There is a poverty in Swaziland that is difficult to describe and it is a poverty unlike I have seen anywhere else in Africa. It is largely rural, pastoral and dots the countryside of a thousand hills. Today, I was with The Luke Commission, a mobile hospital – some would call it a clinic – but they perform surgeries, are capable of X-Raying, setting broken bones, and today their surgical team did 40 circumcisions on young boys and adolescents. They did HIV/AIDS testing with 110 people. Nearly 35 staff and volunteers take over schools in the remote rural villages of this tiny Kingdom. Vans, trailers, and generators are set up by 8:00 am on clinic days. It is approaching 7:00 pm and we are still at it. We will probably start the two hour return trip to Manzini at about 9:00 pm. Alas, the full team did not make it home until 1:30.
We came along side our partners today and volunteered in their surgical unit, distributed hundreds of pairs of shoes to children in the school, interviewed a number of beneficiaries. By the end of this clinic day, the one volunteer doctor, the one physician’s assistant, the one medical student, the one occupational therapist, and two nurses will have seen nearly 700 villagers in the community of Lucaceni. People walked miles to get here and everyone of them will be seen by the doctor and his staff. They get eyeglasses and wheel chairs for the disabled. Medicines and appropriate antibiotics are dispensed.
Today, as each child approached us for the sizing of their free shoes – I looked into their eyes and held their feet to guess or estimate the size of their promised foot ware. There was excitement, apprehension, and ultimately a smile when the right shoe was delivered into their hands. During this exercise – I could not think of anything I would rather be doing than this act of preparing shoes for the feet of Swaziland’s future. These children will walk, they will climb, they will travel great distances for education, water, and for food. They are caught in a cross-generational poverty trap that delivers the harsh realities of disease and starvation. Swaziland is the country with the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rate. It is a country of 935,000 people with over 200,000 orphans. Poverty is no stranger to Swaziland, but the devastating consequences of the AIDS virus has broken the back of this docile and peaceful country. It struggles to move from a nation of grief to a nation of hope.
The experience is remote – separated not only by distance, but by culture and the complexity of extreme poverty. We do not understand it and we cannot empathize with their experience because there are so few touch points that compare to our own experience. That is the challenge for those of us working in poverty eradication. The bridge between those who live on the margins and those that live in affluence is fragile. But today, I saw the VanderWals, the Tuinstres, the Schmelzenbachs and the nurses – Rebecca Sartori and Melody Miller and the Swazi staff cross that bridge. Each of them come along side a community in need of medical support, educational services, and the basics like shoes for the feet of hundreds of children trapped in poverty. The Luke Commission moves out in faith, they are defined by faith and they are a living faith to those who benefit from their mission. A day in the life of the Luke Commission is a day I will never forget.
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