Delivered at St. Camillus Centre, Mohale’s Hoek
Khotsong, bo ‘me le bo ‘ntate
Please allow me to pay my respects to:
- His Majesty King Letsie III;
- The Right Honorable the Prime Minister; Dr. Pakalitha Mosisili
- The Honorable Deputy Prime Minister;
- Honorable Ministers of Cabinet;
- The District Administrator for Mohale’s Hoek, Me Mosothoane;
- Me Mamorena, St. Camillus Board of Directors
- Sister Gertrude, Head of the Sisters of the Holy Cross
- Distinguished Guests, Ladies, and Gentlemen;
All protocol observed,
I am delighted to be here today in Mohale’s Hoek, at the St. Camillus Centre, to recognize the work of a remarkable woman who exemplifies exceptional courage and leadership in the fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Lesotho. She has worked tirelessly to improve the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS in rural communities through her home-based healthcare network and the orphanage she opened to foster and shelter the most vulnerable — the children the disease has left behind.
Since 2007, the United States Government has honored women around the globe who have exemplified exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for human rights, women’s equality, and social progress. This year in Lesotho, we have the great pleasure of honoring Sister Juliana Manele, the Co-Founder and Director of the St. Camillus Centre. We honor her today for her tireless efforts to improve the lives of those around her.
Americans place a high value on individual charity and community service. We believe that by helping each other and working together, we can build stronger communities and ultimately a better country. President Barack Obama has said that “service is…a lifelong commitment” and that “we all can give back to our communities.” Sister Juliana is the embodiment of those words. She is a role model for people helping people – Basotho helping Basotho.
I cannot tell you how touched I was when I read Sister Juliana’s recollection of what motivated her to start the St. Camillus Centre. She said, “We visited a remote mountain village and found three small children who looked dirty and hungry. We found their mother in bed with a cover over her. She had been dead for several days but the children were too young and frightened to understand.”
Thus began the journey of Sister Juliana Manele and her work with people young and old who have been affected by HIV/AIDS. Many of you already know Sister Juliana’s history, but for those who don’t, I will share a bit of it now. Sister Juliana grew up in a small, mountain village not far from here. While in her twenties, she joined the Catholic order of the Sisters of the Congregation of the Holy Cross. In early 2002, when the HIV/AIDS crisis was raging in Lesotho, Sister Juliana was appointed by the Congregation to address the effects of HIV/AIDS in rural communities. As a result she founded the St. Camillus Home Based Care Centre and has served as its Director since its inception. Her vision for the Centre was to provide for the spiritual and physical needs of those suffering from HIV/AIDS while educating the community to fight against the stigma associated with the disease.
Sister Juliana saw that many AIDS patients could not travel long distances for health care services, so she created a model for home-based care. She reached out to village chiefs to gain their support and permission to enter their villages. She collaborated with international aid groups to acquire medical supplies and to recruit and train home-based caregivers, who she inspired to care for morbidly ill AIDS patients and their families. She and the caregivers she organized paid special attention to remote mountain villages where access to health care was extremely limited and travel to medical facilities typically required several hours on horseback. Between 2002 and 2011, Sister Juliana with the help of community members and organizations, trained more than 150 caregivers, who were able to reach hundreds of patients in more than 50 villages. As the organization matured, caregiver training expanded to address community issues such as HIV prevention and the legal and healthcare rights of AIDS patients and orphans.
As the caregivers became increasingly independent, Sister Juliana was able to shift her focus to caring for the children left orphaned or vulnerable by the AIDS epidemic. To help with this, in 2009 she received funding through a U.S. Embassy grant to create a chicken layers project. This project raised funds to support the orphans and vulnerable children in the community and continued until 2014 when the chicken house’s roof sprung a leak. I understand it has since been repaired and that Sister Juliana will soon be replenishing her supply of layers. The U.S. Peace Corps has also been an important partner in Sister Juliana’s work and I would like to recognize Peace Corps Volunteer M’e Stephanie Sales who played an instrumental role in today’s event.
In 2011, Sister Juliana modified the St. Camillus constitution to be able to provide daycare and fostering to needy children while still facilitating home-based support services. Today the Centre provides a home for 18-24 resident children. It is one of the few orphanages in Lesotho that cares for children under the age of five. The Centre also provides food, clothing, education funds, and rent for 15-20 children living in foster homes in the community as well as food, supplies, and rent money for more than 24 destitute individuals living with HIV/AIDS.
Last year Sister Juliana raised funds to expand the Centre’s small garden to become a commercially viable farm. Sister Juliana’s vision now encompasses a sustainable organization that will reduce dependency on donations through the sale of nutritious vegetables to the community. The new farm venture also provides jobs to people living with HIV/AIDS who are unemployed, which boosts their self-esteem and ability to be productive and contribute financially to their own families.
Sister Juliana, this is a remarkable record of service. But I know you have not done all of these things alone. I know that you, along with many other Basotho, have stepped up to help those affected by HIV/AIDS, and not only those who are sick and dying but also the orphans and vulnerable children who have been marginalized. It has taken the help of the entire community to make the St. Camillus Center the success that it is. People all along the way have contributed by volunteering to serve as caregivers for people living with HIV/AIDS, by gathering resources, and by donating provisions for those in need.
But we know that it takes an extraordinary leader, someone who inspires and motivates those around her, to ensure that projects like this one succeed. The world needs more people like Sister Juliana Manele, people who build their communities by helping others. She is a role model for all of us and a true Woman of Courage. Thank you, Sister Juliana, for making this world a better place. Please join me in a round of applause for Sister Juliana Manele, Lesotho’s 2016 Woman of Courage.
The citation reads: For demonstrating exceptional courage, strength, and leadership in the development of a highly effective and sustainable village-centered approach to caring for HIV/AIDS patients and Orphaned and Vulnerable Children in Mohale’s Hoek, Lesotho.