Able: Enabling South Africa’s Youth With Disabilities

The Simanyene Center in Cape Town, South Africa, brings the gospel to its special needs students.

From Message magazine issue "Able"

When you first walk into the simple concrete building that’s home to ABWE’s Simanyene Center for the Disabled, you will most likely be greeted by the bright smile of a young man in a khaki bucket hat. His name is Letsekang.

When he was 20, Letsekang lost a portion of his brain in a horrific car accident on the dangerous highways of Cape Town, South Africa. He also lost his abilities to speak, walk, and care for himself, and he was placed in the care of older siblings who sadly lacked both compassion and understanding for his situation. For days, he was left in the same position on a mat in a dark, cramped room while his brothers squandered and drank away Letsekang’s government-provided care stipend. His family assumed Letsekang was brain dead, but they were wrong. He was very much alive and very much in need of love.

God brought that love to him two years ago in the form of Wayne and Sue Royce, ABWE missionaries and Simanyene Center founders.

Called into Question

The Royce’s journey to Letsekang began 30 years ago when Wayne and Sue became believers in their early 20s. Wayne immediately felt called to be a missionary, but when their third child, Craig, was born with multiple handicaps, they thought it was God’s way of telling them to stay stateside.

“Obviously, when God chooses to give you a child with disabilities, you and your family change. I knew early in Craig’s life that we needed to accept this, or we would not be able to help him. We could choose to be bitter, or we could choose to let Craig make us better,” Sue said.

“Although it’s difficult at times, we are the better for having Craig. He teaches us to love unconditionally, be very patient, and look for the little successes in life.”

“Although it’s difficult at times, we are the better for having Craig. He teaches us to love unconditionally, be very patient, and look for the little successes in life.”

After eight years, Wayne and Sue’s perceived leading to stay in the United States was challenged when Wayne attended a men’s church retreat. ABWE missionary Don Trott was a guest speaker, and he helped Wayne see that his initial desire to be a missionary was indeed a calling from God.

The Royces applied to serve with ABWE and began praying for guidance on where to serve. They soon felt drawn to Cape Town, South Africa, as it was both English-speaking and had schools for special needs children. It sounded like a near perfect fit, but that didn’t make the transition from a comfortable American lifestyle to the unknown any less challenging.“It was a very scary thing for me to take our son, who had everything he needed in the US and trust the Lord to provide for his many needs in South Africa,” Sue explained.

Although they went to South Africa because it promised the best schooling options for Craig, those promises failed to materialize. School after school had long waiting lists or viewed Craig as too disabled or too old. It was frustrating, but the Royces soon discovered that the continuous roadblocks they encountered were not unusual.

In 2015, Human Rights Watch published a scathing report of the country’s education system. According to the report, an estimated 500,000 children with disabilities had been shut out of South Africa’s education system, many of whom were discriminated against during enrollment decisions. Although South Africa claimed to reach the United Nations’ goals of enrolling all children in primary school and was one of the first countries to ratify the UN’s Disability Rights Treaty that promotes inclusive education systems, the report found that many children with disabilities in South Africa were not in school at all.“The current system is ad hoc and expensive, and isolates children with disabilities from other learners,” wrote report author Elin Martínez.“As a result, the government is failing hundreds of thousands of children with disabilities, violating its own policies and laws.”

From Roadblock to Roadway

After much prayer and heartache, Wayne and Sue finally found a school for Craig, and for several years, he seemed to be progressing well. But when Craig’s teacher moved away, his growth at the school began to decline. The Royces thought about trying to find another school in South Africa’s broken system, but instead, felt God calling them to be the solution.

Almost as soon as they began to investigate if there were other young people like Craig in their township, God began bringing them to the Royces.

First, there was Sinethemba, a homebound young man with severe cerebral palsy who showed up at one of the Royces’ children’s outreach ministries in a nearby town. Then, they discovered Anda, a boy who suffered a stroke when he was dropped on his head as a child and now wandered the streets of his neighborhood aimlessly. So with Sinethemba, Anda, and Craig as their first students, the Royces opened the doors to the Simanyene Center for the Disabled.

That was four years ago, and today, the center is buzzing with 11 students receiving physical therapy and learning English, math, and Bible lessons. Every day, Sue, along with a very small professional staff, shows her students and their families that everyone is worthy of God’s love.

“Our desire is to provide compassionate care and have an environment where children and young disabled adults can learn new skills and be taught the word of God each day,” Sue said. “We believe every individual counts and each person can learn and grow at their own ability.”

Spread The Good News

As word of the Simanyene Center spread, people from all over began informing the Royces about potential students, including a physical therapist who thought one of her clients would be a perfect fit for the center. His name was Letsekang.

“We found him at home in a room, staring at four walls, with nothing for stimulation,” Sue recalled. “When we asked the family what he liked to do, they replied, ‘Nothing.’ His family thought he couldn’t do anything.”

After several visits from the Royces, Letsekang’s family finally brought him to the school. Sue was overjoyed to see her new student, but she got nervous when she realized he was the most disabled student they had ever accepted.

“We had no clue what we could do for him — so we started by teaching him the first letter of his name, and we were blown away when he finished the rest on his own!” said Sue. “From that, we knew Letsekang could learn and knew everything that was going on around him.”

Initially, Letsekang was incredibly shy and struggled to make much progress at the center, but as he observed Sinethemba, Anda, and Craig learning to read, write, and feed themselves, he started to come out of his shell. Since then, Letsekang has learned to use a computer, add, subtract, multiply, and write his name and address. But best of all, he has learned about God’s unconditional love, and one day, as the Royces were telling him about Jesus and the reason for the cross, Letsekang raised his hand to accept Jesus as his Savior.

“It takes a long time and a lot of repetition of the Bible for some of them to gain true understanding. But they do learn and several have accepted Jesus as their Savior, including Letsekang, Anda, and Sinethemba.”
Sue Royce

At the Simanyene Center, the Royces are teaching these children how to care for themselves and how God cares for them. But Sue says she is the one who comes away with the greatest education of all. “The center is an amazing family, and these are God’s special children who we have the privilege of ministering to,” she said. “One can learn so much godly character by being with these kids.”