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An Adventure You Won't Want to Miss: Finding Eye Patients Throughout Rural Swaziland

 

“My mother went to fetch water. She is scared.”
 
“Grandmother is not around. She is visiting her sister.”
 
“Grandfather is sick and can’t go.”
 
“She stays on that side (pointing far away). Ask the man next to the shop.”
 
“If you go around that mountain (pointing), you will find her.”
 
”Go to the school. I asked a boy there to show you the way.”
 
Locating patients with vision problems in the corners and mountains of Swaziland, after we have met them at rural TLC outreaches, takes more effort and coordination than anyone can imagine.
 
Therefore, in numerous photos and dialogue, we’d like to take you on one day’s journey to transport eye patients from their homesteads to the Miracle Campus. Sounds relatively simple, right?
 
We heard all the above and more in just one trip, in just one day. Multiply these interactions by five buses and five days for every CARES session (Comprehensive and Restorative Eyecare Services), sponsored by The Luke Commission. Become eyewitnesses, then, to the miraculous, humorous, perplexing, and what it means to never give up.
 
These pictures tell inexplicable stories, plus highlight the devotion and determination of the TLC staff to convince and to reassure patients. The goal: to transport them to the Miracle Campus for cataract surgeries and other procedures to give back eyesight that Swazis thought was gone forever.
 
Our goal here: to brighten your day as you travel with us.

Two weeks before CARES session, TLC staff start calling eye patients who have been identified for the next help. "TLC is coming to get you..." These lists record pertinent information to make contact.

 

Patients are asked to meet TLC buses at certain rural destinations, like this one. But no one was there when TLC staff arrived. So the hunt begins.
Ready and waiting along the way, this grateful lady doesn't want her friend to be left. Pointing yonder, she says, "Her homestead is over there. She slow walks."
Felicia, TLC staff member, checks her list of potential patients, noting: “Sometime gogos and mkhulus (grandmothers and grandfathers) say on the phone they will come and then don’t meet us. Others say they will not come, but change their minds when we go to their homes. I must talk face to face with each one.” “She lives over that side,” the patient explains of another. This helpful lady needs surgery to remove cataracts, and she ran to meet the bus.
"My father decided not to come. Will you go talk to him?" "Please can I show you where my grandmother lives? She cannot walk far."
"I think we are at the right homestead, but no one seems to be home," says Felicia, as she calls back to campus to verify the destination.
"My mother is down at the river fetching water and wood," says this young mother, who changed her clothes and dressed her baby before greeting visitors.
"Let me carry your firewood," says TLC's Bhekumusa. "You are too young not to see well. We can help you."
Bhekumusa resumes his attempts to persuade the lady to come to the Miracle Campus. "We will get you a place to sleep and food to eat. The doctors are there." When that doesn't work, Felicia tries to explain how TLC is prepared to aid her failing eyesight.
The lady marches to her homestead. She knows this familiar path but is afraid of the unknown. "I'm scared. I have heard you will poke me with needles." In the end, she declined TLC's offer to improve her vision free of charge.
This lady boards TLC bus... With a smile. Not difficult to find her. She followed instructions given to her over the phone by TLC staff a few days before.
TLC staff stops at many homesteads to seek information.
"Yes, I know that family. I'm coming to talk to you... Follow the road over the river. You are close."
Even the cattle boy is willing to share his knowledge. "First, please, let my cattle pass."
"Bye." "Bye." "Bye."
With no rural street signs or specific addresses, pinpointing residents poses unusual challenges. Felicia listens closely to new directions.
Living out a name...
“I didn’t think you’d find me,” this babe (father) says, when TLC arrives. Felicia makes a phone call asking a neighbor to check on a sick man living with this TLC patient. Since this caregiver needs double cataract surgery, he may be gone for 3 or 4 days. “Please bring a blanket and a change of clothes,” suggests Felicia.
Babe asks, “Can you lead me? My eyes don't see well." "We're almost to the bus," Felicia encourages.
Normally it’s a walking lane, not a bus route. But this day, it is. TLC driver Bhekumusa traveled down narrow roads, plowed through low rivers, turned around in tight spots, dodged large mud puddles from recent rains, and then parked a quarter mile from the man’s homestead. But now he’s safely on the bus.
"My grandmother left to get food. She said she must have food; her eyes could wait."
Felicia phoned this lady, and she meets the bus. Determined, thankful...
A little leery of unexpected visitors, these babies are cared for by their grandparents.
Bhekumusa assists this grandfather into his wheelchair. When Felicia called and said TLC would be there soon, Grandmother said first she must take a bath and help her husband take a bath. When TLC staff arrived, she was just pouring out the bath water and scurrying around packing their traveling bag.
Here we go. Bhekumusa returned the wheelchair to the homestead, after the patient was lifted on the bus. Felicia calls ahead to the TLC staff know that a wheelchair would be needed when the bus arrives at the Miracle Campus.
Grandmother scoops up her young charges to be taken to a neighboring homestead, while she and her husband are gone. TLC bus driver delivers the babies on his way to a main road.

 

Now that you have taken this journey in photos, one lingering question may be – "Did all these patients return home with better eyesight?" The answer is a resounding, “Yes.” Thank you, Jesus!
 
by Janet Tuinstra

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