Khotso, pula, nala – peace, rain, prosperity – is the motto of the mountainous, landlocked Kingdom of Lesotho.

Despite having been inhabited by the British, fought over by the Boers, then by its own people, this diamond-rich highland country has been at peace since 1999. With 40 per cent of its population living below the international poverty line and more than 30 per cent being victims of the AIDS disease, prosperity is also a key consideration. In addition to the diamond industry, Lesotho receives income from selling water to the nation that surrounds it, South Africa.

Pioneered in the 1940s, co-operatives have been part of the country’s economic make-up ever since. There is broad-based acceptance of the co-op model and its benefits by the population.

After years of strife, economic revival will be the key to Lesotho’s peaceful survival, and the establishment of co-operative businesses may well help the nation to achieve that state.

Today, even in schools, co-operatives are taking root in Lesotho. At Mohales Hoek High School, a student co-operative has been in existence since 2004.

Rise and Shine Student Co-operative was established to provide savings facilities and small loans to its members. One of the biggest difficulties Lesotho youths face in attending school is paying the fees and buying a uniform. Without a school uniform, students are not allowed through the gates.

The co-operative has about 40 members aged between 15 and 21. In order to increase its capital base, the students have come up with a variety of innovative fundraising activities, including a chicken co-op, the production of peaches and, perhaps most originally, a Mr & Miss Co-operative competition.

Note: This story was made possible through research carried out by Sally Hartley for her doctoral studies.

This story is an IYC Yearbook feature: