Volunteering in Lesotho

Discover volunteering opportunities in Lesotho, a small land-locked kingdom, completely surrounded by South Africa.

About Lesotho

The Kingdom of Lesotho rises to great heights. The country lies entirely above 1,400 metres elevation and is home to wonderful people and stunning scenery. Lesotho faces a number of challenges including widespread poverty and development issues.

Pronounced “le-soo-too”, Lesotho is a beautiful, mountainous country with sweeping views, dramatic waterfalls, and a rich cultural history. Lesotho’s capital and largest city is Maseru.

The population of around two million predominately speak Sesotho. According to the UNDP, more than half of the Lesotho population live in extreme poverty, with income below the international poverty line. Economic growth has slowed in recent years due to drought and weak regional demand. COVID-19 has also impacted the country economically and socially, exacerbating the challenges faced by its citizens.  

Despite the extreme poverty, Lesotho is classified as a lower-middle-income country. It is mostly highlands, and even boasts one of Africa’s two ski resorts.

Previously a British protectorate, 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, governed by a 33-member Senate and a 120-member National Assembly. Letsie III, the current King, has been on the throne since 1996.

In keeping with recommendations made by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the government is currently undertaking key constitutional, security, parliamentary, judicial, public sector, economic and media sector reforms.

High HIV and AIDS prevalence and tuberculosis remain Lesotho’s greatest health challenges, with COVID-19 an additional major challenge. HIV prevalence is 25 per cent in the adult population (15-49 years), the second highest in the world. The incidence of tuberculosis is 654 cases per 100,000, according to the World Health Organization’s Global Tuberculosis Report 2020. While high health costs exert more pressure on government finances, high HIV and AIDS and tuberculosis rates contribute to persistently high inequality and poverty.

Mountainous and known as the ‘Kingdom of the Sky’, Lesotho is land-locked, and surrounded on all sides by South Africa. The winters are cold with nights often below freezing. Lesotho’s famed Basotho blankets, made from wool woven in traditional patterns, help keep people warm during the winter months.  

Australian volunteers in Lesotho

Australian volunteers have supported a wide range of partner organisations in Lesotho to achieve their development goals since 1975. 

Volunteering opportunities in Lesotho support communities across a range of development priorities, including:

  • Gender equality and women’s empowerment
  • Violence against women and girls
  • Education (including science)
  • Youth
  • Working with people with disabilities
  • Human rights (including for LGBTQI+)
  • Environmental management
  • Strengthening institutions that promote stability, democracy and the rule of law

Read about our impact in Southern Africa in 2019-2020

Life as a volunteer in Lesotho

Culture and dress

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, with shops and markets that offer a range of goods, as well as some modern hotels and restaurants.

Lesotho observes most Christian holidays, including Christmas and Easter. The country also celebrates holidays such as Moshoeshoe’s Day on March 11 (in honour of Moshoeshoe I, the founder of the Basotho nation), Heroes Day and Africa Day on May 25, Independence Day on October 4, and King’s Birthday, which is celebrated annually on 17 July.

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 local traditions. 

Language

The national language is Sesotho and many people in Maseru are also fluent in English. 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.

Volunteers can access language training in Sesotho, which can enhance their community acceptance, efficiency of working, and make for an improved volunteering experience.

Climate

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.

Telecommunications

Volunteers will need to buy a mobile SIM card and independently subscribe to an internet provider in Lesotho to use at their place of residence. There are a number of mobile and internet providers that offer adequate and easy-to-use internet connections.

Most workplaces have Wi-Fi which would readily be available to volunteers for work-related use.  Communication with partner organisation colleagues is easily undertaken using mobile phones, landlines, email, messaging services and social media.

Dining and entertainment

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.

Hiking, skiing, nature reserves, river rafting and other outdoor activities can be reached a short distance from Maseru. Lesotho has incredible scenery and lovely options for short trips out into the countryside.

Accommodation and transport

Maseru (and Lesotho in general) has limited accommodation options of a standard experienced in Australia, and finding suitable options can be difficult.

Maseru has larger hotel chains, and self-catering holiday accommodation can be found if visiting areas outside of Maseru for short stays.

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 cabs, although these are only reliable in certain parts of the country. Used cars can be purchased by volunteers if needed.

Personal safety

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 may be required for more specialist medical care.

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.