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Rethalibile Mathilde | Lesotho

What do you do in your home country and what do you hope to do upon your return? In particular, with the integration of your experiences here?

I am from Lesotho, it’s a landlocked country inside of South Africa. I am a mental health advocate, I work with an organization called Touching Minds. It was born out of my own personal struggles with the mental healthcare system. The world needed to start a conversation about the mental healthcare system in my country. We have conversations with people affected by mental health issues. We poll people twice a week at the hospital. A lot of people are still very closed up and don’t accept their conditions and a lot of people believe that mental illnesses are more of a spiritual problem than a medical problem. Trying to understand the way that people define their own experiences and trying to bring the element of how psychiatrists define the condition and meet in the middle. You find a lot of people not identifying themselves with the mental health conditions. Mental healthcare is free to the public in Lesotho. A lot of people throw the medications away. We are trying to have these conversations. The medications are also there to actually help you. We are also taking in other aspects, it's not just a medical problem, its also psychological, spiritual, etc. We say you can take your medication while still doing spiritual or religious, and physical exercises.

The current mission of our work is to spread education for the communities and neighborhoods around us. We still need to tackle mental health policies, we still need to tackle the legal frameworks. We have an old law that sees mentally ill people as a danger to society so it isolates those individuals. There are laws that promote institutionalization of people with mental health issues. It has come a long way because there used to be no medications or treatment to deal with mental health issues. The laws are not in line of what is required by international standards, we are trying to get them to align with the international law for people with disabilities.

For starters, I hope to implement the work we’ve done so far in the fellowship, such as learning about leadership into my work back home. It is a challenge in our country, we find that we have a lot of problems with leadership and that many organizations are not sustainable due to faulty leadership. I think that this program occurred during the right time in my life because my organization is fairly new and now we are all getting along for now, since money is not coming heavily into the organization yet. I think the leadership training will come a long way to teach me how to actually share that kind of power with the people in my organization and not feel threatened. We have a lot of components in our organization. Improving upon the strategies im using or implementing new strategies. Im hoping as the program unfolds I’ll learn more and more from running the organization to empowerment strategies on how to how to run a health NGO.

What is your favorite thing about your home country? How about Philadelphia?

I just love how unified it is and that we share one language. We are such a small population and it often happens that everyone knows each other, even though we are a population of 2 million, we are a closely knit society. I can say that.

University city in Philadelphia has a sense of familiarity for me because it resembles my grandmother's hometown, Bethlehem in South Africa. I don't feel too overwhelmed or too much out of my comfort zone.

I also enjoy South Philly. It was more open and I had the impression it was refreshing, a lot less skyscrapers. A breath of fresh air.

Do you have any hobbies or an interesting fact you wish to share about yourself?

I read a lot. I break out into song at random moments. I find connections and I do it almost subconsciously.

If I were to come to your home country, what is the first thing I should eat?

Papa and tripe. Intestines of an animal. The whole digestive system actually. It's very nice, its very tasty.