From the podcaster: Gathering stories in Lesotho with Jhpiego

- Eden Sparke

Since podcasting took off in late 2004, ‘audioblogging’ has grown exponentially, and today there are over 550,000 podcasts published on various platforms, catering to audiences around the world.

Podcasts represent a welcome diversion from the screen-centric world we have found ourselves in. Instead of staring into your phone for the entirety of a commute, we can now dive deep into stories, catch up with the news, and learn new skills through our headphones while taking in the world around us.

Arete is seeing an increasing demand from clients keen to break into this market. Non-profits are always striving to tell stories direct from the people they work with, and podcasting is a great way to do this — hearing someone telling their own story, in their own voice, provides an authenticity and intimacy that you cannot get from reading words on a page.

A view of a suburb in Maseru, Lesotho (Kate HoltJhpiego)

With this in mind, I set off in November with Arete photographer Kate Holt to the small, landlocked country of Lesotho, to gather stories from people affected by the country’s HIV epidemic.

Lesotho has the second-highest rate of HIV prevalence in the world, with over a quarter of the population testing positive for the virus. But myths and stigma around HIV are still rife, meaning many avoid testing and treatment.

A sex worker walks on the streets of Maseru in search of clients (Kate HoltJhpiego)

On my first day, I met with two female sex workers, who are the most at-risk group for HIV infection in the country, with 72% being HIV positive. Limakatso, a tall, proud-looking woman, tells us about the conditions that she works in; enduring police brutality, men who refuse to wear condoms, and competition between sex workers for clients. She speaks in a matter-of-fact manner, even when she talks about subjects that many people would find emotionally draining to deal with on a daily basis.

But it’s when she speaks about her peer education work that her voice takes on a different tone. When I hear her speak the line that would subsequently be translated as “When I realise that someone has taken my advice, I feel like a champion!”, I sense the pride and energy in her voice. Editing it into the podcast brings a wonderful sense of hope to end a story punctuated by sad and sometimes brutal events.

The next day, we meet two members of another high-risk group — young women — about their use of the HIV prevention drug, PrEP. Mphao, who is 18-years-old and has just begun work as a radio presenter, began to take PrEP out of fear that her night job as an MC might lead to her being attacked and infected. She is articulate, speaks perfect English, and isn’t afraid to give us a deep insight into her thought process and feelings around HIV.

Mphao presents the latest instalment of her radio show (Kate HoltJhpiego)

“All this time I’ve always been wondering, ‘okay, it’s a pill you take daily, what difference does it make from taking other ARVs?” she says. “It’s almost the same.” It’s moments like these, captured on audio in real time, that allows a direct connection from the listener to her thoughts and feelings.

Limpho (L), a Voluntary Community Activist, speaks to her friends about PrEP and HIV (Kate HoltJhpiego)

21-year-old Limpho has the same openness when interviewed about why she feels so many people in Lesotho — nearly 20% — don’t know their HIV status. “Most girls say, if I know my status, it’s not going to change anything physically,” she says. “Because their main concern is ARVs. They’re like, ‘if I don’t take ARVs, nothing’s going to change.’ Like they have a belief that if you take HIV ARVs that you’re going to be fat, or something’s going to change physically.”

Tsotleho speaks with a patient at Khotla clinic, Maseru (Kate HoltJhpiego)

Finally, we meet Tsotleho, a nurse at Jhpiego-run all-male clinic on the outskirts of Maseru. He speaks to us at length about the issues that men face while accessing healthcare, giving an insight that would be very different to those of the 80% of healthcare workers in Lesotho that are female.

“Given the strong cultural background of our people, men are very secretive,” he explains. “They don’t think they can talk with the females, whether they are health providers or not. So they tend to hide lots of health issues that concern them, especially reproductive and sexual health - they don’t disclose to females.”

Gathering perspectives like this, from groups that are typically underrepresented in arenas like development, government and healthcare, can only benefit organisations. It can uncover and provide solutions to problems, allowing interventions — wherever they originate from — to be more closely aligned with the needs of those they are targeting. The voices of those affected by the issues that NGOs and others are seeking to combat should be amplified, and podcasts are a fantastic, and innovative, way of doing this.

You can listen to the podcast series here.


Eden Sparke is Production Lead at Arete. When not recording and producing podcasts, she is editing videos for clients like UNICEF and World Health Organization, and honing her photography skills.

From the podcaster: Gathering stories in Lesotho with Jhpiego was originally published in Arete Stories on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.