Sister Juliana Manele is a native of Lesotho, the small “Kingdom in the Sky” located within Southern Africa. Born in 1949, she grew up in a small mountain village just outside Mohale’s Hoek District Capital. In her early twenties, Sister took her vows as a nun in the Catholic order of the Sisters of the Congregation of the Holy Cross. Living in the Congregation’s convent in the small village of Thoteng, near her birthplace, she has spent the last 14 years advocating and caring for victims of Lesotho’s HIV/AIDS epidemic.
The Call to Respond to the HIV/AIDS Crisis
In early 2002, as the HIV/AIDS epidemic was raging in Lesotho, Sr. Juliana was appointed to represent the Congregation to work with international aid organizations to address the crisis in rural communities. Because available medical services were insufficient, she realized that a village-centered approach to caring for AIDS patients was needed. As a result, Sister Juliana, along with then Bishop Sebastian Khoarai and the Sisters of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, co-founded the St. Camillus Home Based Care Centre. Sr. Juliana has represented the Congregation and served as Director of the Centre since its inception.
Leading Home-Based Care
With hospitals overflowing and many AIDS patients unable to travel the long distances to health care services, Sister Juliana developed a model for home-based care. Volunteers from villages in Mohale’s Hoek were trained to care for critically ill AIDS patients and their families. Special attention was given to the ill in remote mountain villages where access to health care was extremely limited and travel is primarily on horseback. The Centre began to minister to the spiritual and physical needs of those suffering from the HIV/AIDS disease using several approaches:
- Gaining the support of village chiefs and obtaining their permission to enter their villages
- Educating the community to abandon the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS and seek help
- Collaborating with international aid groups to acquire resources
- Recruiting, organizing, educating, and providing medical supplies to home-based caregivers
Between 2002 and 2011, Sister enlisted the help of national and international aid organizations to train over 150 caregivers who treated hundreds of patients in more than 50 villages. As the organization matured, caregiver training expanded to address community issues such as HIV prevention as well as the legal and healthcare rights of AIDS patients and orphans.
As the caregivers became increasingly independent, Sr. Julian turned her focus to another problem caused by the HIV/AIDS epidemic – orphaned and vulnerable children.
Providing for Orphaned & Vulnerable Children
In 2011, Sr. Juliana modified the St. Camillus constitution and petitioned for re-certification to provide resident care and fostering to needy children while still facilitating the home-based caregivers. Today the Centre is a full-service home to a fluctuating census of 18-24 resident children, from infants to 18 years old. It also provides food, clothing, education funds, and rent money to 15-20 children living in foster homes in nearby villages. Additionally, it provides food, supplies, and rent money to over 24 destitute individuals living with HIV/AIDS in the community. St. Camillus is one of the few orphanages in Lesotho that cares for children under the age of 5. These children typically arrive traumatized, malnourished, significantly underweight and often developmentally delayed. Local health care organizations have been tapped to teach the staff how to care for these children and bring them to a state of health and happiness.
Striving for Sustainability
During the spring of 2015, Sr. Juliana worked with Bishop Thlomola, her Congregation, and several organizations to raise funds to expand the Centre’s small farm to become commercially viable. Sister Juliana’s goal is to make St. Camillus a self-sustaining organization by selling nutritious farm produce to the community, reducing dependency on donations and ensuring the children have enough food year-round.
The drought of 2015-2016 has caused tremendous hardship for the Basotho, the native people of Lesotho. There are food shortages because water for home gardens is scarce and the maize fields that normally supply the traditional staple, papa, are barren. Sr. Juliana has met nature’s challenge and installed a new well, an irrigation system, and a greenhouse. The Centre’s water supply is now adequate to supply irrigation to the commercial fields and the children’s home.
Today the farm includes a dairy cow, pigs, a peach orchard, vegetable gardens. Preparations are underway to restore a chicken coop and purchase poultry layers. There is enough food for the children and the Centre has the potential to make a small income from commercial sales. The expanded farm also provides jobs to people living with HIV/AIDS, boosting their self-esteem and enabling them to be productive and contribute to their own family’s needs.
Dedication and Commitment
Sister Juliana’s spiritual foundation, dedication, ethics, and talent for finding solutions stem from her childhood on a farm in a small rural village. The vows that she took over forty years ago still guide her and she in turn has engaged and provided for the community of Mohale’s Hoek.
In honor of her life’s work, Sr. Juliana was given the U. S. Embassy’s 2016 Lesotho Woman of Courage award by U. S. Ambassador Mathew Harrington on April 14, 2016 during a ceremony for her in Mohale’s Hoek. In July 2016 Sr. Juliana received yet another honor. King Letsie III recognized Sr. Juliana as only one of five citizens of Lesotho for outstanding contributions during a ceremony celebrating his birthday at the King’s Royal Palace in the capital of Maseru. Sr. Juliana was the only one to receive the King’s award of Lesotho’s 2016 Officer of the Most Loyal Order of Mohlomi. This award is especially poignant because Chief Mohlomi, born in 1720, had a vision to “Go, rule by love and look on your people as brothers and sisters.”