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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Rape victim doesn't want the baby... what does she do?

How do you get in front of the “baby dumping” curve?  Who does a pregnant mother turn to in a time of great distress BEFORE she decides to dump or kill her baby?

Last Saturday I was invited to attend a march, which was encouraging people to stopping aborting babies or dumping them in the pit latrines or ditches.  We stopped for a time of prayer near some reeds where more than 40 fetuses and birthed babies had been found dead.  It was a chilling moment.

During the event I was chatting with a senior member of the Child Protection Services department of the police and I asked him if there was a way for us to get ahead of the dumping?  Is there anywhere a woman could feel safe to go and share her fear?   He told me about a young woman who had gone to the police because she had been raped and absolutely did not want the baby nor could she care for the baby. Ah ha!  There is one who we might be able to help BEFORE she makes a bad decision out of hopelessness.

Last Thursday I met the her face to face at the police station.  She is 26-years old and a lovely young woman.  She is a single mom with two-year-old twins.  She is now 39+ weeks pregnant and the baby is due on October 4th.    I will call her Nomsa, but that is not her real name. 

Nomsa rents a tiny room on the outskirts of town where she lives with her boys.  She walks more than an hour to work each evening after dropping the twins off at a neighbor to care for them while she works the nightshift.  Her dishwashing shift starts at 6PM and goes until 7AM.  When she finishes her 13-hour shift she walks back and picks up her sons and takes them to the small room.  During the day she must rest, do laundry, feed them and care for them before leaving again for work. 

One day, 39 weeks ago, Nomsa was walking through the forest to go and visit a friend when a man jumped out of nowhere.  He grabbed her and started beating her trying to force her to the ground. She screamed for help and he stuffed a cloth in her mouth to silence her and beat her more.  When she continued to struggle to get away, he pulled out a knife to silence her, and then he raped her.

Nomsa was distraught, but told no one out of fear and shame.  When she realized she was pregnant she sought help from her church community and they sent her to the police.    She wanted to abort the child, but when she explored that option she found out that it was too late, the child was too far developed. And so she was stuck.  She couldn’t possibly care for another baby.  She was doing her best to care for her twins, but a third child would be impossible.   What could she do?  While Nomsa knew that baby dumping was wrong, maybe that would be her only choice once this child, conceived during a violent rape, arrived.   She had no family who could help and she was very alone.

Our meeting on Thursday was so sad, but in a way I was encouraged by the action and care the police had taken in this situation.  When the police told Nomsa that we could provide a home for her baby if she promised not to dump it or harm it, she was overjoyed!  She was hopeful. She knew disposing of the baby was wrong, but El Roi (the God who sees) heard her cry and saw her pain and sent help to her this week.

So now we are awaiting a phone call.  Nomsa has agreed to go to the hospital to give birth and she believes the baby will be here any day.  I have mixed emotions (again).  We are able to prevent this child from possible death or injury and can help this mother not have to live with guilt and shame, but I wish we could help her in a way that she can care for this little one.  But that is not what we are called to do right now.  Maybe one day we will be able to provide housing and employment that would allow this woman to care for all three of her children, that would be great.  But for now, we do what we can with what we have and we give thanks.

Now for an update on the prison baby. After a week of advocating at the highest levels of several government departments we have been told that the 5-month old baby must stay in prison with the mother, even though the mother is begging us to take the baby so that he will not die of malnutrition.  We have tried everything and everyone and our friends involved in child safety are frustrated, enraged and discouraged.  Today I must go to the prison and tell the mother, face to face, that we are not allowed to help.  Bureaucracy wins and we pray that the baby doesn’t lose because of it.  We will take her the socks and underwear she has asked for as she only has one pair of each, and we will take her a compassionate smile, a word of encouragement and a scripture of hope stuffed in her socks.  I don’t look forward to the drive today, but I trust that His plans are better than our plans and that they are in fact perfect.

Finally, an update on the 16-year old mother from a few weeks ago. She is still living  on the street or in a brothel or wherever she can lay her head.  She told us she wants to nurse her baby until he is 6-months old and then give him to us.  We are not sure what her thinking/logic is in this?  Sadly she is HIV positive and refuses treatment so she likely passing on the HIV to her baby through her breast milk.  Again, our plans are not His plans and we continue to pray that El Roi sees that young girl and the baby and that His plan for them is fulfilled.

Live from Swaziland … this journey is filled with ups and downs.


PS - I took this photo while at the police station last week.  It was a large poster on the wall of the office we were in.  I asked if I could have a copy and they said it was a poster from the year 2000, but it was still a good message so they keep it up.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

5-month old baby is dying from malnutrition in prison, but can we help?

If you read my blog of August 25th blog you may remember that I spoke of a 30-year old woman who has eight children and was going to prison for three years for multiple counts of stealing baby formula, diapers and lotion. Her husband is in prison for ten years for the same crime.  Yes, just pause there for a minute and think about that.

We met her in the hospital as she was trying to nurse her 4-month old baby back to health from a severe case of malnutrition before being taken to prison. Children under the age of three go to prison with the mom if there is no father available to care for them.  She asked us numerous times to please take her baby because she thought the baby would die in prison.  The day she was released from the hospital she had the Social Worker from the hospital call us to come get the baby, but we couldn’t, there are laws in place systems that must be followed.

Today Helen, Thabile and I went to visit her in prison to see how she and the baby were doing.  As it turns out, they were only in prison for four days before they were sent to the Government hospital to try to save the babies life, again from malnutrition. They spent the next three weeks at that hospital.   They returned to prison yesterday, and we showed up today for a visit.

We arrived at the prison and had to sign in with our official ID’s.  Then a guard led us through an armored, locked door and we were asked to turn over our cell phones, wedding rings, earrings, car keys and our official ID documents.  No, we weren’t going to stay in prison, just visit there. 

We sat on a concrete bench on one side of a gated window and she sat on the other.  The first thing she asked us was why we had abandoned her and didn’t come to take her baby when she needed us to?  I carefully explained (and Thabile translated in to siSwati) that we must abide by the laws of the land and that the Social Welfare Department must be involved and be the ones to request the placemen of the baby. 

It seemed cut and dry until we saw the condition of the baby. He is now five months old and only weights 4 KG (8.8 pounds).  The mother is HIV positive and refuses to start ARV (anti-retroviral treatment). The baby is also HIV positive and we don’t know if he is on treatment or not, but he looks very sickly and has some telltale signs on his face and neck.  Helen looked at me and I thought she was going to break down. I firmly (in love) told her to keep it together or I would lose it too and the whole thing would fall apart.

During the next part of the conversation we learned that this young mother had no information about what had happened or what was happening to her seven other children since she had been incarcerated.  She had no idea about their situation, no idea how to find out and no energy to change it.  She started to cry.

At that moment I asked the Guard, who was sitting beside her listening to the conversation, for help.  We need to “call a friend” and the only person who might possibly help us was that Guard.  And help us she did.  After explaining the situation she told us that the baby’s health was in an “emergency” state.  She suggested that we meet with the Head of the prison (the Commandant) and we did.  I was so incredibly impressed with the woman we met with.

In addition to her wanting to help, she also committed to personally go and get the 18-month old and bring her to the prison to be with her mom.  WHAT!?  (you might ask?).  But yes, right now we believe the 18- month old is being cared for completely by her siblings who are age 3,4,6,9 and 11 (the 15-year old lives elsewhere).  Collectively, we believe that the 18-month old would be better off in prison with her mom.  I know, hard to read… and process. And, what about the other kids?

What will happen? We don’t know.  Should the baby stay with his mother?  Yes, in an ideal world she should, BUT the mother will be in prison for three years, is HIV positive (and without treatment, may not make it that long), and is dying in front of us.

The story doesn’t end here, it will continue to Part 2 next week when we may or may not have the opportunity to try to save this little baby’s life at the El Roi Home for Abandoned Babies.  But it is Saturday morning in Swaziland and I wanted to give you an update from the week, even though it is not complete.  I have no photos for this week because I believe that would be inappropriate and insensitive.  Every week I struggle with how to tell a story in a way that you, the reader, will respond to, while still helping protect the dignity and honor of those I am here to serve.  I am sure that I sometimes do it better than others. 

It is 6:15 AM Saturday morning and I am heading in to town,, at the invitation the Child Protection Services, to speak at a big rally at a city police station. There is a rising incidence of abortion, attempted abortion and dumping babies (it is an industrial center) so they want me to share and encourage people to make different choices. I plan to share that my mother was 15-years old when she got pregnant, and if she had aborted or dumped me, I wouldn’t be here today.  Please pray that I will have the right words to say and for Jesus to be present. I am so happy that my dear friend Lori Marschall will be along for moral support.  Another day in Swaziland, and I give thanks.

It’s Saturday morning… and I am out the door!


Saturday, September 15, 2012

The tragic suicide of an 85-year-old Mother, and how we all deal with pain differently

This week a woman whom I have loved dearly for 30 years took her own life by stepping off the tenth floor balcony of her Toronto condominium.  Clara was 85-years old and left a note for her 92-year old husband and family who whose hearts were be shattered by her actions.  Ian and I went to high school with her son Andy and he was in our wedding party 21 years ago.  This was a very heartbreaking week.

Clara lived through WWII in Hungary and came to Canada on a boat with only a handful of money in her pocket.  She and husband Ernie (also from Hungary) were committed to making a good life for their children and they did.  They served their family, their community, their church, their friends and their God with all of their hearts, minds and energy.  They collected “stray” people (I would be one of those) and brought those strays in to their family from that moment on.  Their home was an open door and there was always a seat at the table and a bed to sleep in when needed.  Clara loved to cook and she loved to care for people, young and old. 

But getting old isn’t for sissies.  As Clara’s mind and body started to fail, she struggled with depression, as so many people do.  She was a “giver of help”, and not good at receiving help.  She felt her only solution for her and her family was to end her life “on her terms” (as her family so bravely wrote).  So yesterday my dear friend Dee Dee Heywood in Canada attended the second funeral in six weeks on my behalf (the other being my cousin Paul).  Thank you dear Dee Dee - I love you. 

Being away from friends and family while they are suffering is one of the hardest parts of living in Swaziland.  Project Canaan is a very long way from Toronto or Guelph.  I can sit on my yellow chair to weep and pray for them, but sometimes I just want to be there to give them a hug. I know that Jesus must give that hug instead, which of course is much better than mine, but sometimes I still wish it could be me.

This week I was asked how I physically deal with the pain and suffering we see here every day (i.e. the 16-year-old mother from last week’s blog who gave birth the very next day and is now living on the street with her newborn, refusing any help or care) and deal with the knowledge of pain suffered by family back at home.   I thought about my answer and decided to share it with you today.  The first way I deal it is by forcing myself on to my yellow chair for more prayer and scripture reading than I used to, and in that I find great comfort.  The other way is through humor.  Let me tell you a story about this week’s “Warthog Stew”. 

I love to cook.  When I am feeling sad or melancholy a good medicine for me is to cook for my family. It is a “love language” of sorts (which may ensure that I am never slim and trim!).  This week I was sad and needed some serious time in the kitchen.  I also needed a good laugh, so I started to plan.

I heard from the farm Supervisors that the dogs on the farm had cornered a Warthog running through and destroying the vegetables.  The workers then ran in and killed the animal (Wartpig as they call it) and then proceeded to skin it and divide up the meat.  I saw this as a wonderful opportunity to stretch my culinary skills and include Warthog in my meal planning.   
Of course I knew that Chloe and Ian might not embrace my plan (or eat the food) so I needed to plan it carefully and ensure that it would be delicious.  Warthogs do not look particularly appetizing (not many animals do when they are alive and have fur), but when I received a plastic grocery bag filled with bloody meat, including broken ribs and what looked like a hip bone, I became immediately thankful for the art of butchery and really sharp knives.

Ian and I love watching the movie “Julie and Julia” because we both love to cook.  The scene where she lovingly works on the famous Julia Child recipe of Beef Bourguignon makes our mouths water every time, but we had never tried making it.  It takes about 60 minutes of preparation time and three hours to cook, so you really have to be committed when you start.  My thinking was that if you are cooking something with all those flavors for three hours in an oven, no one could possibly know that it was Warthog instead of beef.  So I began.

The house smelled wonderful!  The aroma from this recipe is amazing, the meat was tender and it really was delicious. Even Chloe liked it!  While I had a good chuckle all day long, I started to think that maybe I shouldn’t tell them!  Then I was stuck!  What to do, what to do? Well, if in doubt, post it on Facebook.   So I made the confession of my Warthog Bourguignon on FB and waited for Chloe’s response.

There was a day, not long ago, that she would have freaked out, seriously.  But I think we are all settling in to our new lives here.  She did write the comment “ I’m moving out of the house”, but when the smell of brownies cooking in the oven started to waft down the hall, the Warthog incident didn’t seem to be so bad.

We all deal with things differently.  Tears and prayer is where I try to start, but humor is where I try to go next.  While the Maxwell sense of humor might be a bit twisted and not understood by all, I am thankful that the Lord has sent me family and friends who understand and love me through it all.

I will miss Clara and I mourn with her family who is left behind, but I give thanks for all that she did for so many and I pray that I can touch as many lives as she did in the time that I have on this earth.  Rest in peace dear Mother.

Live from Swaziland … it’s Ian’s 47th birthday and I am thinking of baking him a “special” cake today. J


Saturday, September 8, 2012

Never-ending rain, another pit latrine baby and an intervention of sorts

Swaziland is in a 20-year drought.  Both our dams were dry last week.  Very few people in the country had any kind of successful harvest last year and ours was down 65% vs. the year before … all because of weather (lack of water mostly, but also wind).  Water is life and we can’t make it rain, only HE can.

In Swaziland we don’t have “summer” and “winter” we have “rainy season” and “dry season”.  The rainy season starts at the end of October and goes until March.  Last year we had virtually no rain, which leaves us with no water to irrigate crops during the dry season as we had hoped and planned.

This is usually a small bridge - we cross over it to get home
Dam #2 is starting to fill!

We have been praying for rain (which seems a bit senseless during the already dry season because it would be out of season to get rain).  It has only rained once since we moved here on June 1st and that was the day that our friends from the International Egg Commission and the American Egg Board stepped foot on Project Canaan in August (a “lucky” and much appreciated gesture).  When we arrived back from the US on Tuesday at 2PM the rains started as we were unpacking the car (not that our arrival had anything to do with it, but that is how I know when it started because I got wet!).  It is now Saturday morning and the rains continue to pour, the ground is saturated and the runoff from the hills around us is starting to fill both our dams.  We are thankful, but we are also stuck … literally.  There has been 6 feet of water rise up and now covers the bridge that we use to get to town (office, school, gas station, grocery store, airport, hospitals … you get my point, eh?).  I am glad that I have a fully stocked pantry, tetra milk for my coffee and matches in case the power goes out.

Many people around the world have been praying for rain and it has come without ceasing. Be careful what you pray for – you just might get it!
Baby Joy arriving home.

Okay, on to our new bundle of joy.  Yes, her name is “Joy” and she came to us on Tuesday at the tender age of ten days.  She was dropped in a pit latrine (outhouse/toilet) when she was born and thankfully someone heard her cry and climbed down in to get her out.  She was immediately taken to the police and hospital to be cared for while an investigation took place.  As you might guess, the mother was found and is now in prison for attempting to kill her baby. Same story, different faces.  Joy is a beautiful baby and we are thankful for our fourth little girl.  We have eight boys and now the ratio is a solid two to one.

On Thursday I spent the day with Gcabile (one of our wonderful caregivers at El Roi) and Robert Smucker (volunteer extraordinaire) trying to have an intervention of sorts and get ahead of the problem of baby dumping.  We know that Emmanuel’s16-year-old mother is almost ready to give birth to her third child, (Emmanuel lives at El Roi and is 13 months old).  The mother is HIV positive and sometimes lives in a bus shelter.  She does not want the baby in her belly and we fear that she will give birth and “dump it”, just like Joy’s mother did.  So we spent the day with her, trying to encourage her to get pre-natal medical care and promise to go to see our wonderful doctor friend at the hospital when labor begins.  But she is afraid of hospitals (both of her first two children were born in someone else’s home because she had been kicked out of her family homestead for her bad behavior=pregnancy).  She is also very young, mentally unstable and is refusing to take live-saving Anti-retro-virals so this was a very difficult day for us all.

In the end, after a short, but unsuccessful visit to the hospital we were able to negotiate “plan B”.  Gcabile’s sister-in-law kindly agreed to allow this young girl to live with them until the baby is born.  I don’t know many people who would offer that to a stranger, do you?

Emmanuel and his mom.
There were times on Thursday that I found myself asking myself if I was helping her only because she had asked that her baby would be able to go to live at El Roi?  And the answer is complicated.  Yes and no.  I would want to help her either way, but sometimes helping is hard to do and people have to want to be helped (and have the capacity to accept help) in order to be helped.  The flip side is thinking about a newborn baby being left in a ditch or on the side of a road or in a filthy, bacteria filled pit latrine.  Wouldn’t you want to get ahead of it if you could?  We will accept her baby (if she still decides she doesn’t want him/her) whether she has dumped him or not, but I would rather give her the choice of making a healthy decision rather than one that will haunt her the rest of her life, which won’t be long if she continues in this lifestyle and without ARV’s. 

This was such an encouraging week to everyone who is living here at Project Canaan.  God’s love, His provision, His promises were seen and felt every minute of the day (even when scooping after our 5 dogs who don’t like the rain and really like our front patio to do their business).  He is faithful, He is Holy, He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords and His plans are perfect, but they rarely look like our plans. 

Thank you all for continuing to read this blog. I am truly overwhelmed by the comments I get (most of them positive so far J ) and to know that so many people are praying with us and for us here at Project Canaan. 

Live from Swaziland … we are thinking of building a raft (or ark!)!


Saturday, September 1, 2012

Everything is easier in America.

I was quite surprised to have 675 people read last week’s blog, but then as a Journalism Major, I wondered if it was because I had the word “alcohol” in the title? It is with that thought in mind that I gave this weeks’ blog the title “Everything is so easy in America” (and just for the record, it’s easy in Canada too!).

I know there are many of you who immediately got your back up and thought “Janine, you have no idea about my life and how hard it is”, but calm down, and take a minute to see it from my eyes.

Internet.  Every hotel we have stayed in has FREE HIGH SPEED WIRELESS INTERNET.  In fact, every coffee shop, gas station and restaurant that we stopped at also had FREE HIGH SPEED WIRELESS INTERNET. What’s the big deal?  Well, if you do all your banking (personally and corporately) on line, it can take hours or days to simply make a money transfer or pay a bill with highly unreliable internet.  I awoke early one day this week and spent three hours working on line.  At the end of the three hours I felt that I had completed a week’s worth of work.  There is no such thing as “free internet” or (“high speed” internet for that matter) in Swaziland, but we all depend on it for day-to-day communication.  It is easier here and so much more can be accomplished (and with much less frustration).  Of course when my Internet isn’t working I do spend more time with people rather than looking at my screen in the privacy of my house.  Maybe that isn’t so bad?

Credit cards. I can use a credit/debit card everywhere I shop here.  For gas, clothes, coffee, GASOLINE and hotel.  This is not the case in Swaziland.  We live in a cash society there and can’t fill up the car with gas without cash.  I am not a good cash carrier and have found myself on “empty” digging through the car looking for coins to get a few Rand of gas to get me back to the farm.  Did you know that the average credit card debt in America is $15,956 PER HOUSEHOLD?  Total US credit card debt was $801 BILLION as of December 2011.  Maybe cash is an okay way to go?

Phones.  I used to be so incredibly dependent on my phone when I lived in Canada and the US because it was attached to my ear much of the day.  Right now we are here with no cell phone because our AT&T contract has expired and we don’t really need one on this side of the pond (and of course we have free Wi-Fi at most stops remember?).  My phone in Swaziland is really a lifeline though.  It doesn’t ring often (with the invent of texting and the high cost of calling), but when it does ring I answer it with great anticipation that it will be a Social Welfare officer calling about a child in need.  Yesterday the phone rang in Swaziland and we learned of a newborn baby who was birthed in a pit latrine (outhouse) and left to die. The police rescued the baby, arrested the young (orphaned) mother and are doing some further investigation. They believe that we will be allowed to pick up that baby next Wednesday and bring him/her home to El Roi.  I am so thankful for live phone calls in Swaziland.

Food.  There is food everywhere here.  Fast food, prepared food, good food, bad food, comfort food, cold food, hot food, lots and lots of food.  I know why I put on so much weight in the past few years and why it was coming off in Swaziland.  It is a combination of immediate access, low cost, laziness and food processing.  While I have thoroughly enjoyed more than my share of PF Chang’s, Tim Horton’s, McDonalds, Jimmy Johns, Swiss Chalet and Subway, I look forward to going home and making all sorts of things with the large bag of tomatoes that Denis and Anthony bring me each week from their kitchen garden on the farm. Yum!

Water.  I will admit that after checking in to a Holiday Inn Express I went to brush my teeth and wondered where the kettle was to boil the water.  Duh.  ALL the water is clean here!  I was thankful.  While we love our house at Project Canaan, we still don’t have clean water to drink and the entire team has been struggling for 12 weeks to get the problem fixed.  Of course we don’t have to walk to the river and collect it like most of our Swazi brothers and sisters, ours comes right out of the tap in our house and for that I am really thankful. I will also admit being surprised and excited that there was toilet paper and hand soap in EVERY public bathroom we stopped in from Florida to Ottawa.  What a wonderful treat (that I always took for granted).

What is my point?  My point is that the United States of America and Canada are wonderful places to live.  If you were born there or are living there you must be thankful for all that you have and for the people who have made it “easy” to live there.  I know that nothing is easy, but you live in countries where everything works or if it doesn’t there is someone to call and quickly get it fixed.  There is a high expectation that everything will work, and that is awesome.  Our expectations in Swaziland are lower, or maybe simpler is a better word.  And I will say with all honesty that I am thoroughly enjoying that.  Yes, I get frustrated when my Internet stick shuts down again, or when there is no TP in the bathroom that I ran in to, but life is simpler, slower and I am finally (maybe for the first time in my 48 years) taking time to stop and enjoy the view, smell the roses, enjoy the dogs, savor the tomatoes or comfort a crying baby without that burning need to rush off and accomplish more.

This is likely the most boring blog I have ever written, but it was “easy”.  I am in the comfort of an air conditioned hotel room, Ian and Chloe are sleeping comfortably and Spencer is in class at Florida State University (one of 9,000+ University/College options in the US alone). After I am finished this I will have a hot shower, make coffee in the pot in our room, pack up and get in our own car, drive to Ottawa to see Ian’s family for the night then fly back to Georgia for a day of shopping, visiting and packing before flying home to Swaziland.  On this twelve day trip back to the US and Canada we will have flown 16,000 miles (26,000 km), driven 2,208 miles (3,560 KM), been to 4 countries, 7 states/provinces, stayed in 6 hotels and eaten at countless coffee shops and restaurants.  I am thankful for all that we have had the opportunity to do and see.  I loved being able to see Spencer get to FSU safely, loved seeing my cousin Kim and her family after their tragic loss and loved seeing Ian’s family in Ottawa. But now I am ready to go home, my new home, where the rooster is up at 4AM, the sun comes up at 6:15AM, the dogs are playing by 6:30AM and the world spins much slower and maybe more deliberately.  It’s not easy, but as Ian so often says, “if it was easy, everybody would be doing it”. :)

Live from Ottawa, Ontario, I am starting my journey home.