December 16, 2010
Potso prepares his Basotho pony for another day's journey in the mountains of Lesotho. (Photo: Jon Hrusa/EPA)
My name is Potso, and I’m 30 years old. I live in Mokhotlong District, Lesotho. My village, called Polomiti, is high in the mountains. The nearest town, Mapholaneng, is 30 minutes away on horseback.
The weather in Mokhotlong is very difficult. There is heavy rain in summer and lots of snow in winter. When the weather is bad, it is nearly impossible to travel anywhere by car or motorbike. The only way to get around is on foot or horseback.
Three years ago, I heard that the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation was looking for horse owners to ride to and from health clinics in the mountains. The Foundation needed help transporting blood samples from these clinics to the laboratory at Mokhotlong Hospital.
I did not own a horse then, so I saved money and purchased one for M3000 (about $400). I became a rider in the Foundation-supported “Horse-riding for Health” program.
Several days a week, I get up early and prepare my horse, Rooikat, for the journey to Molika-liko Clinic. We leave at 7 a.m. and ride four hours through the mountains. When I arrive at the clinic, the nurse gives me the blood samples drawn that morning, and I put them into an insulated pouch. Many of the samples are collected from patients living with HIV who need to have their blood tested so they can begin taking antiretroviral medications (ARVs). Some are pregnant women who need ARVs to prevent their babies from being born with HIV.
Once I’ve collected the samples, I ride Rooikat down the mountain to the main road, where a motorbike rider is waiting. I give him the samples, and he takes them to the laboratory at Mokhotlong Hospital, which is about 45 minutes away.
Without me and Rooikat, the nurses at Molika-liko Clinic could not draw blood when the weather is bad. The blood samples must reach the laboratory within six hours after they are drawn, and only horse riders can get to the clinic and back during snow and rain. Even during good weather, there aren’t enough trucks and motorbikes available to drive to Molika-liko, which is why I work year-round.
The money I earn through Horse-riding for Health is my only source of income. I use the money to buy food for my wife, my two small children, my wife’s family, and Rooikat.
Being a horse rider also improves my standing in the community. Horses are a very important part of our culture, and owning a horse has earned me increased respect from my friends and neighbors. They help take care of my horse, and I tell them about HIV and the work that the Foundation is doing in Lesotho.
It is good that I’m able to help people who are ill and need ARVs. I’m proud that Rooikat and I are helping to save lives.
Potso is one of four horse riders working for the Foundation in Mokhotlong District, Lesotho. Thanks to the hard work of Potso and his colleagues, the Foundation is reaching 100 percent of Mokhotlong District’s population with HIV prevention, care, and treatment services. The Foundation now plans to expand the Horse-riding for Health program to other remote districts in Lesotho.