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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Why would a husband and wife arrive at our front gate to give us their two children?


Last Saturday, shortly after I posted this blog, a young family arrived at the front gates of Project Canaan.  They had “bummed” a ride to a gas station on the main road and then walked the 8KM (5 miles) to our farm with their 4-year old son and 10-month old sick baby.  They came to the farm to give us their children.  Yes, you read correctly. They couldn’t feed them. The man couldn’t find work to provide for his family and the baby was very VERY sick. 

What kind of conversation has to happen between a man and wife to get to a decision to give your baby(s) away?  I am not sure I want to even go down that road in my own mind and contemplate the possibilities.

But there they were, all for of them at the gate.  I was sitting drinking coffee on the patio of our home, totally unaware of what was happening, but our team was AMAZING and couldn’t have done anything to make us more proud.  Peter was called to the gate and he asked Stanley to join him (to help with the siSwati). After a long talk with this young family they knew that they must help, but not by taking their children.  The family needed immediate assistance and they needed hope for the future. 



Peter asked the father why his family was hungry and sick?  The man told him that work was hard to find and he was out of a job.  Peter then asked if we provided him with work, would he come?  The man jumped at the chance and said YES!  Peter told him to come on Monday morning and he would be hired.   Have I mentioned that I LOVE our team!?!?  They really “get it”.   They understand why we are here and whom we are here to serve.

This family needed food, the father needed work and the baby needed medical care.  Peter and Stanley gave them 20 KG of rice, Manna Packs for both children and the information for them to contact the Social Welfare Office in Manzini for further assistance. 

They also gave them a ride back to the main road, a few coins for transport home and prayer that the Lord would have His mighty hand on them all.  The family used the money to go directly to the hospital to get care for the baby who had difficulty breathing apparent pneumonia and was almost unresponsive.

Monday arrived and the man arrived to work. We immediately asked about the baby and the father said that the hospital gave the baby an injection for his chest infection, but the baby was really sick. I asked if the baby was HIV positive (which can help ascertain if the baby has illnesses that are from an immuno-suppression).  The man said the baby had been tested and was HIV negative. He also said that both he and his wife were HIV negative. That is always great news to hear in a country where almost half of the population is infected.  Once HIV is a factor it changes how infections and sickness are approached.

Everyone who had seen the baby on Saturday (parents, Stanley, Peter, Denis, Anthony) said that the baby was malnourished and the mother had a very serious case of mastitis (infection in her left breast which she happily pulled out to show anyone who inquired about how she was feeling – very common here) so the baby couldn’t nurse from that side.  It was suggested that we get the mom and baby to hospital with the promise of paying the hospital bill because it was believed that they would both be admitted.

The man left the farm to go back home and tell his wife as well as to find someone to care for the 4-year old when the mother and baby were admitted to the hospital.  Tuesday morning I drove to the hospital where we were to meet. They were both happy and smiling and thankful for the assistance.  I asked to see the baby, so mom untied the towel which was holding the baby and pulled the baby off her back for me to see.  The baby was very weak and lethargic with no neck control of his little head.  His hair was thin and he looked to be malnourished to me.  But he also looked “sick”.

I asked the mother if she was sure that the child was not HIV positive. Without missing a beat she admitted to me, to her husband, and to anyone within hearing distance that the baby had tested POSITIVE.  I looked at the husband and looked back at her.  I then asked her if she would share her own HIV status with me?  It is highly unlikely that a baby would be positive if the mother wasn’t positive.  She nodded and said, “Yes, I am HIV positive too”. 

I looked at the husband and asked why he didn’t tell me that the day before when I asked him.  His response was that this is the first he was hearing the news. 

What the heck?

The next five hours were long and complicated so let me cut to the chase and tell you that after many questions, answers, confusion, lies and avoidance, the mother finally came clean and told me that:

-       She had an HIV test when she found out she was pregnant in late 2011
-       She didn’t tell her husband that she was positive because she was afraid he would run away
-       The husband had an HIV test (routine?) and tested negative (which I didn’t believe – again, highly unusual for her to be positive and not him, but possible)
-       The baby was born May 27th 2012 and was HIV positive
-       She didn’t tell the father about the baby’s status
-       The baby was sick on and off so mother took baby for new test in July 2012 and again he tested positive
-       She was to take baby back to Pediatric AIDS clinic to start treatment, but she was afraid and didn't go.
-       The baby was still sick on and off so she went back in January for another test (hoping the baby wasn’t HIV positive??? Not sure.)  Again the test came back positive and the baby was to start treatment immediately. She didn’t go back for treatment.
-       I suggested that the father go to the VCT (Volunteer Counseling and Testing Center for HIV/AIDS) and get re-tested.  Anthony from Project Canaan showed up at the hospital about that time so he went with the man.  The test was negative.

By the end of the day the baby and mother were admitted to the hospital and the baby was treated for pneumonia, thrush, malnutrition and would begin Anti-Retrovirals as soon as the Pediatric AIDS clinic came over and got him on the program.  The mother’s CD4 count is still over 500 so she will not start ARV’s at this time. She was treated for her mastitis and her “womb infection” that discovered mid-way through the day.  Sigh.

I spoke at length the father and Anthony did as well.  Our fear was that he would leave his wife (or beat her or kill her) because she had lied to him for so long about her HIV status and put her life, his life and the life of their baby at risk.  But he was very reasonable about the whole thing. Maybe he was in shock? I know I was. 

A few days later I visited the mother and baby in the hospital.  The baby was doing so well and responding well to the treatments.  He had an X-RAY to see if he also has Tuberculosis, but we don’t have the results from that back yet.  I asked the woman if her husband was really angry with her.  She said no, he wasn’t.  He had been in to visit and asked why she had lied to him. She explained that she didn’t want him to run away.  He told her he would never leave her and that they would get through this together.

The man is working on the construction crew that is building the Toddler home.  The mother and baby will be in hospital for a week or two and we will assist with their fees and transport when they are discharged. The 4-year old boy is living with his Grandmother until his mother comes out of the hospital.

It is so rare to see young married couples anymore in Swaziland. It seems like marriage is a thing of the past.  Maybe it is too expensive (lobola is required to be paid for a bride), maybe it is old fashioned, maybe people are dying too quickly of AIDS to bother with marriage?  But this young couple is married and they are a family who care for their children and want a future.  The team at Project Canaan is encouraged by them and even though the situation seems hopeless from the outside we are praying for total healing and forgiveness that will bring real hope to this family. 

Happy Easter from all of us at Project Canaan.
As I look forward to Easter Sunday tomorrow I am thankful for the hope that I have been given through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  I don’t know what I would do or how I would cope with my own fears of life without knowing that El Roi sees me and cares about me.  I love watching His hand on others and give thanks that He sometimes allows me to have a glimpse of what He is up to.

“Amazing grace how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found.  Was blind was now I see.”

Live from South Africa … I am preparing to celebrate the resurrection tomorrow!

Janine

Saturday, March 23, 2013

What's going on?

I love when I have a quiet week. I am not good at resting so when I have a week that is not jam packed my first reaction is to try to fill it.  But I am getting better at NOT doing that, instead, trying to enjoy a quiet week, spend more time reading, listening and praying.  I am thankful that He does give me rest before a time of busy travel.  On Easter Sunday Chloe and I will fly back to the US for a whirlwind 3-week trip to raise awareness and funds for Heart for Africa.  Travel will include Las Vegas, Texas, Georgia, Illinois and Indiana.  We are looking forward to seeing friends and family as we share the news of what God is doing here in the tiny Kingdom of Swaziland.

We haven’t had a new baby arrive in more than four weeks.  It’s very strange as we were getting an abandoned baby almost every week over the past year. With 27 little lives being cared for at the El Roi Baby Home it has been nice to have a month for the Aunties to get some more training, hire more staff and have time to settle in to new roles that have been established. We are thankful for the amazing people who serve the babies at the El Roi Baby Home.  Sadly one of our little girls tested positive for HIV this week and started a lifetime treatment of Anti-Retroviral medication. We are thankful that of the 27 babies only three are positive. That is a miracle.

Things are very busy all around Project Canaan.  The Labaketsiwe Toddler Home is moving along nicely and the foundation was poured on Friday, March 22nd.  It will be home to 40 children age two to six and will be open in the fall of 2013. 


The walls are up and roof is on the Sisekelo Preschool and the interior will be painted next week. It has two classrooms, four toilets, a small kitchen and an office.  We will have a “soft opening” in June when the furniture is installed and chalkboards hung, but the school will officially opened in January 2013 with qualified Preschool teachers!


The Lusito Shop (Lusito means *Help Giver in siSwati) has been opened at the Farm Managers Building (FMB) and Denis and his team are busy doing maintenance on all of our equipment as well as fixing vehicles as they breakdown, get flat tires etc.  It is a hub of activity and the guys are happy with their new welder and other “toys” (I mean tools) that recently arrived in a container shipped from the US.


Speaking of equipment … look what was donated to Project Canaan last week?  A beautiful, gently used D5N XL CAT Bulldozer arrived and we all see it as being a “game changer” here on the farm as we can maintain our own roads, clear more farm land, clear land for building etc. 


The Manna Distribution Center has gone from being a dream to being a reality. Building commenced this week and when complete it will be a our central distribution location for everything that we deliver to our church partners including Feed My Starving Children Manna Packs, TOMS Shoes, rice from Taiwan, Bibles, clothing, Duduza Dolls and blankets.  We currently provide 10,000 hot meals each and every week to orphans and vulnerable children around the country through our partner churches.  


The farm at Project Canaan is busy.   We have 14 acres growing vegetables and green maize in rotation.  They area all under drip irrigation and will be sold in local grocery stores (i.e .Pic’n’Pay, Spar and local markets) as they are harvested.  We also have 38 acres of dry maize planted that will be harvested in April.  This is the maize that is dried, ground and used for our church feeding programs.

We now have a Sunday service at the Chapel on Project Canaan where everyone is welcome to come and worship.  This saves many hours of driving to and from town and gives everyone at Project Canaan a chance to be together after a busy week. 


The Kufundza Center is being used daily and among other carpentry needs they are busy building more double decker cribs for the babies at El Roi. 

For those of you who have read this far, you may be interested in a new blog that I post on Wednesdays.  It is called “Wednesdays With Nomsa” and is the story of a young woman who is fighting for her life.  She is HIV positive and has MultiDrug- Resistant Tuberculosis (MDR-TB).  You can follow her story at wednesdayswithnomsa.blogspot.com.


A lot is happening here at Project Canaan in Swaziland and we are thrilled to be employing more than 100 Swazi workers this month on the farm, building teams and at the Baby Home.  In a country with a 70% unemployment rate, this is GREAT NEWS and it means that more than 1,300 people are being provided for from those income generators.  We are thankful for His provision of workers, volunteers from the US, Canada, Ireland and South Africa as well as the funding to continue this work.  As my husband Ian often says, “It’s all good”.

Live from Swaziland … it’s all good.

Janine

Saturday, March 16, 2013

No baby? Sometimes things are not as they appear to be.


In early February 2013 I was approached by a Social Welfare officer as well as a Social Worker at a local hospital and they asked me to please hold space at the El Roi Baby home for a newborn who was due to arrive around February 23rd.  They told me a very sad story of a 14-year old girl who had been violently raped and her family did not want the baby. The girl desperately wanted to go back to school and get an education and a baby would prevent that from happening.  I agreed to hold a spot for this new baby and then went and met with the 14-year old (whom I will call “Precious” for this blog) and her mother to hear her story first hand. 

Precious is very young, very quiet and had little to say.  I heard the same story from the mother as I had heard from the Social Workers and I agreed to serve as their “driver” from the rural community they live in when Precious went in to labor, somewhere at the end of February. 

February came and went and I wondered if they had decided to keep the baby?  I contacted Precious’ mother to see if everyone was okay and she told me the baby was late, but was now expected on March 14th.  Sure enough, on the evening of March 14th I got a call saying that Precious was sick.  Could we come and get her and take them to the hospital to deliver the baby. 

Now, I am not going to lie here. I was sitting on the patio of our house with Ian enjoying the view at the end of a long day.  The last thing I wanted to do was get dressed properly and drive 70 minutes to go take a young girl and her mother to the hospital.  But I knew that I was to go and both Ian and Chloe offered to come with me so it was a strange “road trip” of sorts. 

Precious had a 30-minute walk from her hillside hut to the road where we would meet her. It was well after dark (no street lights) when we pulled around a corner on the dirt road and our headlights revealed them standing and waiting for us.  Precious got in to the back seat and her mother handed her a big fluffy blanket and a thermos of coffee.  Then she waved good-bye.  What?  I asked the mother if she wasn’t going with her 14-YEAR OLD DAUGHTER to the hospital and she said no, she had other Great Grandchildren that she must care for.  I knew then that we were in for a long night.


We got to the hospital and took her to the labor room to get checked out.  I explained to the nurse the “situation” and she agreed that we would work together to help this young girl through labor and delivery.  She tried to examine Precious and came back and told me that the girl didn’t want to be examined (I understand that!) and that she was not in active labor so I should take her to the “Birthing Hut”.  The what?  The “Birthing Hut” – an old run down building outside the hospital, but still within the hospital compound, where women go when they are in labor.  So off we went to find a Birthing Hut.

Before the events of the following day I was going to write a whole blog called “Go to the Birthing Hut”, but I will have to shorten this part to get to the events of Friday.

The Birthing Hut is no doubt a long-standing cultural place where women have gone for generations when they are in labor.  In this case it is an old building with three small rooms. Each room is approximately 12’ x 12’ (2 meters square) and two of the three rooms had a low watt light bulb dangling from the ceiling.  There was a small bathroom with a broken down piece of wood that you lift and move by hand to enter the bathroom, which has with no light. The wood is about 3 feet high so doesn’t really provide privacy. 

As we walked in to the room we were stared at my no less than 30 women who were in various stages of labor.  Not the happiest group of women I have ever met. They were all lying like sardines on old pieces of thin foam.  Their underwear were hanging on nails on the wall and their clothes were neatly folded at their feet. Their naked bodies were wrapped (or not) in the fuzzy blanket that they arrived at the hospital with.  None of them were particularly pleased to see Chloe and I walk in with this young Swazi girl, especially not when we asked one of them to squeeze a little tighter to the woman beside her so that Precious could have 10 inches of dirty foam to lie on.  There was nothing I could do, nowhere else for me to take her and I was clearly not to stay there with her … so we left, and we prayed for Precious and for them all.

Early on Friday Chloe and I got up and headed to the hospital. We went to the labor ward thinking she might be in active labor. She was not there.  We went to the delivery ward and spoke with the nurses (who all know us by now) and they had not seen her.  We went back to the Birthing Hut and she was there, awake, quiet and not visibly in labor.  We fed her then took her to the labor ward to be examined.  After an unusually long time passed the nurse came out to speak with me.  She said that Precious had not dilated at all and asked about her due date and the circumstances.  In this case we knew that she had been raped on June 4th 2012 and we were certain of that because it had been reported to the police, the man was charged and currently serving 15 year in prison!!  So there was no question of the date of conception.

The clinic had calculated her delivery date to be February 23rd (a friend of mine who is a labor and delivery nurse said would have been calculated in the US to be March 1st), but either way, it was now March 15th and she was either two weeks or three weeks past her delivery date and could be heading in to a critical time.  The nurse asked us to go in, get the girl registered, see a gynecologist and get an ultrasound because the baby likely needed to be induced.

Four hours later Precious’ mother and Grandmother arrived at the hospital just as we got the ultrasound report and were in the Doctor’s office discussing the situation.  Here is where the story turns.

The Doctor told us that the ultrasound showed us that the baby was only 32 weeks old.  I assured him that was not possible because we knew the date of her rape – June 4th 2012, there was a police report, the man was in prison, yadda, yadda, yadda.  The doctor is a Swazi Doctor and very graciously explained why he believed the conception date could not be June 4th.  (In hindsight I am sure he was thinking, “Lady, I have seen and heard it all – sometimes things are not as they appear to be”).  He said the baby is only 1.9 KG (4.1 LB), has lots of fluid around it and for other reasons he explained he said the baby is not yet ready to come out. 

It was an awkward moment.  Precious just stared at the floor. My brain was short-circuiting and frantically trying to interpret what code the Doctor was speaking to me in.  He then asked the mother if there was any chance she was raped a second time.  The mother shook her head slowly to say “no”.  He then asked if she had been sexually active?  Again, slowly the mother shook her head “no”.  I asked the mother how/when she knew that Precious was pregnant?  She said she noticed her round belly in November and asked Precious when she had last menstruated.  Precious told her “May”, which was in line with the June rape. 

The Doctor then asked if she had gone to the hospital after the rape and they said yes. He asked if she had been given treatment for the prevention of pregnancy and contracting HIV (70% effective for pregnancy) and they said “yes”.   He then asked Precious to get up on the examining table and he pulled up her dress to examine her abdomen. He called me over and showed me something that He found interesting. He had his thumb and index fingers on her belly and said, “See?  This is the baby’s head.  There is lots of fluid around it. It is still very small. I do not believe that this is a full term baby.”

Silence.  A long, awkward silence.  The doctor and I looked at each other, but Precious and her mother seem to become invisible in the room (or they wanted to be). 

I want to be clear with something here. There is confusion in this case.  The doctor is not saying for sure that the baby is only 32 weeks, but at the same time he is saying that he believes that to be the case and does not want to risk inducing the baby.  We were all visibly confused and left scratching our heads.

I thanked the doctor and we went out of his office, only to be greeted by Precious’ Aunts who were there to celebrate the arrival of a new baby, even if the baby wasn’t staying in the family.  I gave them both a hug, told them I needed to get going, but would continue to pray for them, and to call if there were any complications.  If not, we would meet again in eight to ten more weeks.  (!)

I just called Precious’ mom (while writing this part of the blog) to see how everyone is doing.  My biggest fear is that Precious would be beaten by her Stepfather.  Her mother appears to be very kind, but no one knows what happens behind closed doors and in this culture it would be a “beatable offense”.   The mother said that she had sat down with Precious and had a long talk.  Precious assures her that the rape was the only time that she could have been impregnated and her mother believes her.  She said Precious is still complaining of some pain so they will go to a clinic on Monday.  We will stay in close contact with her this weekend and go see her on Monday with the Nurses from Project Canaan. 

Please pray for Precious, her mother and the baby who is either 32-weeks old or 42+ weeks old.  El Roi, the God Who Sees, sees them all and He knows exactly when the baby was conceived. He knew the baby even before he/she was in Precious’ womb. 

On a much lighter and happier note, while Chloe and I were at the hospital the cornerstone for the Labakhetsiwe* Toddler Home (*means “Chosen Ones” in siSwati) was being poured at Project Canaan.  A Children’s Bible was placed in the cornerstone while the building team and El Roi Aunties gathered to pray over the building and the children who will call it home.  It was a happy day at Project Canaan.

Building team, Aunties and babies join to give thanks for this building.

Helen and Peter Muli place the Bible in the Cornerstone.
Live from Swaziland … praying to see things clearly.

Janine

Saturday, March 9, 2013

"Do for one person what you wish you could do for every person" - Andy Stanley


If you are a faithful reader of this blog you may be tired of hearing about babies who have been found in pit latrines or in the bushes, and I don’t blame you. Today I am not reading about a sad story, but rather a story with a happy ending.  Do you remember back in my October 13th blog I wrote about a young woman who gave birth to “Baby HOPE” and simply couldn't keep the baby?   Well, today I have a wonderful update on that young woman whom I shall call “Jabu”.  


Jabu grew up in rural Swaziland and when she was old enough she left home to get a job in town.  As often happens she met a young man and “fell in love”.  Love turned to sex and sex turned to a set of boy twins for this single mother.  The father didn’t work and wasn’t able to provide for the boys, but he did come and visit from time to time.

One day Jabu was walking through the woods to visit her boyfriend when she was attacked by a man and could not get away.  He held a large knife to her throat and brutally raped her, then left her to carry on. She turned back and went home to her one-year old boys, ashamed, afraid and injured.  She kept the rape a secret until she discovered that she was pregnant, only a few weeks later.  The pregnancy was bad news and she did not want that baby.  She could hardly care for the two that she already had and besides, this was clearly an unwanted child.  Twice she tried to abort the baby, but it didn’t work on either attempt.  Finally she went to her Pastor who discouraged her from trying to kill the baby and encouraged her go to the police to report the rape.  She did just that.

The police (and Pastor) had a bad feeling that this young mother might dump the baby when it was born because she was in a desperate situation.  The room she was living in was made of mud and was not safe for her and her boys, and a little baby would make life more impossible than it already was.  She worked hard on a 13-hour shift, six days a week and made $100 US each month.  She had to walk an hour to and from work and had to give almost half of her pay to an old woman to care for her twins.  There is no way she could care for a new baby.  She decided to go home and tell her parents about the rape and ask for their help. They accused her of being “loose” and didn’t believe the story of the rape.  They kicked her and the twins out of the homestead and told her that she was never to come back as she had shamed the family.  Jabu had nowhere to go.

One day I received a call from the police asking if I would meet Jabu and convince her that if she gave birth to the baby and didn’t harm it that we would bring the baby to the El Roi Baby Home.  I agreed and that was the day that Jabu and I became friends.  I started visiting her and her boys regularly, bringing food when I could, driving her to work a few times to help her tired body rest while she continued with her pregnancy. Through our visits and conversations I came to believe that this was a very hard-working woman who loved her children dearly and cared for them well.  I have a good friend back in the US who read my blog about Jabu and started sending me money so that I could buy essentials for this little family.  Then the happy day arrived and I had the privilege of taking Jabu to the hospital for Baby Hope to be born.

It was a happy day for me, not so happy for Jabu, but the baby came and she was perfect.  We drove Jabu back home, bought some “post birth” essentials for her and then left her with her boys.

Baby Hope at 2.5 month old
Now… I do have some readers who are very angry that we don’t help the mothers more and only care for the babies.  In most cases we never meet the mothers and in this case the mother didn’t want the baby, but Jabu and I had become friends and I wanted to help her if I could.

Since October the Project Canaan team and I have been trying to figure out a way to have Jabu and the twins come and live at Project Canaan, but we could never make it work.  There was no safe place for her to live and if she worked at Project Canaan there was no one to care for her twins. We went around and around in circles and kept coming to a dead end. Each time we would stop and pray and ask the Lord to find a way.

Yesterday we found a way.

Yesterday Jabu and her twins moved to Project Canaan and I hope that this is their permanent home.

They are temporarily living in the Farm Manager Building (FMB).  That only became possible when Denis arrived back from Kenya with his wife and two young girls.  Now there are other children there and a mother to care for them while Jabu goes to work. 

We got the details sorted yesterday morning and called Jabu to ask if she was ready to come on Friday.  She said, “NO, I want to come today!  Come and get me at 3PM please.  I will be ready.”  So we did.  At 3PM Thabile, Chloe and I drove to Matsapha and help Jabu pack up all of her worldly belongings.  She had a small overnight bag with their clothes, a garbage bag with their blankets and a wash bucket filled with miscellaneous items that didn’t fit in to the other two categories.  An hour later we had groceries and arrived at Project Canaan to bring them to their new home. 

I was so happy that the entire FMB Family was there to greet them.  We took them to their room and Jabu was so surprised to see two beds in the room. Those are the first beds that they have ever slept on and she was happy, the boys were confused.  They got unpacked and spent the evening in the kitchen while everyone prepared a welcome dinner.  I went home with Chloe and tried to process the many emotions that I was feeling. 

You have heard me say this before, but this is a good opportunity to say it again… our Pastor Andy Stanley encourages us to not be overwhelmed by the size of the problems in front of us.  He says, “Do for one person what you wish you could do for every person”.  I don't know what the future holds for Jabu and her boys, or if she will even like living in the middle-of-nowhere-Swaziland.  Only God knows, and that is okay with me.   We must do what we can do to help others help themselves.  Jabu is well on her way to provide for her family and make a good life for herself.

My goal and prayer is to build a very simple six room building (each room 12’ x 12’) with a shared kitchen, toilet and running water, that six women can move in to with their families. We are calling this project the Sicalo Lesisha Kibbutz for Women and we are starting to fundraising for it now.  Each of the rooms will cost $10,000 (that includes the building of all the common areas).  If you are interested in helping us provide a permanent home for Jabu and her sons please let me know.  My prayer is that Nomsa from my wednesdayswithnomsa.blogspot.com will be the second person living at Sicalo Lesisha when she is discharged from the TB Hospital.  By the way Sicalo Lesisha means “New Beginning” in siSwati. The women at El Roi chose the name.

Live from Swaziland … I have a new friend living on Project Canaan.

Janine

Saturday, March 2, 2013

365 days of pain, sorrow and pure joy.

Celebrating 1st Anniversary together.
Yesterday marked the 1st Anniversary of the El Roi Baby Home opening.  While we had plans to have an event, invite friends and supporters and even bake a cake, we decided that was not the right thing to do.  Instead we sat together and gave thanks.  
Caleb in his cardboard box.

Caleb - the miracle baby.
We gave thanks for Caleb who was delivered to us in a cardboard box at the age of 8-months.  His mother died infected with AIDS, his father was dying of the same and Caleb was also deathly ill with HIV/AIDS. He also had Tuberculosis and was covered in oozing lesions.  With 24-hour medical care, love and prayer Caleb turned the corner from death to life.  Today he is a beautiful, happy boy who takes his Anti-retroviral medication with no problems and loves to giggle and laugh.  He is a gift to us all.

We gave thanks for Paul and Ishmael the twins who were found in a slum outside of Malkerns with no food.  They were 4-months old and weighed approximately eight pounds each.  They were wasting away when they were found, but with nutritious food, love and proper care they have grown to be joyful boys who always light up when someone smiles at them.  They are a gift to us all.
Paul and Ishmael found starving.
Paul and Ishmael one year later.  Pure joy.

We gave thanks for Joseph, the baby who was dropped in a “dry pit latrine” at birth.  There was no human feces in the latrine yet so he landed directly on rocks and lay there for 12 hours before someone found him.  Joseph remained in the hospital for several weeks while the doctor tried to save his life and care for his significant head injuries.  Today he is a very bright, alert, happy child who does not appear to have any lasting brain injuries.  Time will tell, but we give thanks for his health and life. He is a gift to us all.
Joseph's massive head injuries.

Joseph today.  A bright and shining star.
Deborah before being washed.
We gave thanks for Deborah who was found in a black plastic bag under some bushes. She was a newborn and was being eaten alive by bugs and ants. Her mouth, nose and ears were filled with maggots.  After five days in the hospital she came to us and is now weighing in a whopping 5.2 pounds.  She is a beautiful baby who spends most of her time eating and sleeping. Most of her wounds have healed, but there are two scars on her head that likely came from an animal tearing at the plastic bag (the very act that gave her fresh air and saved her life).  She is a gift to us all.

Baby Deborah covered in insect and animal bites.

Deborah at three weeks old. A sweet baby.
As we sat and looked at each tiny life that has arrived at El Roi in the past 12 months we gave thanks for each baby who had been chosen to come to us.  We also became aware that each of us have also been chosen “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14) and have been called to serve these babies who have been “abandoned or ignored” (Matthew 25: ). It was an overwhelming and humbling time together.

I asked each Auntie what their favorite part of serving at the El Roi Baby home was and several of them said it was the peace and love they felt towards the babies and the other Aunties. It is a
safe place for them, even when their lives are bad (and often not safe) back at home, they find joy and love at El Roi always.  El Roi sees them too. 

As I reflect back on this past year what I think of most, even more than the babies themselves, is the obedience of the people God has sent to us, even before there were babies.  Annie Duguid from the Watoto Children’s Home in Uganda came to Swaziland for a month to help set up, hire and train our Aunties, even though there were no babies.  Helen Muli quit a very good government job in Kenya and moved her family to Swaziland to help prepare the Baby Home and be trained by Annie, even when there were no babies.  One family in the US decided to start giving sacrificially to the Baby Home on a monthly basis in October 2011 – FIVE FULL MONTHS before we had a baby arrive, and those funds allowed us to bring Annie and Helen to Swaziland to prepare the home and train others.  There are so many other people who will remain unnamed who also did what they knew they were to do to prepare for little people we did not even know.  But the God Who Sees knew them and HE knew that we had to be ready.

Because of the obedience of so many people the El Roi Baby Home was ready and waiting for the first baby to arrive, and on March 1st, 2012 Baby Joshua arrived at Project Canaan, a “Place of Hope” and lead the charge for 26 others to follow him. 

Yesterday, as we sat and celebrated together I was again humbled by the faith of the women around me.  They serve tirelessly and with joy and love always.  They have faith that can move mountains, even when they feel hopeless themselves.  I give thanks for Helen, Thabile, Gcebile, Lindiwe, Nomsa, Dolly, Mandisa, Gcebile 2, Mona Lisa, Ntom’futhi, Zandile, Maria and Brooke, all who work daily at El Roi.  I give thanks for our volunteers who serve alongside the Aunties and make a huge difference at the Baby Home.

I am often asked, “how many babies can the El Roi Baby Home hold?” and that is a question that I can’t honestly answer.  Some weeks we get two babies.  Some weeks we get none.  My prayer is that we never have to turn a baby away. The Labakhetsiwe* Toddler Home is being built now and we will move all the 2-year old children there when it is finished.  We give thanks every day for all that has been provided.

Live from Swaziland … I am celebrating life!

Janine

* means “The Chosen Ones” in siSwati.