How Harry's Pain at Mother's Death Drove him to Help Orphans

Published: 27th November 2015 07:58 AM  |   Last Updated: 27th November 2015 07:58 AM   |  A+A-

Prince Harry was yesterday (Thursday) reunited with an orphan from Lesotho with whom he formed a "close bond" as he disclosed that his agony at losing his mother had prompted him to open a centre dedicated to helping vulnerable children.

The 31-year-old prince first met Mutsu Potsane, while visiting his orphanage during his gap year in 2004.

Unlike most the children who shyly watched the prince from the shadows, Mutsu, then aged four, grabbed his hand and stayed by his side for hours.

Prince Harry gave him a pair of wellington boots and has returned to visit him several times since.

Yesterday, the pair embraced as they met, with the prince remarking how tall Mutsu had become.

The softly-spoken teenager, now 15, is the star striker for his orphanage's football team and a beneficiary of a scholarship run by Prince Harry's charity Sentebale. Mutsu said he and the prince "click", adding: "I'm very comfortable around Harry, he is very comfortable around me."

They were reunited as Prince Harry jetted into the tiny mountain kingdom to open Sentebale's flagship centre for orphaned and vulnerable children and those living with HIV.

In a speech to international donors and local dignitaries, the prince spoke intimately of his own pain after Diana, Princess of Wales died in a car crash when he was just 13. He said it had left a "gaping hole" in his life and given him a sense of "overwhelming connection" with the smiling children - including Mutsu - he met during his gap year.

"They were far younger than me, and of course, their situation was a great deal more challenging than my own," he said.

"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."

Lesotho is one of the poorest countries in the world. One third of its children are orphans and 21,000 of those aged 10 to 19 have HIV.

The prince said it became apparent to him after his first visit that the question "wasn't when but how quickly we could put in place something to help these children". He added: "Behind those smiles it was clear they desperately needed care, attention and above all, love."

He founded his charity Sentebale, meaning "forget-me-not" in Sesotho, with Prince Seeiso, the brother of King Letsie III, who showed the young prince around the kingdom during his first visit.

Yesterday, 10 years later, they opened a pounds 2?million centre catering for disabled and disadvantaged children, principally those living with HIV.

The Mamohato Children's Centre is named after the mother of King Letsie and Prince Seeiso, who died from a heart attack in 2003 at the age of 62. Its dining hall is named after Diana, Princess of Wales, and its reception centre is named after Olga Powell, the prince's nanny, who died in 2012. It will bring all of Sentebale's work under one roof, providing a health centre, education opportunities and pastoral care but for four times the number of children as previously.

A total of 1,440 children will also be hosted there for holiday camps, where they will play sports and have lessons in healthy living, building self-esteem, expression through drama and planning their futures.

One of Sentebale's bursary recipients, Motseliso Morahanye, 20, now studying law at university, described how the charity had given her "new expectation for life".

"I am the woman I have become today, smart, educated, looking forward to the future with hope and excitement and assured that I will make it in this lifetime, because of Sentebale," she said.

In their respective speeches, the princes and King Letsie III spoke of how close they have grown since their first meeting 11 years ago. Prince Seeiso called his friend "carrot-top" and they capered around in thick Lesotho blankets presented to them. King Letsie teased the British prince about his love-life saying, to loud laughter from the crowd: "I long for the day when I can say 'Prince Harry and....' But we'll all have to wait a few years for that."

Prince Seeiso said the road to Mamohato's opening had been "hilly but wonderful" and vowed not to mention their late mothers' names for fear of getting "teary".

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