News agencies around the world are talking about the royals coming to town for Wittenberg University’s 168th Commencement ceremony.
King Letsie III, the Constitutional Monarch of the southern African Kingdom of Lesotho, and his wife, Queen ‘Masenate, along with Lesotho’s foreign minister, ambassador to the United States and archbishop, will arrive today, Friday, May 11, allowing current and former students to have the opportunity to meet them before Saturday’s Commencement ceremony at 11:30 a.m. His Majesty King Letsie III will deliver the keynote address for the more than 370 students graduating as part of the Wittenberg’s class of 2018 on Saturday, May 12.
His forthcoming visit reflects Wittenberg's longstanding commitment to service and compassion as Lesotho holds a special place in the hearts of the Wittenberg students, alumni and the entire campus. Since 2003, more than 400 Wittenberg students and community members have participated in a service-learning trip to Lesotho through a program founded by Scott Rosenberg, professor of history, chair of Wittenberg’s Peace Corps Prep Program, and Honorary Consul to the Kingdom of Lesotho.
“The entire Springfield community, through the collaboration between Wittenberg and the Springfield Rotary Club, holds the country of Lesotho near and dear to their hearts. Joint and independent projects over the past 10 years have made Wittenberg and Springfield, Ohio, synonymous to the Basotho people,” Rosenberg explained.
A country of slightly more than two million, Lesotho has an estimated 200,000 orphans and an estimated 33 percent of children under the age of five years that who suffer from severe malnutrition and stunting. Only 11 percent of Basotho children aged six to 23 months fall into the criteria for a minimum acceptable diet.
Inspired by Rosenberg’s own years in the Peace Corps, the program participants spend four weeks in service, helping to build houses, planting gardens, creating playgrounds and volunteering at orphanages and a pediatric AIDS clinic, among other activities. Many of the sites the students volunteer at are projects begun by the Springfield Rotary, and now both groups work together toward their sustainability.
The Rotary Club previously connected with Rosenberg while searching for an international project several years ago. Before returning to Lesotho, His Majesty King Letsie will actually attend the Rotary Club’s Monday luncheon, according to Steve Neely, Rotary president. The club has also sponsored the college education of two Lesotho women, Neo Mosoeunyane and Lemohang Mokhalinyane, who are attending Wittenberg University and Clark State Community College, respectively.
Additionally, three years ago, a small group of Wittenberg students and faculty members, also led by Rosenberg, started the Lesotho Nutrition Initiative (LNI), which is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that provides hundreds of thousands of meals a year to 1,500 children in Lesotho suffering from severe malnutrition and stunting.
During the last two academic years with the support of volunteers from the Wittenberg campus and the Springfield community, LNI has packed more than 670,000 meals with 370,000 already shipped and another 285,000 more to ship next month. There are roughly 25 students involved in LNI and 10 student officers.
Madeline O’Malley, class of 2018 from Columbus, Ohio, became LNI’s event coordinator after traveling to Lesotho during the 2015-16 academic year. She plans to return as a youth empowerment HIV/AIDs volunteer with the Peace Corps.
“After going to Lesotho during the winter of 2015-16, it not only solidified my dreams of joining a service-dedicated program after graduation, but it also introduced me to the most wonderful country filled with the kindest and [most] welcoming people I have ever come across,” she said.
“Once returning from Lesotho, my passion for the country never subsided, and I only continued to study it more, as well as becoming involved with the Lesotho Nutrition Initiative. Having the King of Lesotho come and speak at the graduating class of 2018's Commencement is remarkable. Wittenberg, and especially this class, have all been so involved with Lesotho, whether it be helping with fundraising for LNI, attending LNI's events, or packing meals for chronically malnourished people in Lesotho – they have made an impact on us.”
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