeds can be slow and unreliable at times.
Food and dining
Food options in Lesotho are generally meat based with fewer vegetarian and vegan options. Some supermarkets in the cities have more variety, but availability of specific items can be limited.
Lesotho's food culture features likhobe (a stew with beans, berries, and sorghum), meat, and vegetables. Corn-based dishes include papa and motoho (fermented sorghum porridge).
Maseru (and Lesotho in general) has limited accommodation options of a standard experienced in Australia, and finding suitable options can be difficult. The Southern Africa team will help support you in finding an appropriate option.
Moshoeshoe I is the country’s international airport and the main air hub, located a 15-minute drive south of Maseru. Flights to Johannesburg are available daily.
Public transport in Lesotho is mainly road-based with plenty of private taxi operators, although these are only reliable in certain parts of the country. The local taxis, “four plus ones”, are not recommended as they are not well maintained or safe vehicles for travel. Should volunteers choose to purchase a vehicle, second-hand cars are available.
When it comes to your safety and security you must be willing to adapt your behaviour and lifestyle to minimise the potential for being a target of crime. Like anywhere in the world, crime does exist in Lesotho.
The security context is very different from that which volunteers may be accustomed to in Australia. Vigilance, compliance with security guides and active responses to security and safety advice must be adhered to. Security presents a range of challenges and needs very careful consideration when selecting places to live, where to walk and how to travel.
Health centres and hospitals (private and public) are within reach, however travel to neighbouring South Africa is required for more specialist medical care.
Personal safety issues constantly evolve, we recommend you keep an eye on Smart Traveller for current information.
Mobility and accessibility
We’re committed to ensuring that international volunteering is inclusive and accessible to Australians from a range of backgrounds, with diverse perspectives, identities and abilities. Infrastructure is poor and moving around can be challenging for those with a physical disability.
To support this, Access and Inclusion Plans are available for volunteers with disabilities to assess their needs and ensure their living and working requirements are fully considered. Indigenous Pathways is an Indigenous-led program that focuses on providing culturally safe, flexible and tailored support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander volunteers.
Before applying for a volunteering assignment in Lesotho, please do some further research on living in Lesotho and the organisation you are hoping to volunteer with. Successful applicants will have the opportunity to discuss expected living and working arrangements with their recruitment officer.