At the Sentebale Royal Salute Polo Cup at Valiente Polo Farm in Palm Beach, Florida, Prince Harry spoke eloquently of the important role Sentebale serves in Lesotho by providing vital access to accommodation, care, education and critical psychosocial support for thousands of children and young people affected by HIV and AIDS.
Prince Harry described the recently built Mamohato Children’s Center which is now the center of Sentebale’s operations and explained it has enabled Sentebale to increase the number of children it helps from 400 to 1,500 children each year. At the center, children and adolescents aged between 10 and 19 years old attend a monthly five-day residential camp. The belief is that if the children are educated about the virus, they not only learn about their condition but also can educate their peers about the disease, enlightening a generation and leading the way to ending the AIDS epidemic in Africa.
“The Mamohato Children’s Center in Lesotho which we opened last year, would not have been built without the generosity of people like you and events like this—all seven Sentebale polo cups we have done in the past,” said Prince Harry.
The prince spoke of the first visit he made to Lesotho when he was hosted by the country’s Prince Seeiso twelve years earlier.
“As we traveled across the country, I was amazed by its beauty, but I was also struck by the many children that I met whose lives have been torn apart by the loss of one or both parents to AIDS related illnesses,” said Prince Harry. “Having lost my own mother seven years before, I felt a profound connection to these children.”
“In spite of the obvious differences in our lives, we shared the loss of a parent and that ever present emptiness that can never be filled,” he added. “For many of these children, their situation was compounded by the need to feed and care for brothers and sisters. As a result there was simply no time for them to be children anymore. These experiences put my own into perspective. I resolved to do whatever I could to help. I genuinely feel I need to give as much back as I can.
“The result is our charity, Sentebale, meaning ‘forget-me-not’ in Sesotho, which Prince Seeiso and I founded together in memory of our mothers ten years ago,” said Prince Harry, who added that forget-me-nots were the favorite flower of his mother, Princess Diana.
“We’ve learned a great deal over the last ten years,” said the Prince. “Our focus has broadened beyond providing for a child’s basic needs to include specialist care, life skills, and vocational training. However support to children and young people affected by HIV and AIDS has always been core to our work. This is more important now than it has ever has been. We have worked hard to develop our approach to meet this need.”
This year Sentebale will expand its camp program into Botswana, a country Prince Harry has been visiting regularly for almost two decades.
The prince outlined the scale of the problem in Lesotho, which has the second highest rate of HIV in the world. “And yet it is estimated that only 30% of adolescents living with HIV in the country are accessing medication,” he explained. “As a consequence adolescent deaths as a result of HIV and AIDS and related illnesses are still rising in Lesotho.”Across the region, the picture is equally concerning, according to Prince Harry, who said that 82% of adolescents living with HIV are in sub-Saharan Africa “which is a staggering figure when you consider that only 16% of the world’s adolescents live in the region.”
“It is no surprise that HIV remains the number one cause of death among adolescents within Africa,” said the prince. “Our own research has found that children living with HIV receive little support to help them deal with the challenges of their condition. As a result, they feel isolated and afraid to face up to their illness.”
In response to this challenge, Sentebale has developed a model of care targeted at children and adolescents which addresses this cycle. Sentebale encourages children and young people to come together through its weeklong Mamohato camps and network clubs to talk about their health issues and fears of living with HIV. “Often, for the first time, they learn to talk openly with one another about being HIV positive; learning about their medication, building friendships and a sense of normality as they realize that with the correct medication, it is possible to lead a long and healthy life,” said Prince Harry.
“By giving children the opportunity to share experiences with their peers in a safe and accepting environment, we have found that they will lead healthier, well-adjusted lives,” added Prince Harry. “We are so confident in the success of our model that we have built the Mumahato Children’s Center. It is a beautiful thing to see—this thing built in the middle of nowhere on land that the king himself had given us. As we look to the future on what this center will mean for our work in Lesotho, four times as many children have been able to attend camps each year.”
Nacho Figueras, the Argentinian professional polo player serves as the Sentebale Ambassador has traveled to Lesotho twice to experience first-hand the mission of Sentebale. “I saw the various programs that were done all around Lesotho,” said Figueras. “That is when you really understand what we are doing here. What we are doing here is something very important. We are helping children see the light at the end of the tunnel. We are helping children understand and believe that this world is ready for them—that they are not by themselves. That they can live with HIV. That HIV is something is we have been able to control. And we really can change an entire generation and we can really change an entire nation. I am very happy and proud to be a part of it.”Royal Salute, the premium blend whisky produced by Chivas Brothers (a division of Pernod Ricard), has a longstanding relationship with Prince Harry and has long been a supporter of Sentebale.
At the Sentebale Royal Salute Polo Cup reception, Sophie Gallois, the Global Marketing Director of Chivas Brothers, brand owner of Royal Salute, announced Royal Salute’s support of Sentebale’s Care Givers initiative. “Royal Salute has been supporting Sentebale since 2011 and we are extremely proud of the annual polo cup and the money it has raised to date,” she said. “This year we are delighted to announce additional support for the Sentebale Care Giver Initiative in Lesotho which gives vital help to the parents and grandparents of children living with HIV.” “This initiative provides essential life skills for carers to hopefully pass down to the next generation and to ensure the future of Lesotho for years to come,” added Gallois. (For more about Prince Harry, Nacho Figueras and the Royal Salute Polo Cup, click here).
Photos by Chris Jackson/Getty Images for Royal Salute and courtesy of Sentebale