By Michelle Marrion
UNICEF and its partners help bring health checkups, vaccinations, HIV testing and other services and support to communities in Lesotho, where they have long been out of reach for many residents.
MORIJA, Lesotho, 20 January 2016 – In the mountainous country of Lesotho, a 68-year-old grandmother arrives at the Ha Toloane primary school in the town of Morija. Her 3-year-old grandson is safely tucked in a traditional blanket draped around her shoulders, her stance and attire reminiscent of a caped super hero.
She has come to a public service day known as the One Stop Shop (OSS), part of a joint venture between UNICEF and GIZ (the German Agency for International Cooperation), funded by the European Union.
A heroine in her own way, she’s one of the many grandparents in Lesotho caring for grandchildren who have lost their parents – either to HIV/AIDS or to the need to work in the capital city. She’s spry enough to have carried the little one on her back through morning fog from her neighboring village and says she is relieved that she can address several needs for her grandson during one visit: Immunization, routine infant health checkups, malnutrition screenings, HIV testing, information about social assistance, agricultural trainings and birth registration are some of the services she and thousands of community members have access to at this public service day.
Service days are the outreach wing of the One Stop Shop, a single office where citizens can drop in to receive a range of services at the closest government level, the Community Councils. Four pilot One Stop Shops have been planned to launch by early 2016 across the country.
Struggle for services
In this small, isolated country landlocked inside South Africa, most services are located in the capital, Maseru. Most people however, live in rural areas with rugged terrain that experience the harshest winters in Africa.
“Some of us are old, and it’s a struggle to get every service around here. We don't have money to go to town to collect our birth certificates,” says the grandmother, who asked to remain anonymous.
Aside from the cost and distance of travel, the uncertainty of a successful outcome of such a trip is a further deterrent. A family member could reach the district capital wishing to apply for a child’s birth certificate, only to find out they need to provide additional documents signed by the chief of the village. Thwarted efforts like these are common, and part of the reason many of Lesotho’s children living in mountainous regions are deprived of basic needs.
“Without easy access to these service providers, unless one is pressed by serious need, they won’t go after these services,” says Mamajara Lehloenya, district council secretary for Maseru. “One wouldn’t take the initiative to go test your high blood pressure unless you are very sick. But people have just come out today and are getting health screenings because it’s close to them.”
“By linking them to services that build their human capital – like health and education – a safety net of public assistance programs can help the poor to rise out of long-term poverty,” says UNICEF Social Protection Consultant Betina Ramirez. “And by linking them to services that increase their productivity – like public works and agricultural inputs – the safety net can strengthen and diversify their livelihoods.”
The One Stop Shop and its service days are part of UNICEF Lesotho’s efforts to support an integrated social protection system and maximize its impact for sustainable poverty reduction. The service days, organized periodically, bring to the community’s doorstep services and service providers that are especially difficult to deliver, like certain health services. Outside of the service days, referrals for these hard-to-get to services will be provided at the One Stop Shops, with the goal of strengthening the referrals network linking local service providers to community members.
Once in full swing, the One Stop Shop aims to be a reliable information hub on what services are available to the community and how they can be accessed. For this, UNICEF is developing a Community Education Package that will tackle child protection, education, health, social protection and agriculture. Moreover, OSS centres will have a social worker on hand and be fully equipped to provide civil registration services like issuing birth certificates and national IDs, which are the key to opening doors to other services.
“We already see that the One Stop Shop will be very successful,” Ms. Lehloenya says. “Look at the lines of people all around here today.”
Aside from the masses already gathered at the hosting school, one has only to gaze in the direction of the majestic mountains, where droves of community members are making their way to today’s service day, to see that her prediction is a good one.