2020 was a year like no other for Josh and Belinda Groves, who are the founders of Sepheo, an organisation supporting marginalised young people in Lesotho. While ‘stranded’ in Australia due to COVID, they led their team through an unprecedented year, not only supporting those associated with their programs but feeding their entire village as they faced starvation due to lockdown.
Here, they share how the events of last year grew their faith, shaped their team’s leadership ability and showed them what happens when you allow God to do what only God can do…
“Last year, Sepheo had to pivot because of COVID and so did we personally. We had to maintain our programs in an adaptive way because if we had have stopped our school, and our other programs, then we would have lost kids back to the street. We moved all of our school and lessons to the telephone and our teachers basically did a food and worksheet drop off weekly to all the kids in our program and called them and did lessons over the phone.
In April, before the first lockdown, we distributed soap on foot to 5,000 households and placed 10 mobile handwashing stations throughout the village, and had support mechanisms for topping up of water and the placement of soap. These have been running constantly ever since.
Once the first lockdown occurred, the need escalated immediately and we started seeing hunger on a mass scale. Our organisation is located in one of the poorest villages in Lesotho and the people who live in our village are mostly daily workers – so they’re getting paid for a day’s work and that’s a day’s food.
Usually, we deal with those who are the most excluded, the most vulnerable, the poorest of poor, but this was a leveller – where everyone fell into that bracket immediately. Our team were dropping food parcels to our kids and coming back and saying, ‘there’s a baby or child right next door starving’; you could no longer distinguish our children from the rest of the village.
So, our team undertook to get a month’s worth of food into every home in our village, which is 9,000 homes, or 35,000 people. In other parts of the country, government aid trucks were being turned away because of the mayhem surrounding feeding points. But our team managed to distribute food to 35,000 people flawlessly.
To do this, we set up 30 distribution points in our village, which were at the village chiefs’ houses. Our team then dropped ration cards to every house in the village with different pick-up points, days and times.
When we began, we had nothing in the way of the finances needed to do this. But for all these years, we had professed the truth to the village about who God was and what he does and how He cares, and we knew He would come through. And He did, in truly miraculous ways.
Our team knew this too. Over the years, they’ve seen God’s faithfulness in the little things and seen Him move in situations that we thought were impossible. So, they started acting as if the money was there. They were actually visiting homes and delivering ration cards – with the date and time on it – before we had enough to buy the food.
When our team visited each home, they also took note of other needs. We were able to compile lists of disability needs and care needs and abuse needs throughout our village, and have since been able to meet so many of those needs, in addition to what we were already doing. Because we were able to get into every home, our reach and our connection to the community has literally multiplied.
We’ve also been able to capitalise on the connection we’ve built with community leaders. While we continue to do targeted feeding – and have done this either side of the first lockdown – we’re no longer supporting everyone in the community. We are now facilitating a group of community volunteers to work together as a committee in order to receive and address community need, which expands the number of interventions that can occur because it’s not just limited to our small team. COVID has helped us to look for people who cared and who were trying to help, and to get resources behind them.
What have we learnt? That local teams who are well supported and well equipped can achieve far more than we can as foreigners. Watching our team taking initiative without us has been incredible. Feeding everyone in the village was their idea and it was their faith and their vision to say, ‘I see an impossible situation, what are we going to do about it?’”