Sign up to receive this blog by email

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Why do baby boys get dumped more than baby girls?

Good question?  And the simple answer is that I don’t know, but it’s something that has been on my mind.

As a former marketer (well, as they say, once a marketer always a marketer) I was always looking at behaviors and trends and wondering what they meant at that time and how they would impact future behaviors and trends.  When we kept getting three boys for every one girl at the El Roi Home for Abandoned Babies I started to ask myself why, and then I started asking my Swazi friends, family and healthcare professionals for their input.  Is it just a coincidence or maybe just what we were seeing?
Helen with Baby John born approximately October 15, 2012

When I asked one of our caregivers, her response was instant. She said, “girls are valuable because they can get Lobola for a girl when she gets married.  She is worth money to the family”. Lobola is “payment” that the groom makes to the brides family when he wants to marry her.  Payment is made with cows here in Swaziland. I found the comment interesting because girls/women really are not valued at all in many African cultures (except for their ability to bring the family cattle, or goats, depending on the country you live in).  They are beasts of burden and are responsible for most of the work around the home including building the home out of sticks/rocks/mud. 

Did you know that 75% of all food that is planted, grown, harvested and cooked on the continent of Africa is done so by women?  Could it be that girl babies are kept because they will generate future income for the family?

I had a very different conversation with a group of labor and delivery nurses.  They said that boys are dumped because they think a mother finds it is easier to bond with a girl.  They also tip toed around the fact that a mother might feel that she needs to protect the girl child (as she was not protected) and that the boy child may grow up to be an abuser (the way she was abused by a man).  Wow.  Could the human psyche really think that way?  Could a mother in labor or having given birth to a child really make a conscious decision to keep a girl and toss away a boy?  I know it happens in reverse in other parts of the world, but I am still confused by it all.

Baby Joseph born September 23, 2012
That being said, the fact is that since March 1, 2012 we have received 17 babies, and 12 of them are boys.  Only five are girls. Why?  I don’t know, but I do know that the Creator of the Universe knows and we will gladly accept any baby He sends to us for care.  In fact Friday morning (Swaziland time) Ian, Helen and Shirley made another trek to Siteki to pick up two more newborn babies.  The first one is the one whom I have blogged about before (born in a dry pit latrine resulting in multiple head injuries).  The second is the one I received a call about just as I was getting on a plane to go to Taiwan on Tuesday.  Another boy.  Another pit latrine, but this one “fortunately” (!?) was filled with human waste so his head injuries weren’t as bad as the one who fell in the toilet with no human feces in it. I can’t really believe I just typed that sentence. But there it is.

So we now have 17 beautiful babies at the El Roi Home for Abandoned babies and we have beautiful and loving caregivers, Aunties and a Gogo who care for them  knowing each and every one is a special gift from God.  For those of you who read this blog faithfully and who pray for us and the babies at the El Roi home regularly, today I am asking for your financial help and I don’t do this often.  We cannot care for more babies if we don’t get more friends like you to support us on a monthly basis.  Getting medical care, proper diet, lots of loving caregivers and all the other things that go in to these precious children costs money and we cannot bring in any more babies without further assistance.  Will you consider making a monthly commitment today?  In the US please click here.  In Canada, please click here.

This week’s blog is being written in Taiwan, not Swaziland. I am here at the invitation of Mr. Lewis Lu who is hosting in conjunction with the 2nd Annual 100 KM Walk for Water in conjunction with the 7th Annual Youth Leadership Conference.  This is a national fundraising campaign to raise funds for the many water needs we have on Project Canaan.  Students from all over the world are participating, including Heart for Africa representatives from the US, Lawson Bishop and Emily Livingston.   I am thankful to have the opportunity to walk with the students, meet with political and business leaders and speak to students at schools to share the great need in the Kingdom of Swaziland. Water is life and we have 17 new lives on Project Canaan that require water to live and learn. Our friends here in Taiwan are committed to helping us help the children and for that we are very thankful.  This is my fifth trip to Taiwan in five years and I look forward to see what the Lord is doing in this country.  Next week I speak at MingDao University (agriculture) and spend a few days with my friends at the Morrison Academy. I look forward to the days ahead.

Live from Taiwan …  it’s Saturday morning and I love my job.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

It's a girl!

This week was an interesting week in farm living.  While the real rainy season hasn’t started yet, there has been lots of rain to water the crops and prepare the big fields for planting.  As I may have written before, we have a 50-minute drive each morning to take Chloe to her school bus.  Then she has another 40-minute bus ride to school.  That all reverses in the afternoon.  It’s makes for a long day, but the school is an incredible International School so well worth the effort.  On Wednesday there had been so much rain that when Ian and Chloe got to the bridge they found the river had risen six feet with two feet of fast flowing water submerging the bridge.   Growing up in Northern Ontario I was used to seeing six-foot banks of snow, but never a six-foot rise in water!  So that was Chloe’s first “snow day”, or “water day” we can call it here.

Then there was the new lawn service that Ian hired. Our lawn mower didn’t quite fit in our shipping container and remains in Georgia, but the grass around our house is growing like crazy due to the rains. What did my “think outside the box” husband do?  He asked the guys on the farm to bring the goats up!  I got home from seeing three of our babies who were in hospital and there they were, eating the grass all around our house.  It was hilarious and a perfect solution.

Now to the new baby girl.  As I have mentioned in past blogs “baby dumping” is a huge problem here in Swaziland and is one that the Hospitals, Police, Child Protection Services and the Social Welfare office are working diligently to try to stop.  I was asked by the police to meet a young woman who had been violently raped at knifepoint by a man in a woolen mask.  She had no way and no desire to care for the baby who was a result of the rape and the police were trying to prevent another baby dumping statistic by offering her a potential solution for the child.  She already had 2-year old twin boys and her parents kicked her their homestead because her father thought she had been promiscuous and didn’t believe the story of her attack.  She took me to the room she lives in with her boys and since our first meeting in August she has become like a daughter to me.

Their dwelling place is in a row house on the outskirts of Matsapha.  The room is 8 feet by 8 feet and the walls and floor are made of mud.  She and her beautiful boys sleep on a 2 inch thick piece of foam, there is a small plastic bucket beside the foam which is their toilet and a couple of crates where she stores all of their other belongings (soap, bread, a small box of shelf stable milk and a papaya or paw paw as we call them here).  From the several times we have been together I would say she is a good mother who loves her boys dearly, but struggles to provide for them.  She earns $100 US per month and now that her parents won’t help care for the twins, she must pay $38 US per month for childcare and $12 for house rent.  There is no electricity or running water.  A new and unwanted baby would simply put her over the edge.  She did not want the baby and could not keep the baby.

Yesterday morning a 5AM I received a call from my new friend.  She was in labor and asked if I could come and take her to the hospital.  I had such mixed emotions while I quickly got dressed and ready (and my wonderful husband made me coffee to go).  I was excited about this new life that was about to arrive.  Jeremiah 1:5 says, Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” While this young mother was not responsible for conceiving this baby, the Lord knew this baby even before He formed her in her mother’s womb.  What would this child be set apart to be? A loving mother?  A nurse?  A teacher?  A prophet to the nations?

Mixed in with that excitement was the knowledge that my young friend had a day of pain to endure without the usual “prize” at the end of labor.  When I was in labor with Spencer and Chloe I could console myself through the pain knowing that my own child would be with me at the end of it all and for that it was all worth it.  Not for this young mom. She would endure 18 hours of labor, much of it outside the delivery room doors on a pavement floor watching all the other women go through stages of labor.    When the baby’s head started to crown, she would walk in through the doors that says, “If you are not in labor, do not enter”.  What they really mean is, “if the baby isn’t on his/her way out of your body, do not enter”.

Yesterday I had a really good visit, and several heart to heart talks with this lovely young woman while we watched each pregnant woman, one by one, enter through the ominous doors.  Inside there were ten beds in an open area where they would lie down and deliver their precious bundles.  There was no pain medication, no epidurals to take the edge off, but there was horrific cries, guttural groaning and hair raising screams that could defer any woman from every having sex again (sorry to any young readers).  They would slowly enter the door in their street clothes and less than 30 minutes later would come out through the same door in the same clothes.  A nurse would carry a big bundle of blankets with a tiny, wet, newborn baby buried somewhere deep below.  The mother and bundle would go to the maternity ward and new life and family would begin.

The same thing happened for my friend, but when she exited the door (exhausted and in pain) there was no joy. It was a bittersweet moment.  I was so excited to meet this little girl who would come and live at Project Canaan for the rest of her life, but didn’t want to be insensitive to a mother who didn’t really want to see the baby or nurse her for the night.

This little girl has two names.  The first is “Hope” because in this one case we were able to avoid a baby being dumped or abandoned because of the hopelessness of the mother.  She is also called “Happiness” because the mother told us that she was able to find joy again knowing that strangers were there to help her. 

Once I post this blog I will shower, pour another cup of coffee and head in to the hospital.  Ian, Helen and I will drive the mom back home, pick up her twins from the neighbor and help her get settled in. We have a car full of healthy food for her boys and ready to eat food for her (boiled eggs, fruit etc).   Baby Hope will come home with us and we will visit mom and boys as often as possible, checking in to make sure they are okay.

We have so much to be thankful for this week.  Baby Joy, Rose and Gabriel were all discharged from the hospital (we spent 4 hours in the pediatric ward and 6 hours at labor and delivery in the same hospital) and are recovering from pneumonia and malnutrition.  God is good and He is faithful and I clearly saw His mighty hand at work in each and every situation this week.  I stand in awe of His goodness and mercy, even when I don’t understand all that I see, but I am trying to give thanks in all things.

Live from Swaziland … I need to start packing to fly to Taiwan on Tuesday!


PS - Saturday afternoon update.  Sadly the water at the hospital went off at 4AM so when we arrived to pick up mom and baby, neither had been washed since child birth.  Since she doesn't have water at home we had to buy bottled water for her to bathe the parts that need clean water.  Sigh.  

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Confusion, lies and a new set of twins end up in the hospital

This was a whirlwind week beginning with a call from the Social Welfare department on Monday
morning saying there were three babies in desperate need.  We were already awaiting the arrival of a newborn (who at the time of this writing has still not appeared, despite an October 4th delivery date).

I was told that one of the babies was a newborn and was dropped in a pit latrine (I never get used to typing those words), but was not ready to be released from the hospital.  The others were 9-month old twins who were in a very serious situation (not to suggest that being dropped in a pit latrine is NOT a serious situation!).  Tuesday Helen and I made the drive to Siteki to visit the baby in hospital and pick up the twins.

The mother of the baby gave birth in a pit latrine that had not been finished yet.  I never thought that I would write this, but unfortunately there were no feces/urine in the pit latrine to catch the baby when it landed, and instead the child hit his tiny newborn head on the bottom of the 6’ deep hole.  The mother left the child and it was only 12 hours later that he was found by a family member who heard his cry. It is a miracle that this baby is still alive, but not without injury.  He has several large wounds on his head and an abscess of some kind (the size of my fist), so we will not receive him from the hospital until the surgeons are finished and confident in his recovery.

From there we drove to the office to pick up the 9-month-old twins. I am not quite sure how to explain what transpired in the minutes to come, other than to say that there was a lot of confusion, there were lies, and then suddenly we had a set of twins in the car.  Their story took twists and turns that started with them looking like they were 18-24 months old and ended with them not even looking like siblings or the same age (let alone twins – neighbors maybe?).  The problem is that our policy is to only intake children under the age of 12 months because there is such a great need here in Swaziland for a home for little babies.  We want to have space for children of that age when a hospital or Social Welfare office needs to place a baby.  Secondly, the little ones come with much less hurt and emotional challenges than the older ones, and so our first children can be the leaders of the younger ones in the future.

But God is God, His plans are not our (my) plans, and He cheated and tricked me. I was “hoodwinked” as Ian told me later.

The children were living 100 km from Siteki, which is a 90-minute drive from Project Canaan. The police were the ones who reported that the children had been abandoned, so they were asked to drive the babies to Siteki and we would meet them there “half way” so to speak. By the time we arrived, the police had dropped the babies at the government office and turned back home. We looked at the children and laughed because they were walking, likely talking and had a full set of teeth!  I told the Social Worker that there was no way that these children were 9-months old and she insisted that is what she had been told. Well, maybe that is what she had been told, but there was NO way that was the truth.
Then there was the confusion. The Aunt of the children was the one who told the police that the mother had abandoned the children at her front door step when she wasn’t there (in fact she didn’t arrive home for three more days!).  The father of the children is HIV positive and has fathered 22 other children, to her knowledge, and was focused on passing on the deadly disease to as many women as he could before he passed away.  He is living in South Africa now.  When we asked how the boy was so very dark and the girl so very light, we were told, “Oh, the mother is a Zulu and the father is Afrikaans, that is why”.  Oh brother.  That might be true, but the mother is not a cat!

And then it got worse.  What are the children’s names?  Well, the Aunt didn’t know because she hadn’t seen the babies in six months, so she named them Rose and Gabriel. Why those names?  Because the girl was as pretty as a rose, and the boy would be protected by the angel Gabriel.

I told the Social Welfare officer that I really didn’t think these children qualified to come to El Roi as they were too old, but she assured me that they were less than one year and I couldn’t say no.  Where else would they go?  And so Rose and Gabriel, our “twin 9-month old babies” came to El Roi that night and it became their home.  They are actually 22-months old, the eldest children at the El Roi home for abandoned babies.  (Just for the record, I do believe that my friend at Social Welfare had no idea that the children were more than a year when she first called me.  She was only working from information the police had given her).

We have some issues with these beautiful children. They are angry, afraid, very hungry and both showing signs of severe malnutrition.   While they look round and plump, they are suffering “Kwashiorkor,” a form of malnutrition that is caused by inadequate protein.  In fact, yesterday afternoon we had to admit them to the hospital because their condition is acute and in the final stages (life threatening) according to malnutrition doctors here in Swaziland.  They will be there for 10 -14 days and that means that a caregiver from the El Roi baby home must be with them 24 hours a day.  There is no question that they have been abandoned before and mistreated based on how they cling to/fight for food, scrounge for tiny kernels of rice left on the floor even after they have had a full meal, and how they will bite in self-defense even when self-defense is not required. 

We have a long road ahead with all of these children, but we know that the Creator of the Universe and God who SEES them has brought us all together and He will make the way straight as we continue to seek His will and direction.

Thank you for reading this blog and for your continued support and prayers.  I can honestly say that I am at peace about what we are doing here and I believe that I have the best job in the whole world.  The rains are starting to fall again, the vegetables are being harvested and sold, and the babies are starting to crawl and walk. God is good and I am thankful.

Live from Swaziland…we have 14 babies!


PS - Just want to shout out to Beth Blaisdell, Kim Kennedy, Pam McReynolds and Sherri Troyer from the US Bank who were visiting this week and were a huge gift in assisting with many moving parts and sick children.  Special thanks to Beth and Kim who did "night shift" at El Roi last night with Helen while Thabile was doing night shift at the hospital.  We are so thankful for your hearts and hands.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

After six years an unbelievable reunion!

I want to let you know that this blog is long and complicated, but it is such a very cool story to show how BIG God is that I promise you it is worth the read.   

I clearly remember the day that I first read (or my heart read) Matthew 25:34-36 which says,  “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

I panicked. I had done a few of those things, but I had NEVER visited someone in prison.  (As I have matured in my faith I realize that even visiting an old woman who is trapped in her mud hut with 10 orphan children to feed is “in prison”, she just doesn’t have any bars around her).  But I don’t want to confuse this important story.

In 2006 I called our Country Director in Swaziland (Shirley Ward) and asked her if she could arrange for me to go to a prison in Swaziland to visit.  Why? Because Matthew 25 says that is what I am to do and I need to do it.  Shirley is an amazing woman and gift to us and quickly made arrangements for us (and Penny Ballew) to visit the Mawelawela Women’s Correctional Institution.  I was more than shocked and impressed by the conditions that these women lived in. There rooms were neat and tidy (and colorful), the care they received appeared to be excellent and I wondered if this facility wasn’t better than the living conditions that many would have outside the institutions walls.

But what really threw me for a loop was that there were babies there!  IN PRISON!  If a mother had a child younger than three years old the child would go to prison with the mother.  I struggled with this and took a photo of a young mother with her baby so that I could show this to my friends and family back in Canada.  I now know that taking photos in a prison is not allowed, but for some reason that day I was permitted to take a few photos.  We handed out blankets made by women back in Ontario, Canada (thank you Malee Edwards and team) and gave each woman a bible.

That was in 2006, six years ago. 

On Tuesday Ian and I were in South Africa taking a day off to celebrate our 21st wedding anniversary.  I decided it was a good time to start organizing some of the 22,000+ photos that I have on my laptop (since 2003) and “stumbled” upon the photos of my visit to the women’s prison in 2006. I have not looked at those photos since that time.

And guess whose photo I saw (the one you are seeing in this blog)?  It is the VERY woman who has the 5-month old baby we are trying to save THIS VERY WEEK, October 2012!!!!!  The child she is holding in the photo is now seven years old and we have since learned that she has been in and out of jail since 2006, for stealing food for her children over and over. (I am intentionally leaving the mother unnamed).

When I saw the photo I couldn’t believe my eyes.  She looked so much younger, her face was fuller and she looked content. Now she is six years older, sick and has eight children.  In August 2012 just before she went to prison she begged us to go and check on her other children.  This photo shows what we found when we arrived.  Six children living alone, including the seven year old who was a baby when I first met them.  Now she is in prison for three years.  What will become of the 5-month old who is in prison with her or the others who are left alone?  Only God knows.

We are working/praying diligently to try to get the little baby out of prison at the repeating request of the mother. She doesn’t want the baby to die of malnutrition in prison and the baby is sick.  On Thursday I made another trip back to the prison, this time to bring baby formula (that needed special permission because no outside food is allowed to be brought in).  When the mother and baby were brought in to the room where we were to meet I had the photo of her from 2006 ready to show her. 

Imagine that.  She was sitting on the floor with her sick baby and looked up and the photo as I held it out for her to see.  She looked from the photo to me and back to the photo again.  Then she looked at me and said, “That is me.” 

I said, “That was you in 2006” and she nodded in agreement.  She then told me that the baby was now seven years old and she got very sad.  After a moment she looked up at me and said, “We have known each other for six years, but we just didn’t know it until now.”


And then guess what happened?  The two senior prison officials looked at her and said, “God is a very BIG God. This just shows you how much He loves you and your children doesn’t it?” 

And guess what else?  The mother is now back on her ARV’s (AIDS medication), which she had been refusing for quite some time.  She had “dropped out” of the program, which guarantees to speed up her death, but she started up on them again this week.  Another miracle

{pause for a moment of  thanksgiving}

We will continue to advocate for this baby, and the mother.  But the good news for today is that they both know that Jesus loves them.  The baby has healthy formula that may save his life and the mother has medication for HIV/AIDS, which can surely save her life.  If the baby comes to us, great. If not, we know that it is in His perfect plan that the baby stays in prison.

What a mighty God we serve.  He cares about the little details and He cares about each and every one of us.  He does not have favorites.

At the end of the story in Matthew we are left with these words, “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,  I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’  “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’  “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’  “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Matthew 25:41-46)

Live from Swaziland … we are giving thanks.