Saving A Sick Boy In Swaziland

Susan Page
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Wednesday - August 25, 2010
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The author in Swaziland with young Wilfred, who needs surgery on his leg

Whew, finally a name I could pronounce - and remember. After writing more than 100 Swaziland SiSwati names on masking tape that I couldn’t pronounce, much less spell, I heard a soft voice say, “My name is Wilfred.” As I peered up from the dark shadow formed by at least 20 children crushing in, my eyes first seized on a crudely crafted cane, then a well-worn blue school uniform, then the somber face of a boy of about 11.

“Wilfred!” I exclaimed with joy. “Thank you, and thank your parents for giving you a good English name I can say properly.” Ndelwa, Nomcebo (a mouth click for the c), Bonansise and other Swazi names proved challenging. He cracked a slight smile. Once I’d pressed his name across his pocket, he squeezed himself out and limped away.

Name tags were my ingenious solution for having a poor memory and bad hearing. How could we get to know these Swazi children without knowing their names? Our Heart for Africa team had name tags, why shouldn’t they? Little did I realize how treasured a Sharpie-written name on a piece of torn masking tape was.


As the kids - many of the 200 were orphans or at least vulnerable (sick, only one caregiver, hungry) - waited eagerly for their name tags, I noticed that the growing disorganized line now included older women and babies. What was happening here?

Our mission team then watched the name-tagged children play soccer, this time with a real ball, our gift, not their customary taped wad of paper. It was easy to spot Wilfred standing on the periphery, leaning on his cane, his long pants barely disguising a severely curved leg.

Later, the children formed a huge circle and played a dancing game in which they called someone out, clapping and singing, “Dance, Nombile,” or “dance, Ndemise, dance.” Even our American team got called out. Josephine, one of the church gogos (grand-mothers), challenged me, “I can dance better than you, Susan Page!” she giggled, covering her mouth. Indeed she could.

Wilfred stood alone well outside the circle.

The next day we visited vulnerable children with the host pastor. On our last stop, Pastor Herbert motioned us over to a boy. Out of uniform and wearing a beanie, he looked different, except for the cane. The name tag he’d transferred to his shirt said “Wilfred.”

“This boy has a very bad situation,” Pastor Herbert explained, helping Wilfred, sitting in a chair, pull up his pant leg to reveal a deformed leg. Just below the knee was a huge bandage under which was evidently something bad. “This boy really has no one,” Pastor said. His parents are gone. “We just try to look after him.” Then, suddenly, Wilfred unwrapped his bandage to show us a large hole clear to the bone.

Later, Dr. Victoria Schneider, the Hawaii pediatrician on our HFA medical team, after hearing the description, said it was likely osteomyelitis, a serious bone infection. Wilfred was a sick boy.

We left the scene with heavy hearts. What to do for Wilfred?

Our team leaders, the Bishops, told medical team coordinator Dr. Ron Vandenbrink the situation. In turn, he contacted the Luke Commission, an American faith-based charity offering health care to rural Swaziland’s neediest.

Ron e-mailed this great news just last week: “The boy with osteomyelitis of the leg had an IV line placed and has been started on long-term (six weeks) of daily IV antibiotics. He will be staying on site at The Luke Commission for treatment. Although he was apparently told at the government clinic that there was no fracture, his X-ray now shows a severe compound fracture of the tibia. Unfortunately that will require surgery after the course of antibiotics and will be expensive.”


What’s in a name tag? In rural Swaziland, a kingdom, it’s like a crown. It’s calling you out to dance. It’s recognition that you exist. It’s not just ink on masking tape, it’s hope. Someone cares.

And when people like you or me care, it can mean saving a life.

If you want to help with Wilfred’s surgery, contact Dr. Harry or Echo VanderWal at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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