The Pony Rider's Story: Behind the Scenes with ABC's 20/20 in Lesotho
December 28, 2010
It was late November, and I was standing at a Red Cross clinic in the small town of Mapholaneng in the mountains of Lesotho
. I had arrived a few days before the ABC News crew who would be filming our pony delivery program for the inaugural episode of a year-long series on global health
I was there to tie up a few loose ends on the logistics for the trip, and to meet some of the people who would be featured in the show.
My preparations would not have been complete without meeting the man who delivers lifesaving HIV drugs and diagnostic test results for countless women and children in this region of Lesotho, the pony rider Potso Seoete
From the clinic, I could see Potso’s village Polomiti, and could even see his house.
Potso points to the route back to his home village, Polomiti. (Photo: USAID)
The Red Cross clinic is Mapholaneng is the first and last stop on the journey Potso takes several times a week on horseback to more remote clinics in the mountains – a trip that takes anywhere from 2 to 4 hours one way, depending on the conditions.
It’s also where he passes off blood samples to be taken by motorcycle to the district hospital in Mokhotlong.
“It is only a 30 minute walk away on foot,” said Letlanka Nkalai, one of the drivers for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, and the man I had come to entrust with my life while traveling the unforgiving terrain of the Mokhotlong district.
Despite how close it looked, the drive to Potso’s house ended up being tenuous, winding, and scary. We drove beyond the actual roads to cross small rivers on slimy rocks, contending with sharp drops, bends in the path, and muddy mounds.
What is a 15-minute ride on horse-back for Potso took us nearly an hour by car, and another few minutes on foot. What the Mokhotlong district administrator for HIV/AIDS had told me the previous day now made perfect sense: a pony in the mountainous Kingdom of Lesotho does what a car can do for a family living on normal terrain.
The ride to Potso's village is tenuous by car, but much easier by pony. (Photo: USAID)
The ponies – a special Basotho horse that has been bred for life in the mountains – traverse terrains that are difficult for people to even walk on.
We finally reached the small village of Polomiti, where we met the middle-aged, soft-spoken man whose work had saved many children from being born with the HIV virus.
We talked about the work that he does with the Foundation, and while he seemed to speak in measured words, his answers were deep and full of conviction.
“It gives me a sense of pride and purpose in life to be doing such noble work,” he told me. “There is nothing which is more fulfilling for me than helping humanity while meeting the needs of my family.”
Potso's family in front of their house, made of stone with sheet metal roofing. (Photo: EGPAF)
It is not often that you meet a man so dedicated to serving others, even while he works hard to meet even the most basic needs of his family.
But working for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation in Lesotho has clearly had a positive impact on Potso’s life. He is paid for each of the delivery trips he makes, and that money helps to support his extended family and his pony, Rooikat. His traditional stone house now boasts an iron-sheeted roof, where most of the houses in his village are thatched. Rooikat is well taken care of, and even has a stone wall surrounding his living and sleeping space.
I knew I was speaking to a genuinely passionate and principled person when he told me how doing this work influenced him and his family to know their HIV status.
“I was half-way to the clinic, where the motor-bike was waiting for the blood samples from HIV-positive mothers that I was carrying,” he explained. “I thought to myself, how could I be carrying the blood samples of other people, when I did not know my own HIV status?”
While it is mostly women in Lesotho who convince their husbands to attend clinics and to be tested for HIV, Potso was different. After considering taking an HIV test for while, he finally went through with it, and also encouraged his wife to be tested. They now both know their status, and how to stay HIV-negative.
“When I carry blood samples, I now know what it means for people to wait for their results,” he said.
There are three other Basotho pony riders who work for the Foundation delivering vital HIV drugs and test results in the Mokhotolong district. In the past two years, they have reached tens of thousands of people who would have been cut off from health services during the snowy and rainy months.
Potso at home with his horse, Rooikat. (Photo: USAID)
The program has been so successful, that the Foundation is hoping to expand to other districts that are even more mountainous and remote than Mokhotlong.
It is clear that the pony riders of Lesotho
are up for the challenge – and for those of us at the Foundation, we are grateful for the critical role they play in our work.
Eric Kilongi is the Foundation’s Regional Communications Officer, based in Nairobi, Kenya.
The Foundation works closely in Lesotho with the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and USAID through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). The Foundation also relies on the support of private donors to achieve a generation free of HIV. You can join our efforts to eliminate pediatric AIDS – click here to find out how