Lydia Muso, Founder & Director, Lesotho Child Counseling Unit
Words of Wisdom: “I would tell African women to love themselves and trust themselves. Tell them they are good people that they can do good things and protect the whole world.” – Lydia Muso
Interview with Lydia Muso, Founder & Director, Lesotho Child Counseling Unit
Lydia Muso, Founder & Director, Lesotho Child Counseling Unit
Lydia Muso is founder of the Lesotho Child Counseling Unit—an orphanage that she founded at her residence in 2001. The Lesotho Child Counseling Unit provides a temporary and safe home for the rehabilitative care of sexually, physically, and emotionally abused children.
The Home offers trauma-therapy and legal advocacy to children and families dealing with abuse, and conducts community trainings to promote awareness and action for abused children. A tenacious advocate for human rights, especially the rights of children, Lydia has worked tirelessly to raise awareness of important issues such a trafficking in persons in Lesotho, holding annual sensitization campaigns for the past three years.”
“She also created the Children’s Voice online newspaper in 2012—the first publication of its kind in Lesotho, which helps to raise awareness of the challenges facing Basotho children today.”
Over the past 11 years, she has offered more than 2000 children shelter, protection, and food; most important of all, she gave these children a loving home.
Lydia Muso is the First-ever Lesotho Woman of Courage Award recipient. This award honours women who demonstrate exceptional courage, strength and leadership in advocating for human rights, social justice, and women’s equality and advancement.
Lydia Muso, Founder & Director, Lesotho Child Counseling Unit
What was the catalyst for starting Lesotho Child Counseling Unit?
I wanted to provide a place for children that were suffering abuse and living in pain. I wanted to see them being helped psychologically. When these children come from difficult circumstances, they have no one to go to. No shoulder to cry on. Some have families to go to, but many do not.
We use to saying in Lesotho that “Your child is my child.” The child belonged to all members of the community. That practice has changed and we don’t see it happening anymore. This drove me to be the founder of this home for abused children so they had a temporary place of safety.
Because I think I was dreaming of this. In my family we are seven children and my father use to ask: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I remember telling my father that I want my name to be read in big books. My father use to like to read newspapers and I told him, “One day you will read about me in that newspaper.” I didn’t know what my dream was at that moment.
I dreamt about making a difference. I am where I am today because of that dream. Another reasons “Why me?” is because of the influence of my father, he took in other children from other families. My father would tell us to give children food and cloths. Sometimes he would take my dress and give it to other children. He would just take it and wouldn’t ask if I wanted to present my belongings to others. Now of course I understand that my father was teaching us to give and share.
I am not saying I grew up in a rich family because we were also poor, but we were taught to share the little that we have.
Can you tell us why you decided to give, specifically how it relates to children who have been abused?
I am working very hard to give parental love and care. I try to give people a safe home living with an adult with who will care for them and not abuse them. A child who lives under abuse doesn’t know what is the right thing. I don’t want anything in return for my work; I just want to give them life.
I decided to focus on abused children because I examining my personality, I felt I could care for abused children. I wrought something in my dream book. I made some notes of my weaknesses and strengths. I was fortunate to get love from my parents and I wanted these abused children to have the same experiences.
You have counseled over 2,000 children. Can you tell us some of the trauma these children have dealt with?
Physical Abuse and child neglect mostly.
Child neglect is very high in Lesotho because parents are often so irresponsible. Sometimes they neglect their children because:
- They are trying to make an income
- They found another partner, and get involved with someone else. They forget their own children.
One of the abuses that I have come across is a child who has been sexually abused by their own parents and relatives. The child usually knows the perpetrator who sexually abused them. This is the strategy they use to get to the children.
Some abuses include children being trafficked within country or sent to another country. We also deal with children whose property has been grabbed. It is common here that if children loose their parents, instead of the relatives protecting that child they see what they can get from the child’s estate. It is so common, we have a Lesotho office that goal is to protect the estates of children.
Do you think the abuse is worse in Lesotho, or just as bad as elsewhere?
I think it is happening all over the world. Some matters have been happening here for a long time.
Traditionally we do have some practices that are good. We do have some practices that are destructive. Abuse falls under the destructive cultural practice.
Some practices that have been accepted, for example: a child who is eleven years old being forced into marriage, this is abuse, but a common traditional practice. If you ask a person who is older, if you ask them why they force children into marriage, the answer would be: “It started a long time ago, and I was forced into marriage myself.” Although a crime, they have grown up with it and the nation has accepted it. I am trying to educate people that this is a crime, against the children’s rights.
We don’t talk or teach children’s rights. Nobody knows about his or her rights. People are talking as if having ‘rights’ is a new thing. This is incorrect; you had rights when you were in your mother womb. We are trying to get people understand their rights.
Who is helping you make people aware of their rights?
We work hand and hand with other organizations to promote community awareness. We also apply for sponsorship. On November 19th is the day put aside to make people aware of the ‘prevention of child abuse.’ Every year we go making people aware of child abuse. We are really focusing on human trafficking because it is one hidden crime. Reported cases are so few, but it is happening so often. Many people do not even think it is a crime. People think that they are so poor and they can’t feed their child, and if you are going to do that then you can take that child and take care of them. If someone comes with money, parents don’t stop to ask where you got the money, they are too hungry, and they take the money to buy food to eat.
We are teaching people of such practices. We teach the parents to ask questions of where their children have been. Some have been gone for two or three weeks. Some kids go to the school every morning, but if that parent were to go to that school and ask the teacher if they have seen their child, they would find out that they are not going to school.
I was happy to see the poster in through each of the boards saying: “Trafficking is a crime.”
What do you think society can do to limit the amount of abuse children receive?
I think it is important to understand children and treat them as human beings. Do on to others, as you want to do on to you.
You cannot wish people wrong, as we don’t want anyone to do us wrong. We need to respect children. If we did it would minimize the abuse.
I had a case recently where a father came home and the family was sitting in the house, the father started burning everyone. Mother & brother passed away. There was only one child saved. This one young girl was saved, it is a miracle.
People need to listen to themselves. People don’t know how to take out their anger. If you are angry about something I think and I would like to see people to talk to someone else. If you are angry it will one day for sure come out, and often to the wrong person. These are people who are angry and grew-up with disgust.
We do have prisons that full of people who created a crime because they were pushed because they were angry. They need to be healed. If they not receive emotional and psychological therapy the scar will grow.
I wish people could tell us why they are angry. If you have a grudge it will eventually come out to the wrong people.
You do have therapist for children, do you have it for adults in Lesotho?
Yes we do, but they are already in prison. We need more preventative strategies.
Now there are societies of men and societies of women, which focus on trying to deal with their anger. There are different activities to help people to deal with their anger. There are marriage councilors and other opportunity now for therapy. But this is all just starting.
Do you think it is also important to pay attention to your neighbour? Often as a neighbour you know something is happening before anyone.
There is no confidentiality in our society. Everyone knows everything. Sometimes people will create their own stories. Our culture is a helping culture. We have activities where men go and discuss man’s issues. If a man is being irresponsible, hurting his wife, something is done to that man. These practices are vanishing. I don’t know why, but life is not stagnant.
There are now helping type professions that are coming in, and sometimes they are suppressing good practices that we have had in the community. Now we are trying to bring back some of those good practices. We are now forming ‘child focus groups’ in the community. This means groups that are to protect children.
The children form the groups, they may do traditional dances, or the play football, but at the end of the day they don’t forget to protect themselves. We provide them with topics to talk about, like child abuse, reporting systems, and give them insight into the mechanisms to protect themselves. These are child participatory mechanisms. We also have community child welfare forums. This is for ordinary people to attend to promote some of the old practices that we are all responsible to protect the children.
The challenge now is everyone is busy; everyone is going to school. We want people to think about their neighbours. We strongly recommend people grow up in their own communities and not grow up in institutions; we can’t honour their community practices or food choses so everyone needs to take care of each other so a child is not removed from the community.
We are just temporary solution for an abused child. It is much better that they go back to their community and be brought up in that culture.
If we expect one of our children are being sexually abused, what can we do as a parent while not putting ourselves in jeopardy?
As a parent, we need to remember our parenting skills. Now I see the community is so busy. Father and Mother are working and when they come home from work they are so tired. Who is taking care of children? There needs to be time to sit with a child to continue with the bond that was once there. Parents don’t have much time to spend with their children. A long time ago men used to be the only breadwinners, now it is women too.
Perpetrators are watching their children. They know parents are out and they are paying attention. As parents get distracted and it is late and than they wonder where their child is? Perpetrators have sophisticated methods. They befriend the family so that when they take the child they wont surprise that child. We need to define what a perpetrator can look like. We need to remember the responsibilities of us as parents.
Children’s lives are also changing. Now kids will stay at store and hangout late, the perpetrator is watching.
Sexual activities are taboo, and therefore many sexual abused children are not reported. We have a lot of children who are pregnant and they were raped. They can’t tell their parents that they are are sexually active.
So if a parent is sexually abusing a child, and the other parent knows, what should they do while limiting putting themselves in harms way?
Most of the breadwinners end up being the abusers. If a wife reports her husband that would mean there may be no bread in the family, no school fees for the children. So we are trying to say as women we must focus more on the parental love more than the physical needs required. The most important is the love and bond you have with your child. It should be a continued activity it should not be broken down by the abuse.
You were the Mother that brought that child into the world, you need to protect your child, but often they protect their husbands more than the child. We are trying to encourage women to report abuse. There are signs that they can see; when they see them they should communicate with their child. That communication is fading away. Most women are being quite. The child when grows up also becomes quite because they never learnt to report such situations.
What are some of the signs of an abused child?
- Children should be seen playing, but an abused child is often sitting on their own. She is just thinking of what is happened to her.
- Physical abuse.
- Sexual abuse, if they don’t want someone to touch private parts while washing.
- Sleeping habits, scream through the night.
- Easting habits.
- Notice when they are not happy.
- Communication, talk to them. Listen to how they spent their day. Talk about life as it is.
- Take an interest in their schoolwork.
- Pay attention to your child day-to-day activities and interactions.
Our society has to stop being so busy, and start paying attention.
Another challenge is alcoholism.
What can child do if they are being abused?
- We encourage them to go to someone in the community, such as a Chief, a friend, a schoolteacher or nurse. It is the responsibility of that person to report to the police.
We have trainings for teachers to also pay attention to the children. It is responsibility to the community to protect children. Communities should provide the first aid.
In the past, when a child had been abused a group of women would examine the child. This is wrong. Women should not be examining the child, as they are not doctors. We encouraging them to protect the child just report to Chief and the police.
Describe the implications and challenges of a child overcoming abuse?
Children who are being abused to some children it becomes an innate behaviour. Abuse is perceived to be an acceptable way to show your anger. If you see a child that is beating another child, it could be because they are angry. It could be she is taking out her anger because something has happened to her. The implications of child abuse are many.
The child’s concentration goes off, and therefore their performance goes done. Children will often use abusive language. They will also practice abuse to others, such insulting others. We need to correct what is wrong and right. We need to do this continuously.
We need to stop it so it doesn’t affect the individual and then the society.
The parent that is not doing the abusing, what should they do to help the recovery of that child?
- Parent needs to develop a friendship that was once there, that may be distorted at one point.
- The parents need to remember roles to protect this child.
- Create a closer bond to the child.
- Gradually start bringing back the physical connections, which will take some time.
- Remember your parenting skills. We are providing this type of training in the communities.
What messages do you think parents should be giving to a child that has been abused?
It is very important to know yourself. If you know that you are aggressive, or if you have an unhappy face, that is not appropriate for a child who has been abused. A child who has been abused needs a soft approach, someone who will show care, love and interest in protecting the child.
- Ask the child what the child would like to do?
- Do you want me to know about anything?
- Tell them “You can just come to me and talk to me.”
- Tell them ‘If you want to cry, you can.” Let them cry and not suppress feelings of the child.
Parents often forget that child is a human being with their own views and opinions. As Africans we make choices for children, we should allow that child to make their own choices.
We need to observe children. Do they want to go home? Doesn’t want to eat? We need to pay attention because there are often reasons for a child to be acting the way they are acting.
What prepared you to deal with the trauma that you deal with?
I was working in a hospital in Sudan a long time ago and happened to meet children who were neglected. While I was working there I wondered if this was happening just in Sudan or all over? I was young I didn’t know enough about social programs in Lesotho. I decided when I go back home I will focus on abused children. I want to see children who are happy. I want to see an environment that is child friendly. I couldn’t understand how parents could neglect their own children.
I took counseling. First I was a nurse then I took social work.
If someone wanted to get involved in counseling, what steps would thy take to set-up such an initiative?
- First learn about yourself, strengths and weakness. If you are working with abused children you need to be prepared for it. Certificate is not enough. You need education and an understanding of yourself. Write down everything about yourself. Tell the truth about your own self. I was lucky; I did not get married. I wondered if I got married if I could pursue my dream? Maybe if I had a husband he would not want me to take care of all the other children.
- Look at the resources that you have. I asked my mother for this house a she gave me the support along with my relatives and friends and neighbours. People in the community were coming to help by providing food. Let people know what you are doing so they can help you.
- Get registered with law office
- Go to social affairs to get registered.
- Listen to both positive and negative people’s comments as you can learn from both.
- Established a relationship with Police.
- Establish partnerships. We also get support from the department of social welfare, business community, American embassy in Lesotho; American University is helping us fundraise.
What is the best life skill you think you have to help the children deal with the trauma they have dealt with?
I am able to make these children as happy as possible. I do my level best with my colleagues to keep them happy. I ask them what they want?
- Sometimes they want cloths. The community brings cloths.
- Sometimes they want to meet the perpetrator. Often that person is in jail. We try to teach the children about forgiveness. But we don’t force them to forgive them. We show them the importance of forgiving the perpetrators.
What do you think is the most significant impact you have made in your career?
I have influenced the community to love, care and protect their children.
Edgeness Insight (An enhanced version of yourself when you push the edge of your comfort zone). What is something that you are uncomfortable doing, but you need to continue to do, in order to make you as successful as you are?
To share my life with children who have not experienced any parental love. I feel like I was taking a risk, but a risk worth taking. I share everything with them.
You are leader for children, your team, stakeholders and the community. How would you define leadership?
Leadership is take the time to understand people and to accept them the way they are.
What three Leadership lessons would you give to someone who leads a project, team or initiative?
- Be courageous
- Listen to yourself
- Believe in yourself
Q. What advice would you give to your 10 yr. old daughter?
Talk to me, I am your friend. I want the child to be open with me.
Q. What do you wish you were told at 10 years old?
I wanted to know about protecting myself and making appropriate decisions.
What is next for you?
I want to see myself have a lot of money so I can protect more children.
I found a site where I want to teach boys human rights. I am afraid our prisons are filled with more man – we only have 30 women. We need to pay attention to perpetrators when they are young.
Is there one thing you would like to do that you have never done before.
I would love to go to a place with a blue sea to relax my mind.
Words of Wisdom for African women
I would tell African women to love themselves and trust themselves. Tell them they are good people that they can do good things and protect the whole world.
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