Physically Challenged People and the Beautiful Gate

Their school teacher reviews
lessons with two of her students

While in Morondava, Madagascar several years ago, I often went to spend time at the Handicap Center, known as “The Beautiful Gate.” This name was taken from the quote in the Acts of the Apostles: “And a man crippled from birth was carried and placed at the gate of the temple called ‘the Beautiful Gate’ every day to beg for alms from the people who entered the temple” (Acts 3:2).

This ministerial outreach to those physically challenged began in 1982. At first the children had to go up to the high plateau – some two days travel in the back of a Land Rover. But today there are doctors and orthopedic therapists who work with them near their homes on the coast and are thereby able to reach out to cities, towns and villages in a radius of some 100 miles. A few hundred children have been helped.

In 2000 this outreach was expanded to reach the lives of the mentally challenged. Today these alone now number over 30. Some can still advance in specialized classes geared to their needs. We bought them a television and VHS player long before there was live television in the city. They could watch and study while viewing specialized video programs.

 I saw first hand how grateful the children were for all the crutches, wheelchairs, games and the television we had sent over the years. Both those physically and mentally challenged have profited by the material and financial gifts sent. In an effort to rehabilitate the whole person they are also taught to walk, when possible, and when that’s not possible, to do all they can to better their lives.

Some can go to school on crutches and in wheelchairs, others are taught a trade, while at least everyone can do something to better the quality and dignity of their lives, even if it’s just a simple as watering the garden.


The Shoe Man, Maharavo

There was a young man named Maharavo – meaning The-one-who-brings-delight – who became a specialist in making shoes – including very special ones for the lepers who live a few miles away – and

The young children look at
the camera in wonderment

braces for the children who responded to treatment. He cruised around in a motorized wheelchair mostly from his one-room abode to the workshop. All the children owed their shoes and braces to his crafty hands. However he died at the end of March in 2008 – a great loss for the Center! While I was there the children presented another young man whom they judged capable of “walking in his shoes” but he needs training. They asked me if I could find funds for his training. I said I would try.

On the first Saturday evening I was there, I celebrated Eucharist for this extraordinary group of young people. After Mass one of them, a girl named Romaine, gave me a letter and some pictures. She didn’t look to be handicapped – at least until she lifted us her long dress a few feet and I say her artificial leg. In her letter she expressed her joy at having a leg and now being able to walk. Others were not as lucky. But as she would grow, it would have to be adjusted and eventually replaced. So she also asked if there was anything I could do to help. Again I said I would try.

Then I went over to their small exposition room where they were selling the things they had made. Most items had been sold earlier in the day, but remained on exposition and would be picked up later in the week. They gave me a shirt that they had made – a bit too large but at the same time it was just right to gauge the measure of their thanks.


Scenes from the life of these children at “The Beautiful Gate”

(Article republished with permission from the La Salette Publication, Vision and Mission, October, 2008)

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