Sometimes what is not speaks more than what is. That’s the case with PET carts in Eswatini.
They are not wheelchairs, because wheelchairs do not hold up in the bush. They are not beautiful, though they are colorful. They are not difficult to repair, for maintenance is difficult in Africa.
Personal Energy Transportation carts lift those with physical disabilities off the ground and give them mobility and usefulness.
PET International director Von Driggs and his wife Linda recently flew to Eswatini to participate in a Luke Commission clinic and see firsthand to whom and how the carts are dispensed.
“The Luke Commission has become our hands and feet to pass the carts along,” says Von.
In the past year, TLC assessed disabilities and gave away 200 “alternative wheelchairs” in Eswatini. PET delivers carts to 100 countries, Von notes.
“He chose to do site visits with The Luke Commission. That’s quite an honor,” comments Dr. Harry VanderWal.
Stories of those at the Ekutsimleni clinic who receive freedom of movement will brighten and inspire the lives of those who jump out of bed every morning, all by themselves, and walk throughout their day…
Hezekiah Dlamini suffered a spinal cord injury 20 years ago. Now 48 years and the father of five, he received a PET cart in 2010 when TLC came to his remote area.
Harry tells recipients that the chairs come from Jesus. “People who love Jesus in the United States sent them to us,” Harry emphasizes.
Hezekiah rides great distances, propelling the cart with his arms. He travels to farms and buys potatoes to sell.
His PET cart is rusted, the paint is chipped, and the chain is loose. He has no extra room in his hut, so his cart sits outside under a torn sail (tarp).
But with crutches and potatoes in the back portion on his cart, Hezekiah is mobile and able to support his family.
“I can’t go to church,” replies Hezekiah, answering Von’s question. “It’s too far.”
“I wish we could put a motor on it, but we can’t,” adds Von.
Four years ago, Cebsile Mohale had a difficult childbirth, resulting in an operation that left her unable to walk. She probably needs physical therapy, Echo says, but that’s not a Eswatini possibility.
Cebsile is a 23-year-old hairdresser who wheeled down a dusty road 3 kilometers to say “thank you” for the PET cart she received at last year’s TLC clinic.
A dignified elderly lady, decked out in a red hat and jacket, gestures to show that her brake is broken. Von offers to fix it. The smile on Anna Dlamini’s face radiates beauty and relief.
She “drives” her cart 10 kilometers every day, over rivers and up hills. “I keep inside. I clean it,” Anna declared. At age 60, she has not walked for four years. Diabetes is the culprit.
Mncenekelwa Hlongwane looks much younger than his 45 years, except for his useless legs. Three years ago, tuberculosis of the bone brought him to his knees.
Mncenekelwa travels 15 kilometers a day buying and selling vegetables and building iron triangles to hold cooking pots over a fire. He earns R25 to R50 ($4 to $7) for his iron work. He also supervises small children at a community care center.
In less than two years, he has worn two sets of solid-core, rubber tires and has repaired the brake numerous times. When we meet him again, he has a tool in his hand, ready to tighten the chain.
Echo and Von decide he deserves a new PET cart. “Maybe in exchange for a new cart we can make him responsible for performing minor repairs on carts for others in his community,” reasons Echo.
She talks to Rodgers Mamba, community leader and Member of Parliament, and Reuben Nxumalo, the headman of the community, who stays on site with TLC all day and long into the night. Rogers and Reuben speak with Mncenekelwa, who agrees with a shy smile of wholesome joy to use the parts from his old cart to help fellow Emaswati.
“Even today he is teaching small things to other people with carts,” Echo notices a few hours later. “He will be accountable to Rodgers and Reuben, and that’s good.”
“Most of his life is centered around this cart,” PET director Von observes. “It’s exciting to come see people gain mobility.”
Thirteen year old Siphoskhe Masimula can move faster on his hands and knees than most of us can walk. Still, his birth deformity saddles him with a distinct disadvantage in a country where few people have cars and most live out in the bush, miles from stores and assistance.
Siphoskhe moves down the dirt road to school 5 kilometers one way every week day. When he gets to school, no handicap ramps await him. But he scoots out of his cart and climbs tall steps the old way, just glad to be “schooling” – a Liswati term for which parents and caregivers pay dearly.
That day seven more PET carts are assembled and distributed at dusk.
Six are the crank carts, those the disabled move with their arms, and one is a pull cart, much like a wagon with a comfortable, elevated chair.
The pull cart is presented ceremoniously to a woman who arrives at the clinic on a mattress in a “bakkie.” TLC staff lifts her out of the pickup.
Immediately, something happens which we have never seen in the Liswati bush. Her husband gently puts her arm around his wife, as she sits beaming in her new chair.
Liswati husbands and wives do not show any affection in public. In fact, most husbands do not sit with their wives at the clinics nor openly communicate during clinic day.
The Americans and then the Emaswati laugh and cheer, when the man hugs his wife. The husband responds dramatically by pulling his wife in her new cart, dancing and waving his arms.
“The pull carts do not get as much publicity as the crank carts,” Echo notes. “But they are equally valuable for those who are not strong enough to maneuver the carts themselves.”
In the U.S., independent centers in 20 locations buy materials and build the PET carts. Each costs about $250.
“Volunteers do everything,” Von explains. “They raise the money and then donate their time to make the carts.”
This year PET International hopes to ship 5,000 carts to the disabled needy around the world.
Though not often quoted, Leviticus 19: 9 to 15 reminds us, practically, how to treat the poor. Verse 14 tells us not to curse the deaf (even though they cannot hear) and not to put a stumbling block before the blind (they might fall).
Neither should we to ignore the disabled. In Eswatini they often are hidden away in their huts and thought to be cursed.
Why? “… you shall fear your God; I am the Lord.”
Thank you for not overlooking the poor and for serving Jesus as Lord.
Appreciatively in Jesus,
Janet Tuinstra on the field with Harry & Echo & TLC