Nov. 18, 2004 -- -- A poverty-stricken African mountain kingdom is one of the last places you'd expect a member of the British monarchy to visit -- and stay for two months.
But that is precisely what Prince Harry, the younger of Princess Diana's two sons, did after graduating from secondary school.
It was a bit of a surprise. British students often take a "gap year" before they head to university, and Harry had been partying in Australia -- until he turned his attention to the less fortunate.
It might be called a family trait. His father had raised over $100 million for 17 charities and hosted major concerts for his trust. And his mother famously espoused charity work as a way to awaken not just generosity, but feeling.
So this March, Harry arrived in Lesotho, a kingdom of 2.2 million in southern Africa, to face a place of desperate suffering, where 70 percent of the people die before the age of 40. But he would find dramatic beauty too.
"I've always wanted to do this. It's completely, it's what [my mother] was doing," he said a few weeks after he arrived. "A lot of me that wants to say `Right, it's now time to follow on well as much as I can to try and keep my mother's legacy going'."
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Surveying a Desolate Landscape
Harry spent his first week at an AIDS orphanage that takes care of children whose parents both died of the disease. In Lesotho, 31 percent of the adults are believed to be HIV-positive, and 20 percent of the children are orphans.
Harry's daily task would be manual labor, like painting walls. But he delighted the children with his carrot-colored hair -- and by offering candy, small toys and an easy smile.
Later, Harry remembered that first encounter fondly: "I love children, but it's probably because I've got an incredibly immature side to me."
He also developed a special relationship with a toddler named Mutsu, whose name means "sharp," who was never far from his side.
Harry moved on to aiding a doctor who runs the country's first mobile AIDS clinic. It travels to villages to help those too ill to leave their homes.
On these journeys, he met Mampali Mpeli, the wife of a police officer, who had full-blown AIDS. Her children were doing well in school, but she feared that she wouldn't see them grow up.
Further down the road, he met 10-year-old Hlaquasa, whose mother, Mampe Lesenyeho, also has full-blown AIDS. In Lesotho, the disease carries such a stigma that Mampe's family considers her bewitched, and has abandoned her completely. Harry promised to help.
Next, Harry went to a hospital that cares for 100,000 people with six doctors. There he met 13-year-old Mpolokeng, who is raising her brothers and cousins because both her parents died.
They passed one village that had 102 orphans alone.
The Lost Boys and the Paparazzi
There were children even in Lesotho's chilly snow-brushed peaks, Harry learned. And while they weren't orphans, their conditions weren't much better.
Unemployment in Lesotho is at 50 percent, so families often force even the tiniest of boys to go out and herd cattle -- to earn small amounts of money to send back home.
Their image is as sad as their condition: the boys keep their hair long and unkempt to protect against the cold, and all they carry to ward off the winter winds is a blanket.
"You see children everywhere, there's just hundreds of children. Up in the hills here there's 8-year-olds, 10-year-olds looking after cattle. Their only means of protection is rocks," Harry said.
For all the sadness Harry found in his travels, he also found some measure of relief from his regular life as a royal -- especially from the ever-present media. Just last month, he got into a scuffle with a stalking cameraman outside a London nightclub -- and the world press interpreted it as just more proof that he was a "wild child."
In Africa, Harry was generally the one taking the photos, and he was welcomed with open arms.
"The nicest thing out here is they don't know who I am. I'm just a normal guy to them, which is really, really nice," he said. "It's a case of trying to be like them, having a good laugh with them. And you should see their faces."
Just because Harry had escaped the range of the media's viewfinders though, doesn't mean he was out of their minds. As he did his good works in Africa, there were constant questions about whether or not he had just converted for the cameras.
"I've always been like this," Harry responded. "I'm not gonna take a camera crew everywhere I go with me when I'm trying to help out in different countries."
Harry left Lesotho in the early summer, but he returned in a surprise visit in September to see if anything had changed.
At the orphanage which was his first stop, he reunited with Mutsu -- but kept that moment private. He also learned that because of his trip, the orphanage received enough donations to get beds for the children -- so that they no longer had to sleep on the floor.
And a South African farmer who saw the picture of Harry on television crossed the border to volunteer his help. The orphanage received a $4,500 fence.
As for the herd boys that Harry saw -- their situation is more complicated. As they grow older, their isolation and lack of education may become a threat to society. There have been efforts to round them up and educate them, but the schools in Lesotho are hopelessly crowded.
Eye on the Future, Eye on the Past
Weeks after returning from Lesotho a second time, Harry is now preparing to attend the officer's training program at Sandhurst, the British army's most prestigious college.
But what he saw and did in Africa will always be with him, much like the memory of his mother.
"I always wanted to go to an AIDS country to carry on my mother's legacy as much as I can," he said.
"I don't want to take over from her, because I never will. I don't think anyone can, but I want to try and carry it on to make her proud."
The British Red Cross is working with its partner, the American Red Cross, to implement life-saving programs combating HIV/AIDS and other related programs in Lesotho and southern Africa.
For more information, contact:
American Red Cross
P.O. Box 91820
Washington, DC 20090-1820