What happens when more than 50 disabled young adults show up at one Luke Commission outreach?

Much laughter. Unassuming joys. A little confusion. Patience given and patience received. A whole lot of fun.

Elliot Shongwe and two of his teachers, Henry Gama (center) and Simanga Mamba, assist their disabled students at TLC outreach.

“I told them all to come. This is our first time to know The Luke Commission,” said Irene Shongwe, matron and “mother” to 65 students at Ekululameni Training Centre.

Most walked two kilometers from the boarding school to the primary school where the rural outreach was already teeming with patients. They sat patiently under a large tree.

Irene Shongwe intercedes for her students who may not be able to express their needs.

Those who could not walk were transported by a community leader in the back of a pickup. A few others who could walk did not come for a variety of physical issues and will be helped with medical attention and wheelchairs in the near future.

“We did not expect such a warm welcome. We are here to see the doctors, and you have told us we can get shoes and other help, too,” exclaimed Irene.

A community leader drives home those who cannot walk steadily. Their joy is contagious.

“We take the deaf, dumb, blind, mentally challenged, and slow learners. Some may be 18 years old and still doing grade 2,” Irene explained. “We teach them to be brothers and sisters in the Lord, to respect each other.

“We appreciate that you give freely and for free. We must take the disabled seriously, Jesus did,” she continued.

Waving their thanks and goodbyes, these young people take off across the field for home. It’s been a special day!

With Irene was her husband Elliot, who has been principal of the training centre for 30 years, and two of the centre’s four teachers.

The centre trains each student for two years. Elliott said, “We hope they can start their own businesses at home or become employed.”

Elliot said the centre charges 2700 emalageni (about $240) a year. He explained that the Eswatini government provides some revenue for the training centre. “But most families beg us to take their disabled children, even without the money. It’s hard to collect.”

‘We look after them 24 hours a day, by God’s grace,” smiled Irene, as she held a cup of water to the mouth of a young woman without arms. “They come to us with nothing.”

One teacher, Simanga Mamba, teaches block laying and other skills with bricks, which are used in most Liswati buildings. “I am encouraging the young ones to have a future,” he said.

Henry Gama is the carpentry instructor, accommodating 10 students at a time. “Then we help them get a job. We don’t want to leave them stranded. It’s challenging, but I like it,” said Henry, who is in his tenth year at the centre.

“I heard about The Luke Commission before, but did not take much notice of you until today,” Henry admitted.

And what were the students saying, as they sat or played under that tree, shifting their positions as the summer sun traveled across the sky?

“The Luke Commission is moving around here and there,” said one student. “Everywhere they are talking to people. To us.”

Said another: “I like to go special places with my friends. Today we come to see you. Today we see the doctors.”

“Look at my new shoes,” exclaimed a student.

“My stomach hurts. The tablets in this green bag will help me,” smiled a pretty lady.

“Can we take The Luke Commission home with us?” chuckled a young man who slapped his nearby friend on the back and extended a high five.

Maybe not, but this IS just the beginning of a new friendship.

by Janet Tuinstra, who was deeply touched by these challenged-but-contented Emaswati

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