Providing Lesotho's Children with Keys to the World

This is the story of our efforts to end the vicious cycle of poverty, disease, inadequate education, and early death
in a remote rural community in Lesotho, Africa, by providing quality education and life skills
to the young children there. Join us on our journey ...

Friday, March 15, 2013

Sending Money to Lesotho: skip Western Union, go Moneygram

There is no such thing as PayPal in Lesotho, so sometimes it is difficult and very expensive to send money there.

I've been trying to send ~$220 (M2000) to our Volunteer Mamatsepe Sejanamane to cover her transportation to Kokobe Primary School and her first month of living expenses.

International bank transfers, at least from my bank, are outrageously expensive - $75 per transaction (USBank). 

Western Union recently opened an office in Maseru.  They're open 24/7 so you can receive money at anytime.  They charge about 12% + a fee, which seems like highway robbery.  But none of that matters, because their computers have been down for some time, and transfers aren't going through at all.

Another volunteer, Fortunate Gunzo, suggested trying Muruku or MoneyGram. I checked Muruku, but they don't service Lesotho.

I hit the jackpot at MoneyGram.  They have agents at Standard Banks all over Lesotho, including one in Mohale's Hoek.  Their fees are much less than Western Union, $18 for an instant transfer and $10 for a 3-day transfer.  That I can handle.  One slight disadvantage of MoneyGram is that the receiver can only get the money during regular banking hours.

It was fairly easy to send the money.  I was able to make the MoneyGram transfer online using an L2L Visa card.  If you don't have a credit card, you can use a bank account for the online 3-day transfers. 

The verification process was a bit involved.  They asked some questions that amazed me they would know the answers to.  Then they asked me to call to confirm that I knew the person I was sending money to.  There are lots of scams coming from Africa, getting people they don't know to send them money for fraudulent schemes.  Once I convinced MoneyGram I'd met and worked with Mamatsepe in person, they okayed the transfer.  From now on, any transfers to her will be automatically approved.

They gave me a reference number to send to Mamatsepe.  I was a little concerned sending that number via a nonsecured email.  Hopefully, it won't get intercepted and the cash stolen before she gets to the bank. 

She informed me she's gotten the number.  The money will be available as soon as the banks opens.  I(It's Friday night there now.) With luck, she'll be in Kokobe before the end of next week.  YEA!

For future payments, I'm going to try to get a pre-paid reloadable cash-card for her.  I can send the card over to her with Tony in a few weeks.  That way I can go online and load money onto the card once a month, she can withdraw it from an ATM anytime it's convenient for her, and she doesn't have to carry large amounts of cash around.

- Janissa


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Technology News: cell phone as microscope

Scientists converted a cell phone into a cheap microscope and used it to find intestinal parasites.

"You need [a] ball lens* to help with the magnification - but any mobile phone with a decent camera and a zoom function will be sufficient.

"When the results were double-checked with a laboratory light microscope, the device had managed to pick up 70% of the samples with infections present - and 90% of the heavier infections.

"Intestinal worms are estimated to affect up to two billion people around the world, mainly in poor areas. These parasitic infections cause malnutrition, stunted growth, and stunted mental development.

"It's a big deal, a big problem."


Remote villages in Lesotho could benefit from this technology. The question is, how hard is it to train someone to collect the samples, prepare the slides, and read the results?

* cost of ball lens ~$12