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Saturday, January 5, 2013

My heart hurts for the women of Swaziland

My beautiful family
Happy New Year from the Maxwell family at Project Canaan, Swaziland!   I am incredibly thankful for my beautiful family being together over the Christmas holidays.  May the year 2013 bring you joy, peace and love.
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Some of you have asked me privately what I struggle with and/or how you can pray for me?  My first answer is usually asking for prayer for El Roi funding so that we never have to turn away a baby in need.  But today I have a different request based on several women I spent time with this week. 

Being a girl or a woman in Africa is very hard.  Females are not valued as males are valued, but they are the backbone of most African cultures and societies.  I remember reading a statistic that 75% of all food that is planted, grown, harvested, prepared and put on the table to eat on the whole continent of Africa is done by women.  Women are beasts of burden and are also responsible for fetching water (many miles away), giving birth, raising children and providing love and care for the entire extended family. In Swaziland and the woman is also responsible for building the home that the family lives in (typically made from sticks, rock, mud and grass).  Their bodies are not their own (often used by male family members) and their real value is in the number of cattle or goats they are “worth” when it comes time for “lobola” to be paid for their hand in marriage.

I have met several young women in the past few months who have really impressed me, even through the tragic situations that brought us together.  They seem to want to break the cycle of poverty, but it is virtually impossible to do in a country that doesn’t value women, has an unemployment rate of 70% and where sex is the easiest and quickest way to provide food for your children (or yourself).  

I am really struggling with this because I want to help these young women, but don’t know how to do it and don’t have the funding to do it at this time.  Let me tell you a short version of three stories from this week. Some of these you may be familiar with if you are a regular blog reader.

Woman #1 – She is 30-years old, has 8 children, is HIV positive and has been in the woman’s prison multiple times over the years because she steals food to feed her children.  She is now in prison for three more years.  Her youngest ones (age eight months and the other is two years) are living in prison with her.  The next five (ages eleven years to three years) are living alone with no food, no clothing, no adult care.  We have been working with police, Social Welfare and the Correctional facility for seven months to try to get assistance for the little baby in the prison and the young ones living alone.  This continues to seem like a hopeless situation, but we haven’t given up hope yet.  While we are trying to provide a medium-term solution for her children’s care while she is incarcerated, the question remains how she will be able to care for them when she is released in 2015?  She would like to live and work at Project Canaan, but we have no housing or facilities for her at this time.

Baby Hope
Woman #2 – She is 26-years old and is the mother of two-year old twin boys.  She was violently raped in 2012 and after several failed attempts at aborting the child she recently gave birth to a beautiful girl, who now lives at the El Roi baby home.  She is a hard worker (she cleans at a local factory) and tries to provide the best care she can for her twins on her $100 US per month salary.  She recently discovered that her boys are being neglected (to say the least) by the woman caring for them while the mother works 12-hour shifts.  She would love to come and live at Project Canaan and work on the farm or in the baby home, but we have nowhere for her to live and no one to care for her twin boys. Her own parents kicked her out of the homestead when they heard she had been raped because they didn’t believe her story and believed she was just being promiscuous.  The father of the twins is unemployed and refuses to help with the boys.  She is stuck.  And I am stuck because I want to hire her, but I have nowhere for her to live with her little ones.

Leah and Rachel
Woman #3 – She is 24-years old, is HIV positive and has active Tuberculosis. She has given birth to five children - one single birth, a set of girl twins and another set of twin girls on November 19th (which just happens to be my birthday).  The first three children are being raised by their fathers parents.  The new twins live at El Roi and were brought to us by the Social Welfare department when the young mother was being taken to the National TB (Tuberculosis) hospital.  She is deathly ill and could not begin to care for her newborn babies in her mud room home.  She has what is called DR-TB – Drug Resistant Tuberculosis and is a sanitarium that is designed for acute cases of this highly infectious killer.  Each day she gets 18 pills at 10AM as well as an injection in her boney hip.  At 10PM she gets four more pills.  When I asked how she got in to this situation her simple reply is “bad behavior – and it will not happen again.”   IF she responds well to this treatment and IF she lives she will reside at this TB Hospital for the next six months to two years. Each and every day she will receive the 22 pills and injection in order to save her life.  She was quick to tell me that she is trusting in the healing power of Jesus more than she is trusting in the medicine, which makes her vomit violently and often results in long term effects like loss of speech or psychosis.  If and when she gets well, she wants to come and live at Project Canaan and learn to make jewelry and sew.  But right now we have nowhere for her to live when she is health again.

All three of these women have become my friends.  I visit them as often as I can and think of them and pray for them daily. But each day my heart gets heavier and heavier for them.  They remain hopeful about their futures, while I stand in awe of their hopefulness.  My hearts desire is to be able to help these girls/women just as we can help their babies.  I know we can’t “save them all”, but maybe we can help the one who is right in front of our eyes; the one who look through the prison bars and ask for help to save her children’s lives, the one who stands against a mud wall and shares her fear about her babies being abused by a caregiver while she works, the one who looks over her Tuberculosis mask and thanks you for caring for her twins.  

Next week I will blog about my visit to the National Tuberculosis hospital.  It was a shocking and life-changing experience for me and I want to do some research before I write next week so that I can best articulate what I saw and what is happening here in Swaziland with AIDS and TB.

Please join me in praying for these three women and all the others of millions of women who are suffering every day.  May the God Who Sees us all provide His hand of protection and provision as only He can do. 

Live from Swaziland … my heart is hurting.

Janine



8 comments:

  1. Oh Janine...my heart is heavy for you and the women of Africa! Even though all seems so hopeless, nothing is impossible with God! He has been by your side throughout, as seen with all you and your family have accomplished. He will continue to guide and protect you. God Bless You!

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    1. Thank you Linda. You are correct, He is our hope and I give thanks for that. Sending love to you!

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  2. Again, thanks for sharing. We from the Western World have no idea the devestating effects of TB. Even when you do not have AIDS.

    If you have been following our seven year old who at age 5 lost the ability to walk, and loss bowel and bladder control because of TB that went into spinal tuburculosis, you know why I cried as I read your message. He could have been cured with medication that is suppose to be free, but because of lack of knowledge by parents and community he now suffers.

    I am praying someway, somehow, you can build small homes for these women. They so need and deserve a second, third, or forth chance.

    I pray people see the need for second chances here in Africa and around the world where people are suffering.

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    1. Dear Elaine - I had no idea that TB was the problem with your little guy. I need to go and get more educated about this disease immediately. We all need another chance don't we? I know HE will provide a way. Blessings to you friend.

      Janine

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  3. I usually hesitate to comment because my words sound empty and meaningless as I sit in comfort and try to offer words of comfort. Please don't let my silence or that of any others keep you from sharing your honest experiences and heartaches. It always puts my life in perspective and helps me pray more specifically. Our only true and lasting hope is in God alone...may He bring these women His peace and comfort, and you as well. Thank you so much for giving us glimpses into this reality.

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    1. Thank you Cindy for your words of encouragement. I understand silence, but really appreciate to hear your words! Many blessings to you today.
      Janine

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  5. HI Janine--I read this a few weeks ago and can't really get it out of my head. I have a vision to help women (Especially teenage girls) in developing countries get an education, get job training, and be discipled. I am still working out the details but am wondering if this may be a way I could serve you all and Heart for Africa sometime in the future. I will keep praying about it; I mentioned it to my dad and he suggested to keep praying but that it could make sense. Anyways, just wanted to check in and say that. Your work in Swazi is so challenging but so encouraging to me that you will give it all to serve Him and His kids. It is inspirational and convicting all at the same time. Praying for you here in Spain. Hope we can connect soon!

    --Glenalyn Hunt (Tim Hunt's daughter)

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