Queen celebrates birthday with K4L youth
It is the 2nd of June 2015. At the Kick4Life Centre in Maseru, preparations are underway to host a very special occasion: Her Majesty Queen ‘Masenate Mohato Seeiso’s 39th birthday party. Colourful balloons and banners line the Centre’s walkways, and in the No.7 Restaurant’s pergola, impeccably laid tables have been decorated with white tablecloths, flowers and roses.
On the 11-a-side soccer pitch, 150 young people are laughing and chattering excitedly as they take part in games and activities led by Kick4Life staff members and life-skills coaches.
16-year-old Limakatso Makhethe is one of the young people here today. For the past eight months, she has been living on the streets. In March this year, she came to Kick4Life for the first time, and since then has become a regular participant in Kick4Life’s intensive mentoring, counselling and education programmes. Limakatso tested HIV positive a few months ago, and now receives food and medication from Kick4Life on a daily basis. Today, she has a wide smile on her face, and is excited to have been chosen to present Her Majesty with a bouquet of flowers.
“I feel full of joy today to celebrate with ‘Me ‘Masenate,” she says. “I feel good when I come to Kick4Life. They teach us about HIV and about how to take care of ourselves. They take me to my check-ups and give me soap and clothes. At Kick4Life, I feel that I’m just the same as other children.”
This year, Her Majesty specifically requested to spend her birthday at Kick4Life in the company of orphans and vulnerable children such as Limakatso. Many of the young people here today are children living on the streets who receive regular help and support from Kick4Life. A number of children from orphanages in and around Maseru have also been invited to join the festivities.
“Kick4Life currently supports about 70 children who live on the streets,” explains Mamoliehi Khiba, Coordinator of Kick4Life’s Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) Program. “We have found that most of these children have lost one or both of their parents. They face many challenges and difficulties. We welcome them to the Centre every week, where we provide them with food, counselling and life-skills education. Those who have tested HIV positive are given two meals a day and are provided with medication. In the long-term, we work to reintegrate these children with their families, and to send them to school.”
With the arrival of Her Majesty and accompanying dignitaries, the young people are seated on the Centre’s 5-aside pitch, where a number of speeches, quizzes and spirited dance-offs take place.
Michelle Carney, Kick4Life Country Director, welcomes the audience and shares some of the key achievements of the organisation since its establishment in 2005.
“In the past ten years, we have reached over 250,000 young people in Lesotho with our work. More than 25,000 young people have been tested for HIV, and over 600 young people living with HIV have been referred for medical treatment and support. Since February this year, we have tested over 3,300 young people and are supporting the 87 young people we have found to be HIV positive. Your Majesty, thank you for choosing to spend your special day with us here at Kick4Life. To all the children here: have a wonderful day and enjoy yourselves!”
During her speech, Her Majesty addresses the children and young people directly: “You are all Basotho children, you are the future of this country, and we need you. Thank you for coming to celebrate my birthday with me. This is your party, not mine.”
The speeches are followed by the presenting of gifts to Her Majesty and the cutting of her birthday cake. A generous lunch is served to all the young people present, who seat themselves on the grass in the warm sunshine and happily tuck into their food.
“On today’s menu, we have marinated brisket in coriander, mint and chilli. We also have boerewors sausage, barbequed chicken, pap and homemade chakalaka,” says Wayne Blything, Head Chef at Kick4Life’s No.7 Restaurant. “We have the same menu for the VIPs and for the children. This is something that Her Majesty specifically asked for.”
With their stomachs full, the young people spend the afternoon taking part in a number of organised activities, including quad bike rides, a bicycle obstacle course, and games of soccer and tug-of-war. Many of the children dance to the lively house music that is being played, while others race across the 5-aside pitch and throw balloons into the air.
Several sponsors have come together to help Kick4Life make today possible. These include Hlokomela Bana Association, First National Bank (FNB), Blue Ribbon, Vodacom Lesotho, Econet, Pioneer Mall and The Lesotho Sky. As the day comes to a close, each young person is given a brand new woollen blanket and a goodie bag containing food, toiletries and clothes, including a warm woollen hat and scarf.
In an official statement given at the end of the day, Her Majesty explains why she chose Kick4Life as the venue for today’s celebrations:
“Kick4Life are so involved with street children, and are doing a wonderful job of trying to rehabilitate them and give them hope and a future. This is a safe haven for them: they know that when they are here, nobody judges them, nobody condemns them, they can just be themselves.”
“We are so grateful to Michelle and her team for hosting us today. I just want to make a contribution towards the work that you are already doing here. It’s been such a wonderful day. The kids are happy, and I am happy that they are happy. I am really looking forward to working with Kick4Life again in the future.”