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Lesotho children's centre launch hears Prince Harry speak about losing mother

Published 26/11/2015

Harry was due to attend the opening of the Sentebale development in Lesotho
Harry was due to attend the opening of the Sentebale development in Lesotho

Prince Harry has spoken of the "gaping hole" in his life following the death of his mother as his charity launched a landmark centre helping African orphans and other vulnerable youngsters.

As Sentebale's £2 million Mamohato Children's Centre was opened in the African nation of Lesotho, Harry movingly described his own experience of bereavement - something many of the children helped by his organisation are living with.

He said the death of his mother Diana, Princess of Wales, in a 1997 car crash, allowed him to empathise with the young orphans he met during his first visit to Lesotho in 2004.

The trip inspired him to set up the charity Sentebale with Lesotho's Prince Seeiso to help youngsters in need and other children who had lost one or both parents to Aids or contracted the disease themselves.

Speaking about the orphans Harry told the guests gathered at the centre's opening ceremony: "They were far younger than me, and of course, their situation was a great deal more challenging than my own.

"Nonetheless, we shared a similar feeling of loss, having a loved one, in my case a parent, snatched away so suddenly.

"I, like them, knew there would always be a gaping hole that could never be filled.

"For so many of the children in Lesotho, that situation was compounded by the harsh environment and extreme poverty they faced. At the age of just eight or nine taking on the responsibility of caring for brothers and sisters there was simply no time for being a child any more."

He added that from that moment "it wasn't a question of when but how quickly could we put something in place which could help these children".

The new centre was opened by Seeiso's brother King Letsie III, Lesotho's monarch, who donated land for the project in the foothills of Thaba Bosiu - a mountain revered as the birthplace of the Lesotho nation.

Harry said: "This centre is now the heart of Sentebale, situated on the hallowed ground of Thaba Bosiu in the country that is our home, Lesotho; it represents how far we have come as a charity but more importantly how much more we want to achieve."

The new facility will allow Sentebale to scale up its Mamohato camps - a residential project that provides psychological, social and practical support to children struggling to cope with being HIV positive.

Harry told the guests, who included Sentebale ambassador Joss Stone who will perform at a private dinner tonight to mark the opening: "The theory of our Mamohato camp is simple - if children have the chance to share with each other how HIV affects them and how they cope with it in a safe and accepting environment, they will lead healthier, more well-adjusted lives.

"Through these camps, children learn about their condition and can then share this knowledge with their peers once they return home."

Harry went on to say: "The Mamohato Children's Centre will enable us to reach many more of these children than has previously been possible. We will increase the number of those attending camps from 400 to 1,500 per year - which represents 29% of our target adolescent group."

King Letsie also spoke at the launch and in a lighter moment joked about the fact Harry is still apparently single.

He made the audience laugh when he said: "I long for the day when I can say Prince Harry and ... I'll have to wait, we'll all have to wait a few years for that."

Towards the end of the ceremony the guests watched a dance troupe from the Sentebale Herd Boys School of Excellence, before Harry, Seeiso and the king joined one of the boys on stage and each received a grey woollen blanket, traditionally worn by Lesotho's Basotho people.

Wrapped in his cloak, Harry, who had been sheltering from the blistering sun under a canopy, joked: "I was starting to feel a bit chilly. Is everyone else warm enough?"

During the launch day for the Mamohato Children's Centre Harry and Seeiso took the King and his wife Queen 'Masenate Mohato Seeiso on a guided tour of the facilities.

Fundraising began for the project in Februrary 2013 and it was completed, under budget costing just over £2 million, in August this year.

It can accommodate up to 96 children and their carers and has a dining hall, medical centre, welcome block and other facilities.

Seeiso said later that Harry told him he had been very impressed when he first saw the completed centre.

The Lesotho prince said: "Prince Harry told me he was just blown away when he first saw it.

"This is the first time he's seem it completed, whereas I have watched it grow week by week."

Seeiso's wife Princess Mabereng-Seeiso, said her husband genuinely valued Harry's friendship.

"They are both second boys and very similar personalities, very cheerful, loving, bubbly and casual," she said.

"They complement each other. A place like this, full of children playing, it reflects these playful personalities.

"The people my husband cares about, it's his brother (King Letsie III) and Harry. And me and the children of course," she added laughing.

During their tour of the centre Harry and Seeiso showed their close bond as they joked with each other and the children.

The pair joined a group of youngster doing a photography workshop taking Polaroids of themselves and sticking them on the wall.

Harry had no qualms about posing with the children and even put on props and did silly poses.

The princes posed in bright sunglasses and Harry even got behind the camera and took a picture of Seeiso in the outlandish glasses.

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