Tholoana Mohapi said that when she was very young, she wanted to be a nurse one day.
Instead, her career has led her to more than a decade of hiring nurses and other health professionals, as a leading member of the human resources team for Partners In Health in Lesotho.
The 38-year-old Mohapi has worked since May 2007 for Bo-mphato Litsebeletsong tsa Bophelo, as PIH is known locally. She joined the team as PIH was beginning its operations in Lesotho, where now—just a decade later—PIH works with the Ministry of Health to reach 40 percent of the country’s 2.2 million people through a national health reform, plus 90,000 more people through a program supporting seven health clinics in remote mountain areas. Additionally, PIH provides treatment and support for people with multi-drug resistant tuberculosis, with an outreach team that reaches patients in communities across all 10 of Lesotho’s districts.
Dr. Abera Leta, executive director of PIH in Lesotho, praised Mohapi’s dedication to helping build the tireless, passionate team that has led that growth.
"Tholoana is one of our longest-serving staff members, and lives a life committed to PIH’s mission of helping the poor,” Leta said. “As human resources manager for PIH in Lesotho, she has invested her talent to develop staff who are providing health care services in hard-to-reach places. She is truly selfless and committed to bringing social justice to the most disadvantaged people.”
Mohapi began as PIH’s office administrator in Maseru, the capital, and became an HR coordinator a year later. She became HR manager, she said, “in 2014 or 2015”—and not immediately knowing the exact year could be a sign of just how hectic those years have been.
“We’re busy,” Mohapi deadpanned on a recent day in the office.
About 50 employees work in Maseru, and about 250 more work in the seven remote clinics and the health reform’s initial four districts. About 125 other people are PIH-supported government employees. All in all, it’s a lot to manage for Mohapi and the two members of her team: HR coordinator Mojela Masupha and HR assistant Liako Lerotholi.
Mohapi handles it all with a steady hand, while focusing on building a strong team for PIH.
“What I like the most is to get the most competitive employees, that are passionate about what they do and about bringing change to patients’ lives,” said Mohapi, a warm, personable colleague who’s known around the office as “Thully,” pronounced similar to “Too-Lee.”
Mohapi knows what it means to be a patient. She’s from a small, Berea District village called Ha Phoofolo, north of Maseru, and was diagnosed with tuberculosis at age 15. She believes she got the disease from an uncle, who came home very sick after working in mines in South Africa.
When Mohapi began having night sweats and rapidly losing weight, family members became alarmed and took her to a doctor. The quick intervention allowed Mohapi to stay stronger than later-stage TB patients and begin medication early—with motivation and encouragement close at hand.
“Since we had a very sickly uncle in the house whom we supported and had observed him slowly recovering, I got courage to take my meds daily,” Mohapi said. “The only fear I had back then was the fact that most people who were diagnosed with TB were not recovering. Most were dying, and I think adherence to medication was a challenge.”
Grueling side effects from TB medications can be a deterrent for many patients, who sometimes stop treatment when they start feeling better but before the disease is entirely eradicated. Mohapi said she was able to overcome those challenges because of the people around her, even as her treatment stretched from the usual six months to eight.
“I can say a strong family support system helped me to beat the disease,” Mohapi said. Her uncle beat TB, as well, and remains healthy today.
Ultimately, TB didn’t slow Mohapi down—she went on to earn an honor’s degree in industrial and organizational psychology at the University of South Africa, and a degree in human resources development at Vaal University of Technology in South Africa.
She’s now a mother of three children, and lives in Maseru with her family. Her role at PIH is vital to the organization’s growth and success across Lesotho.
“I may not be directly helpful in assisting patients, but I believe we are all working as a team,” Mohapi said. “I believe that’s what has kept me here—doing what is fulfilling.”