beverynice: Ethnographic Research in Lesotho

In the spirit of giving, over the next couple months we'll be highlighting some of our team members who have volunteered their time to social impact and service; whether that be with verynice or on their own. Today we wanted LA's Jr. Account Manager, Noah, to share his awesome experience as a research fellow for an educational non-profit in South Africa. We hope his reflections inspire you to share your talents with those who need it this week. Happy Thanksgiving! 

Lesotho is a little-known country buried within the heart of South Africa.  With a population just above two million and a size close to that of Maryland, Lesotho falls beneath the radar of many American observers.  It is so unknown that when mentioned, most people didn’t recognize Lesotho until I described it as “that little country in South Africa that isn’t Swaziland.” Despite its relative anonymity, Lesotho is a beautiful, mountainous, and culturally rich country nestled up against South Africa’s mighty Drakensburg mountains. The Basotho (citizens of Lesotho) are welcoming and kind, and made me feel at home in a nation so far and different from my own.

 In the fall of 2013, fresh off receiving my B.A. in Diplomacy in World Affairs from Occidental College, I traveled to Lesotho as a Young Fund Fellow in order to research unique education techniques in the capital city of Maseru. In Maseru, I worked with a wonderfully welcoming progressive educational non-profit called the Seliba Sa Boithuto Learning Center (“SSB”). SSB espouses a model of independent learning known as democratic education in order to provide educational opportunities to mostly poor Basotho at a fraction of the cost of standard education in Lesotho. Even cooler, SSB is the only organization in all of Lesotho that uses method. Needless to say, it is an NGO with an exciting mission, but as is the case for many non-profit organizations, their funding was sparse.

 SSB celebrated their 20th anniversary in 2013; in order to commemorate this achievement, SSB’s administrators wanted to gauge the success of their model. I acted as an independent contractor for SSB, to help them realize this goal. I conducted an ethnographic interview project in which I interviewed a sample of former SSB learners (they refer to their participants as “learners” not “students”) in order to see how their time spend at SSB affected their lives outside of the institution.

Overwhelmingly I was met with a wonderfully positive response from my interview subjects and was able to create a document full of recommendations and incidentally, a great validation of SSB’s mission. In fact, the findings turned out to be so positive and constructive that SSB’s administrators were able to use the report as something of a marketing tool to send to potential donors around the world. 

During my time in Lesotho, I had the honor to interact with so many great people who made my stay there unforgettable. I was invited into workplaces, homes and restaurants to hear about the power of an empowering education. These people took the time out of their daily lives to share with a complete stranger the story of their education and career trajectories. I will be forever inspired by these people who gave me a window into their worlds.

I want to end this post with a small anecdote from my research. Most of my interviewees did not speak English, I did all of my work with help of my wonderful translator Mojalefa. This occasion was no different, and Mojalefa led us into this shop with his patented smile ablaze. Our conversation began slow as our interviewee was initially shy, something that happened often when I, an obvious stranger, met most Basotho. Our conversation progressed in the normal fashion, as we spoke about her education, her history, a little bit about her family, but at the end she said some thing that made my whole experience worth it. She said the education she received from SSB gave her the tools (i.e. the ability to read and write) she needed to start her own sewing business and that without SSB she would have had no chance. Most of all, she was grateful for SSB because someone believed in her enough to give her a chance. 

Go outside your routine, if you can and do whatever you can to give someone else a chance!  If you want to help further SSB’s mission by supporting their educational programming please email for more information about how to give!

If you have a story about your time volunteering feel free to pass it along and we'll feature it as a part of our beverynice campaign, Happy Thanksgiving!