By: Thandiwe Kubere

STEAM conference, through many projects and ideas that were put forth, revealed the youth’s capabilities in coming up with fresh ideas to help improve the country’s economy and curb the unemployment crises in the Mountain Kingdom. Borrowing from Lesotho’s National Deputy Speaker’s words, Hon. Matlhonolofatso Ts’epang Tsita Mosena, the STEAM conference served as a great platform for youth to bring solutions to challenges Lesotho faces.

Hon. Mosena noted this comes more appreciated this time when the government and the private sector are constantly trying to figure out ways of bringing solutions to various problems the country faces. Encouraging the youth she said, “You are winners, you have tried, started, and initiated. And even if some ideas do not get to the final where they are awarded, just know that they are worthy of pursuing beyond this space. Somebody out there is going to like your idea, and if you love it, you are going to make us love it as well”. She further assigned youth, “We often come to gatherings like these and listen to what others say, but we do not necessarily engage. Tonight when we go home, I need you to interrogate our laws and policies. Are they responding to what you are requesting? Because if you want to see your idea to fruition, the legal framework has to allow it.”

She enlightened that people often take granted of those in parliament, know exactly what to do to respond to their needs. Her assignment to the youth was that they find those gaps so that when they leave the platform, they will tell parliamentarians, ‘Honorable member please address this policy area. Please remove this, and include this because it is restricting me and my direction of business. “And I would like you to be part of the journey that makes a smooth road for Basotho entrepreneurs to get engaged and be part of the economic growth of our country. So congratulations to all of you. These are the kind of people we need in our country. We need people with an intent of seeing their products to the end, and this is what you have done” she said.

One of the youth representatives, Tumelo Leboto, who holds a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Johannesburg, expressed appreciation to the government for having paid attention to the needs of young people and helping them reach their goals. He went on to emphasize that this is a representation of the 10th goal of sustainable development goals which aims to reduce inequalities through representing all bodies in the country, adding that it is essential to have youth in parliament. 

“When you empower three out of ten youth in business, those three can absorb two each, and as a result, the rate of youth unemployment will be reduced. I believe in implementation, not promises. Let us see what we have spoken about implementing in Lesotho, youth unemployment which is currently reaching 40%, can be greatly reduced. Therefore, having said so, my message is, echoing the words of the Prime Minister and Ministers, I believe in implementation. And the day we see the National Youth Policy working accordingly in our country is the day we will have an implementation of the youth council. Such things will come to light through youth-led initiatives”, he deliberated. 

Some of the unique youth innovations and ideas recognized were: Didy Fashion & Accessories which aims to transform plastic waste into high-quality fabric through the usage of machines. The idea and concept was of Moliehi Margaret Lekhooa from Mants’onyane Ha Mafa. By profession, Moliehi is a qualified translator and interpreter whose passion drove her to become a self-taught tailor. “Growing up, I was inspired by my mom’s great works with fabric. She created beautiful things from small pieces of fabric, and I was therefore motivated to change this country with fabric”, she said.

 Lekhooa’s idea is to bring a business that integrates cutting-edge technology with environmental responsibility. This would be achieved through the usage of a diffuser and a 3D printer which turns plastic into thread or fabric. To make this vision a success, she hopes to partner with waste collecting and recycling facilities to help in managing the waste. “This is not just about profits. Our mission is to make a positive impact on our planet. By recycling plastics and reducing the demand for new materials, we will contribute to ensuring a cleaner environment for Basotho. We will further create jobs, foster innovation, and drive change in the textile industry”. She said.

This idea was inspired after realizing that over the years, the textile industry has been a giant employer for Basotho and has had quite a noteworthy positive impact on the country’s economy. The possibility of Lesotho manufacturing its fabric would mean high production and resources circulating within the country, which would help increase the economy and reduce the reliance on imported fabric. This would additionally mean creating more jobs for fashion designers, engineers to operate the machines, waste collectors, and more. At the same time, this would help attain a cleaner environment by recycling waste and turning it into something valuable. “This will help us turn trash into treasure”, she said.

Another innovation that stood out, was Ntate Rajoele Art and Creativity, founded by Bereng Rajoele who resides in Abia, Maseru. All of Rajoele’s creations come with what mother nature has to offer- using his artistic talent to creatively connect material and recycled products an ordinary person would think would have no use. He makes lamps, spoons, interior décor and more using plants, wood as well and discarded animal bones and horns when Basotho celebrate because meat is essential in Basotho traditional ceremonies. He explains his business endeavor started quite spontaneously in 2019 when drought hit and was not able to provide for his family. He enlightened what encouraged him after finding a horn and having a wave of ideas of what he could do with that horn to turn it into a beautiful useful product. He therefore made a paraffin lamp which left his community reveling about, to his surprise. That is how he got his first client.

His crafts encompass religion, and our country’s rich culture, and portray the power of unity, the symbolism of discipline, and popular trends.  He explained his art is inspired by global happenings and they encourage him to use art as a way to deliver a message of hope and peace. His journey in art has been long-lived as it started at a tender age when he was given a platform of drawing in school, on big charts for display, after that the teachers realized his talent.

Since his products are extracted from nature, he hopes the government and all those responsible would be informed and take into consideration how essential it is to protect Lesotho’s resources. Her land, and animals because the country’s wealth lies in them and they hold great potential in improving the country’s economy. He further encourages youth to work hard in putting their innovations and creativity forth and to never get discouraged because eventually, they will get good yields. “Winners have no way to stop”, he said.