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Saturday, December 8, 2018

102F in December?


I grew up in Northern Ontario, Canada, where the temperature was often -30F (-34C) in the month of December.  We would have to shovel the snow to get to our car, brush the snow off the windows and then turn on the car with the heat on high to warm it up and help melt the ice on the windows so it could be scraped off, all before driving anywhere.

Now I live in the southern hemisphere and it is summer now. Yesterday it was 102F (39C) and I was thankful to have air conditioning in my truck and a reason to be in my truck for a couple of hours in the heat of the day.  That reason was to go to town and pick up a baby at the hospital who had been dumped in a pit latrine last week and spent a week on antibiotics to ensure her health and life. I was thankful for the coolness of my truck, and thankful for the baby’s life, but found myself shaking my head at how bizarre my life has turned out.

It’s not just the temperatures that have changed to the extreme, but also my very existence.  I was born to a 15-year-old teenage girl and was very much an unwanted baby to her family. But I was a very much wanted baby to my adoptive parents who were unable to conceive.  As hard as that must have been on my parents, the Lord directed me in to their family, and the trajectory of my life changed.

Ian and I are now guardians for 217 Swazi children, whose lives have been directed in to our family, and the trajectory of their lives has changed.  We have received three babies in the past ten days – two of the three were found in pit latrines, and lived. I am thankful that adoption was an option for my teenage mother back in 1963 and that I wasn’t left in an outhouse, or a snow bank for a stranger to find me (or not).

Baby Leana
Adoption is not an option in the Kindgom of eSwatini, so these 217 are our children and we are trying to raise them to the best of our abilities and means (with an incredible team of 80+ caregivers) so that they can be grow up to be the best that they can be.

With that in mind, we did what any parent would want to do - we bought two pop-up swimming pools for these extremely hot days and yesterday was their first day in the pools for the summer season! It brought me such happiness to see the joy in the children's faces and to watch them all just be silly kids.  Many of our big kids also started life in the bottom of a pit latrine (outdoor toilet), or were abandoned in the forest or the side of the road, but today is a new day for them and hope has been restored to 217 precious children.


This week I was stuck by a line in the familiar Christmas carol “Oh Holy night” this week.  One of the verses says, “In His name all oppression shall cease.” What a wonderful day that will be when all oppression shall cease, and we will see Him again.

Live from eSwatini … baby it’s hot outside.

Janine

PS - check out the drone video from my Moving Day blog here!  (Blog link here https://janinemaxwell.blogspot.com/2018/11/65-children-must-move-today.html)  

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Bohemian Rhapsody

Yesterday Ian and I went to see the movie “Bohemian Rhapsody”, which just opened at the theater in a town called Nelspruit, South Africa, a full month after it opened in the US.  I couldn’t wait to see the movie and so we made the trek to see it and do some shopping.

Queen has always been my favorite band, and I spent my younger years buying every album, singing every song, knowing every lyric.  Freddie Mercury was a “Rock-Idol” to me, and Brian May his genius side-kick. I recall taking my small (and very new/hip) cassette player to our local hockey arena in Matheson, Ontario and when our boys won the last game of the season I grabbed the microphone from the announcer and held it up to my cassette player and played “We are the Champions” as loud as I could get it, until they managed to get the microphone away from me J.

As I sat in the theater, I felt as though I was meeting one of my musical heroes in person, and I got to know him well as the story unfolded.  At one point, he tells his wife (the true love of his life) that he thinks he is bi-sexual.  It’s a turning point in the movie as she pulls away from him and he soars in to the rock-world stratosphere of drugs, sex and, of course, rock’n’roll. 

My tears started to fall shortly thereafter as Freddie’s loneliness and desire to be loved was revealed scene by scene to the audience.  He wanted a friend. He needed a friend. He needed to be loved. But friendship and love and acceptance were not easy for him because of his own insecurities. Isn’t that true for many of us?

So here is some irony that I saw yesterday, and I have been trying to figure it out in my head so that I could put it in words.

Queen was one of the bands that performed at “LIVE AID” in 1985, raising awareness and money to help the starving children of Africa.  Freddie knew that he had AIDS at that time and was uncertain of his ability to perform and sing well that day. But he was singing to help children in Africa.   At that time, pediatric AIDS was unknown in Africa, but starvation was rampant.

But there was a moment before Freddie went to Wembly Stadium for that performance that he went to visit his parents.   He introduced them to his friend Jim, they had a cup of tea and then I thought for sure he was going to tell them that he had AIDS. I started to sob. I couldn’t bear to see their response because I was certain of their judgement and disappointment. In 1985 AIDS was a death sentence with no hope in sight, and the stigma that surrounded it was suffocating.  He needed to be loved and he needed to be accepted. But in the end, he didn't tell them.

I couldn’t stop sobbing in the theater. What was wrong with me, I thought?  And then it hit me. Ian and I have 18 children (under the age of 8-years) who are HIV positive (untreated HIV turns in to AIDS). Some arrived with full blown AIDS, just like Freddie Mercury had when he died.  All of our HIV+ children are on life-saving medication that wasn’t around back in the 80’s.  But there is still no cure for them. And Ian and I are the ones who have to sit our childrne down and tell them they are HIV positive, not the other way around.

The Baylor Pediatric AIDS clinics in eSwatini have been our partners for many years on this journey, and they are helping us navigate through a fairly new phenomenon called “pediatric AIDS”.  New things are being learned, new drug cocktails tried, new treatment protocols implemented, all to try to keep our children alive and help them thrive.  We have been told that by the time our children are 8-years-old we need to tell them that they are HIV positive and explain some of what that means. By the age of ten, we have to tell them everything – how they got it, that there is no cure, that they must take their medication twice a day for the rest of their lives, how it is transmitted etc.

We have buried TWO children at Project Canaan that succumbed to and HIV related illness and it is an awful death. I have watched two of our children die in front of my eyes after our team tried for many months to “love them back to life”, but just love wasn’t enough for them.

But those two children, Solomon (17-months-old) and Megan (23-months-old), died with dignity, surrounded by people who loved them, respected them and would have done anything to keep them alive. They were buried on Project Canaan and I visit their graves from time to time to remind myself how precious life is.


The stigma that surrounded HIV/AIDS in the 1980’s is still around today.  We still live with that same stigma in Africa every day and NO ONE wants to talk about their HIV status.  NO ONE wants to share their pain, their suffering, their heartache and put the “HIV/AIDS” label on it.  

Daily we see our staff go off “sick” with an unknown illness, or worse, the dreaded Tuberculosis, which is called “AIDS best friend – and killer”. Some come back to work, some don’t, and we are simply notified of their death. 

December 1st WORLD AIDS Day. That is today, and that is what today’s blog is about.  Just after Ian and I married 27 years ago, Freddie Mercury died. He never did tell his family that he had AIDS nor did he share his sexuality with them. But he was and continues to be a legend, not defined by his illness or his sexuality, but rather by his talent and genius. 


We do not share with people which of our 18 children are HIV+, but it won’t be a secret for long at Project Canaan because they all get their medication twice a day at 7AM and 7PM, and they all go to town to the clinic once a month. What we will do, is show unconditional love and acceptance, and lead our children and community to a place of love and acceptance too.

Jesus said, “Love one another”, and that is what we are all trying to do.

Live from Nelspruit … love one another.

Janine

Saturday, November 24, 2018

My heart ached

 
This week has been another action-packed week dealing with burned children (not ours), visitors, birthdays (including my own) and preparation for Christmas.

I have spent much of my week working on the details of the 8-year-old burned girl who I wrote about in an earlier blog https://janinemaxwell.blogspot.com/2018/09/5-day-old-baby-girl-burned-in-house-fire.html .  She was 5-days-old when the grass roof of her house was lit on fire and collapsed in on her tiny body, burning her face beyond recognition. And she lived.  I met her at the hospital this week so that I could meet with the doctor as he assessed her situation and prepared a report for the US hospital who will be offering her life-giving care. 

I knew her burns were severe, but I didn’t expect to see a chunk of her skull missing where I could see her brain throbbing each time her heart beat.  Her left eyelid has melted to her eyeball underneath, so when she moves her eye, her whole eye socket moves.  When asked, we learned that she has been in extreme pain every day of her life with a headache and face-ache that never went away, my heart ached.  WHY didn’t this child get care sooner? Why was she left in the rural bush to suffer with a Grandmother who had no way to soothe her pain? 

Soon she will get help. Soon she will get pain relief. Soon she will be loved and cared for as she begins the long road to healing her body, heart and mind. But until then, she suffers, and continues her fight for life.

We see the fight for life every day, and in doing so we are often reminded not to take life for granted.

This week one of our staff suddenly lost her brother-in-law. His arm swelled up, he started vomiting blood and a day later he was dead. Another staff had boiled water to bathe her two small children and was just about to add cold water to the wash bucket on the floor when her excited 2.5-year-old did a playful summersault in to the scalding water, burning her leg/thigh/buttock and side.  Accidents happen.  Pain and suffering are real, and until Christ’s return, we will live in a world of suffering.

I’ll never forget the day that we welcomed a little girl (nameless for this blog) who was 18-months-old, weighing 14 pounds.  Her femur had been broken when she was only 6-months-old, by her mentally disabled mother, and she also had a broken nose and fractured skull.  She fought to live, and this week we celebrated her 4th birthday.  She is full of joy, full of love and full of hope. 


As I watched our older children perform in the Project Canaan Academy 2018 Christmas Pageant, I couldn’t help but look back at each of their lives and where they came from to where they are now.  Each and every one of them are miracles, with the scars to prove it. We couldn’t be more proud of the young people that they are becoming and seeing them up on stage singing, dancing and reciting their lines brought tears to my eyes and joy to my soul.

Many people will spend this weekend with family and friends, celebrating Thanksgiving in the US.  I encourage you all to look at your lives (the good, the bad and the ugly) and give thanks for what you have been given – access to clean water, a roof that is not made of grass, walls that are not made of mud and sticks, access to healthcare when you need it.

Live from eSwatini … I am thankful for the gift of life.

Janine

PS - Don't forget to go to www.khutsala.com for Christmas shopping with a purpose!

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Abortion. Suicide. Starvation. Disease.


Left: Wesley (17-months-old) and Right: Julian (5-months-old).  Wesley is ONE YEAR and 2 days OLDER than Julian.  Wesley doesn't sit up well yet. 
As a former marketer I am always looking for trends, intentionally and unintentionally.  I often see patterns, changes and trends, causing me to wonder if it’s the beginning of a shift in something as complicated as society, or as simple as a grocery store.

I have been sensing a shift in the past six weeks as we have received 15 babies (!). May I take a moment to say that we only got one baby from December 23rd 2017 to February 28th 2018, and in an average year we receive a baby every TWO weeks.  But in the past six week we have received a baby every 2.8 DAYS. 

I was recently been accused of taking in babies from young mothers who got pregnant by accident and don’t want their babies, like I’m a drop-off service or adoption service. That is not true, in any way, shape or form.  ALL children come to us through the Social Welfare office after they have thoroughly sought any family who is willing and able to take the child.  We have received children whose mother tried to abort and/or commit suicide, some have been abandoned in the forest or pit ditch, some born in a pit latrine (outhouse).

Aside from the sheer number of children who have been placed with us, we have been shocked by the severity of their health condition (including 27% of who are HIV+ and two with Tuberculosis).  On top of that 50%+ of the new children have been severely malnourished and one was admitted directly to the hospital with several deathly serious conditions including streptococcal meningitis. With malnutrition, comes stunting, which has a long term effect on a child's life (see

I have included several photos of our children to show you real, live examples of stunting.  While we expect to get these children strong and healthy, the long term effects are unknown for each child. 

Left to right: Cristal, Wesley, Julian.  Cristal and Wesley are 17-months-old.  Julian is 5-months-old. Cristal came to us as a newborn.  The two boys arrived this past week.

Peace (left) and Comfort (right) were born on the exact same day, the same year. Peace came as a 1.4 kg newborn baby. Comfort arrived last month.
I hope, and pray, that the past six weeks have been an anomaly and that the wave of children will reside, but I may be hoping against hope.  It seems that hopelessness itself is on the rise.  It seems that life has become more disposable, babies are being abandoned at an alarming rate and children are dying of starvation and disease, in front of our very eyes.

We can't save them all, but we sure will do our very best to save the ones who are put in front of us.

Will you help us to help more children?  Will you sponsor one of these little ones today?

In the US: bit.ly/ProjectCanaanChildrenAngel
In Canada:  bit.ly/ProjectCanaanChildrenAngelCA 

Live from eSwatini … praying for our children.

Janine

P.S.  For those of you who are not aware, there is no adoption here in eSwatini for a variety of reasons, so the children placed with us are with us until they are adults.  We are committed to caring for them and guiding them until they are 22-years-old and are ready to step out in to the world.  Every time a new baby arrives, it’s another 22-year commitment.  Every time. 


Saturday, November 10, 2018

65 children must move today


Big boys moving to Emseni #4
Watch a drone video of the move here!

Today is a big day on Project Canaan!  We moved 65 children up to their next home and there is excitement all around our children’s campuses.

·      23 big boys moved from Emseni #2 to Emseni #4, which has just been built. 

Each boy has their own clothes wardrobe, made at the Kufundza Center on PC.

·      23 small boys moved from Emseni #1 to Emseni #2.


River is a BIG BOY now!
·      10 toddler boys and 2 toddler girls moved from the Labakhetsiwe toddler home up to Emseni #1.


·      5 babies moved from the El Roi Baby home to the toddler home.

Shalom, Amanda, Peace, Manday, Tandeka
 
·      2 small babies moved from Kuthula Place to the El Roi baby home

Frank and Jordan

It’s all very exciting as we have been preparing for this for months.  Each group started to visit their new home weeks prior to their actual move.  They begin to experience a new schedule, some new foods, new toys and lots of new brothers and sisters. We typically have staff move with them for continuity and each home has their own type of welcome party for the new arrivals.

After the big move, there was a special snack at each home, and everyone gets to enjoy a new movie with their family tonight.  A great day, all around.

We receive 35 new children each year (on average), but we have already welcomed 35 children this year.  With 11 new babies coming to us during the month of October alone, we are on track to welcome 42 new children this year. That’s a lot of children saved and a lot of hope restored.

Thank you to everyone who helped fund the Emseni #4 boy’s home. THEY LOVE IT!  Thank you to our amazing staff who orchestrated the move and are enjoying the children in their excitement.

Would you like to sponsor one of our children? Here is how:


Just had to add a photo of Jonathan on the move.

Live from eSwatini … I love moving day!

Janine

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Life without electricity


When we first moved to Swaziland the landscape around us looked very different than it does now. At night when the sun went down, and we looked across the valley to the neighboring community called Sigcineni, it was very dark, with only a few open cooking fires dotting the hills. Now when we sit at the end of the day and overlook the distant hills we see hundreds of lights illuminating small houses that are home to many of our workers.

What is the difference you ask? Employment is the difference.  Many of our workers come from Sigcineni and their monthly salary has enabled them to first, feed their families, second, pay school fees, and third get electricity brought to their house.  For most, this is the first time in their family’s history that they have had electricity – lights to do homework by, lights for night time security, power to even have a refrigerator.  Electricity is life changing. Employment is life changing.


In order to keep these workers employed, we need your help. I am not asking for a donation, I am asking you to do some Christmas shopping at our Khutsala Artisans website at https://heartforafrica.myshopify.com/.  After paying our worker’s salaries, 100% of the profit goes directly back to help provide for our 211 children who live at Project Canaan.


Khutsala Artisans employees 100+ from our local community and they have had skills training in the area of bead work.  This year we made 100,000+ beaded items and shipped them to our warehouse in Illinois.  This includes a spectacular handmade wooden Nativity Set that includes 14 pieces that incorporate SwaziMUD beads and a sisal manger (the sisal harvested from Project Canaan).  We only made 200 of them and at the time of this blog post there are 134 Nativity sets left https://heartforafrica.myshopify.com/ so you should order yours today.


This year’s Christmas ornament is a very sweet Gingerbread man, complete with handmade SwaziMUD ceramic buttons.  You can even get the whole collection of six ornaments for $60 at https://heartforafrica.myshopify.com/collections/christmas-ornaments
 

Our Khutsala Artisans are very proud of the work they do.  Whether it’s the animal key chains or SwaziMUD jewelry, they are surrounded by beauty and hope every day that they come to work. In fact, our Khutsala motto is “Creating HOPE through beauty, design and excellence”.   Will you shop today and give the gift of HOPE (and maybe even electricity)?

Start your shopping today at  https://heartforafrica.myshopify.com/

Live from eSwatini … it’s time to Christmas shop!

Janine

Saturday, October 27, 2018

I'm tired



The face of hopelessness (identity hidden)
Ian left eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) for an extended trip to the US and Canada on October 5th and I followed a few days after.  We have collectively been on 24 flights so far, sleeping in six different locations and meeting with hundreds of people.

Why are we doing this? We are doing it solely to share what is happening at Heart for Africa and to raise funds to support our work. 

Meanwhile, back in eSwatini, our family has received ELEVEN children in the 19 days that we have been away.  The youngest is 5-days-old, the oldest is just over two years. Included in those eleven children are two sets of twin girls a pair of siblings and four children who are HIV positive. 

When we travel abroad our goal is always to educate people to what is happening in the tiny Kingdom, and invite them to join us in helping to raise the remnant that is being left behind as a nation is being decimated by the HIV/AIDS pandemic.  Poverty leads to starvation, starvations leads to desperation, desperation lethargy, lethargy leads to hopelessness and hopelessness leads to baby dumping, child abuse and death.

Below are US and eSwatini population growth charts, where you can see the largest population base in the US is the 25-year-old, followed closely by the 55-60-year-olds. In contrast, eSwatini’s largest population is under the age of two years, and the second largest is the 22-25-year old group – the ones having all the babies.  But those are just charts, just graphs that people can dispute.  I have seen those 2-year-olds and those 23-year-olds. They are real.


I am tired, and discouraged.  We have worked in eSwatini for 13 years now, and have lived there for 6.5 years of those years, and the situation is not getting any better. I find that donors and friends tire of hearing the same stories that we tell about this baby being found in a pit latrine, or that baby being dumped in the river. Then there’s the story about this one coming with broken limbs or fractured skulls and then there’s the never-popular child with AIDS, Tuberculosis AND they are literally starving to death.  Who wants to hear about them?  It just makes people sad and kind or ruins your day. Heck, it makes me sad.

And why on earth would you want to give money to help two crazy Canadians who are now raising 210 Swazi children until adulthood?  We need donor support, but people are busy, distracted and often, disinterested.

While we are enjoying seeing trusted friends and having familiar food, I long to be back home in eSwatini where most of my family lives.  Every day we deal with death, child trafficking, rape, violent crime, lies, stealing, pain, heartbreak and hopelessness every day, and oh, the hopelessness - that is the worst. But I have found that hopelessness is nearly impossible to convey to a western audience and get them to respond. I have seen the face of hopelessness, hundreds of times, and it is always the same. The eyes of a hopeless person are empty, but still open. Their skin is dry and blotchy like they have never had a drink of water.  Their limbs are limp and lifeless, which usually matches their hair and the way their lips sit on their face – limp and lifeless. 

BUT I do see hope in the eyes of our children,  our amazing staff and the social workers/police/doctors whom I have the privilege to work with. I see joy in their smiles and hope in their eyes just knowing that someone sees them, hears them and cares. 

I am “cheating” by writing this blog on Friday night on a 3+ hour flight from Atlanta to Denver so that I am not “late” posting my blog after everyone has finished their morning coffee and moved on with their day. As I am writing this I am listening to a song by Lincoln Brewster called “While I wait”.  The lyrics say:

“While I wait, I will worship, Lord I’ll worship your name.
While I wait, I will trust you, Lord I’ll trust you all the same.

I live by faith, and not by sight.
Sometimes miracles take time.

You’re faithful every day.
Your promises remain.

Though I don’t understand it, I will worship with my pain.
You are God you are worthy, you are with me, all the way.

So while I wait, I will worship, Lord I’ll worship your name.
Though I don’t have all the answers, still I trust you, all the same.”

We need funding for our children. NO, we need funding for HIS children.  I’ll stop asking when He has provided sufficiently for the children He has placed in our care.

If you can sponsor a child today, please do so. 


Live from an airplane … I will worship while I wait.

Janine