Page last updated at 10:40 GMT, Monday, 10 November 2008

Lesotho Aids diary: Chief

The BBC is following the lives of seven people from the community of St Rodrigue, in Lesotho, who will share their hopes and fears as they each struggle to live with and work through the country's HIV/Aids crisis.

Relebone Sonopo | Chief | St Rodrigue

I am the chief of St Rodrigue. I was born here, grew up here, live here and one day I will die here.

Age: 88
Lives: St Rodrigue
Occupation: Chief
I wish there was better infrastructure in our village so people in the mountains could reach the clinics.
I wish that the people of my community can have peace in their lives - that they achieve their good plans but not their bad ones.
I wish they would ban alcohol. It is not good if people misuse it. People behave badly when they drink.
I hope that when it is time for me to die, I just pass away in peace and know that I lived a good life.

I am 88 years of age and my wife died 18 years ago. Together we had eight children, but two died. I now have six - and many grandchildren.

I want to offer a prayer of thanks because I remember before Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) came to St Rodrigue, when mothers, fathers and children would all die because of HIV and I had to bury them together. As chief that is part of my role, to organise their death certificates and arrangements.

I remember all these deaths and I cry. HIV is still killing the people of Lesotho, but I don't have to bury entire families in my village any more.

Too many people have died and there are so many orphans.

While no-one in my family has been infected, we are all affected by HIV in Lesotho.

I became chief in 1943 and take care of five villages, including St Rodrigue.

There is no typical day for a chief - each day you wait for people from the village to come. Some days a lot of people visit with issues to sort out - other days not so many.

You never know what the day will bring when you wake up - except that it will always be busy. I try to make sure there is peace and security in the village. When there is a dispute, I step in and mediate before it has to go to court.

People also come to me to get a letter that says they wish to visit other places in Lesotho; and if they need to leave the country, I fill out the passport forms, which they need to have officially stamped by their chief. Each chief has his own special stamp.

Traditional healers

I tell people who are sick that they need to go to the clinic here and get tested.

Though we have traditional healers in our villages, I do not think their work is as effective as MSF's because these healers have been in our villages for a long time, but the people kept dying from HIV.

Some of the traditional healers tell people to come to the clinic too, but many don't because they are afraid they will lose money.

I do all of this on my own, and do not ever want to give up as long as I am strong enough to carry on.

I think that maybe God feels that the work I am doing is important because it is helping people and perhaps this is why I am still alive today when others are not.

I am not sure how much longer I can go on as village chief though, but I cannot stop and leave people without help. I could not find a suitable man to take over from me, so now I am training one of the women. I hope I can train her to be a good chief.

I love Lesotho and its people. When I climb up our beautiful mountains and breathe in the fresh air, I really feel love for my country.

But I pray that one day HIV will stop destroying our people. The population of Lesotho is going down - this is the first year that the number of deaths is bigger than the number of births.

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