Small country. Big hearts.
Visitors are rarity to the residents of Lesotho, an enclave surrounded by the Republic of Africa. So when the group of eight BW students and five program directors arrived in this southern African country in mid May, the people were gracious and overjoyed.
But they were not surprised. It was the fourth trip there for the College.
Like many of the alternative break programs sponsored by Baldwin Wallace’s Office of Community Outreach, the Lesotho trip was filled with cultural awareness and service.
For its participants, it was a two-week trip that was educational, emotional and profound.
A "Humbling Experience"
For Brittany Broadus, a student leader on the trip, the experience was spiritual and meaningful. "At first, I thought that I was going to Lesotho to do service for the beautiful people there, but instead they did me a service," she began.
“The people of Lesotho opened my eyes in a different way,” explained Broadus, a junior from Orange, Ohio, majoring in communication studies. “They taught me to truly value the gift of life and basic needs.
"I learned to show joy and love in everything I do and the importance of giving my best to others, even if I have to go without," she continued. "I truly enjoyed being emerged in the beautiful, kind, and loving culture of Lesotho. It was a humbling experience."
A New Culture, a New Name
Amid the vast countryside that dominates Lesotho, there is a call to the simple life that lulls visitors to slow down the pace of life. For the BW contingency, the blend of solitude and service was an opportunity for self and societal reflection.
From the capital city of Maseru, where the BW group took a walking tour of the city to the town of Mokhotlong, known as the most remote place in Africa, the faces of the people they met and kindness they encountered lingered.
As part of the service component, the BW students volunteered at four schools. The children, who ranged in age from five to fifteen years old, received lessons in math, science and language arts. But the learning was two-way.
"This trip was one of the greatest experiences in my life," exclaimed Gabriel Shapiro, a business administration junior from Beachwood. "While interacting with the children, I learned a new culture and language. The trip helped me learn a lot about myself as well."
Among the things he gained was a new name. Bestowed by his host sister, the name he was given was "Thabo." It means happiness in Sesotho, the native language.
Dolls, Dance and a Dignitary
Bridging the campus to the Lesotho community, a special part of the outreach initiative was the giving of baby dolls, soccer balls and school supplies donated by Baldwin Wallace faculty, students and staff.
According to BW's director of community outreach Mila Cooper, who led the first trip in 2005 as well as subsequent ones in 2007 and 2009, the donation of these items to the children of Lesotho was a symbol of friendship that unites two communities.
"Seeing their faces light up when they received the dolls and soccer balls was indescribable," noted Alfred Wilson, a graduate intern at BW who served as an advisor for the trip. "It was phenomenal and one of several experiences I’ll always cherish."
For Shapiro, one of his favorite memories was learning "mohebelo," a dance he said included kicking and stomping. Also significant was meeting His Majesty King Letsie III, the King of Lesotho. "It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience," he said. "After all, how many people can say they met the king of another country?"