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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Q & A from Taiwan

  It is Saturday afternoon here in Taiwan, so I am a bit late for “morning” in Swaziland, but still have a few hours before the sun comes up in North America so I have a few extra hours to put my thoughts together for this week’s blog.

Last night I posted a question on Facebook and asked what I should blog about today? I had questions from Australia, Canada and the US so I will take this opportunity to answer all of them.  I hope this information is valuable and interesting.  Thank you to each of you who posted a question!

Question:  Ann from Indiana asked:  I would love to hear the story of your friends in Taiwan and their involvement with and support of Heart for Africa Swaziland.

Answer:  Taiwan and Swaziland have a very important political and diplomatic relationship. Swaziland is one of only 24 nations globally that recognizes Taiwan as being and independent nation from China.  This unique political position provides an important platform for the two nations to work together.  Taiwan has a wellknown philosophy that basically says (pardon my paraphrase), “Fifty years ago Taiwan was a recipient of foreign aid and many other nations came to assist us in our time of need.  Now we must be givers of foreign aid and help others who are in need as we once were.”  Swaziland is a recipient of kindness and support due to the unique partnership with Taiwan.


This philosophy was one of the reasons that Mr. Lewis Lu starting bringing students from Changhua Senior Highschool to Swaziland to serve the poor in 2007.  His ambition, dedication and commitment manifested and grew into the formation of the organization called Heart for Africa Taiwan with Mr. Michael Chen, and their enthusiasm encouraged many other groups to get involved including: other High Schools, the Catholic church, Christian schools and churches, Universities, Hospitals, Lions Club International and Rotary International).  Due to Mr. Lu’s efforts we will launch a group called Heart for Africa Japan on February 2nd at the ONE WORLD conference in Osaka, Japan.  I am always encouraged by and thankful for the never-ending efforts of the people of Taiwan to help us in Swaziland.

Question:  Lori from California asked: What are the greatest ‘needs’ in Taiwan?  They are doing so much for Swaziland, how can we help/pray for them?

Answer:  That is a tough one for me to answer because I do not live here and am only a visitor.  We are thankful for the love and support that we get from our Taiwanese friends and that religion is not a barrier to helping the orphans and vulnerable children of Swaziland.  I am proud to say that my Buddhist friends have joined with my Catholic friends, my Christian friends and my non-Christian friends to help the orphans and vulnerable children of Swaziland and I pray that each and every person is blessed abundantly for his or her participation.

Question:  Penny from Georgia asked: Talk about snake wrangling in Swaziland?

Answer:  Now, Penny, you know we don’t wrangle snakes in Swaziland!    We just sprinkle mothballs all over the property and they go away! J  The truth is we have lots of really nasty snakes that appear regularly on the farm including:  Python, Spitting Cobra, Black Mamba, Green Mamba and Puff Adder to name a few.  We try to avoid them as much as they try to avoid us (and Brooke Sleeper is working on a protocol for snakes bites on the farm).  But we discourage ALL “wrangling”.

Question:  Janet from Australia asked:  What do you do to de-stress? From the day-to day issues?

Spencer sitting in our favorite spot with the best vi
Answer:  I find myself much less stressed on a daily basis than ever before. When I was in business I carried the burden of the company and the people I worked with every day.  That was very stressful.  When I worked at Heart for Africa in Canada and the US I felt the burden of the work being done in Africa while I sat millions of miles away.  That was very hard on me emotionally. Now that I live and work in Swaziland I feel that I am doing the best that I can with what I have and that in itself gives me great peace and joy. 

BUT, at the end of each and almost every day Ian and I (and sometimes Chloe) will sit out on our patio at 6PM and enjoy the quiet and beauty of the farm. It brings us back to ‘center’ quickly and to a place of thanksgiving that is pure and real.  We also love watching TV – that is our big escape.  We don’t really get live TV, but watch series on DVD from beginning to end.  Favorites include:  Breaking Bad, Friday Night Lights, 24, Alias and for comedy Modern Family.

The view of the farm from our patio.

Question:  Kim from Ontario, Canada asked: Please talk about the Moringa Tree and why it is important?

Answer:  The Moringa Tree is one of the many crops we are growing on Project Canaan. To date we have planted more than 2,000 Moringa seeds, which have become seedlings used in with our church partners and in our own Moringa fields.  We harvest the leaves, dry them, grind them and sell the powder to anyone who would like to purchase it. One day we hope to have enough for export, but in the meantime it is proving to have significant positive impact in the health of some of our HIV workers at Project Canaan.

Moringa leaves being harvested by November volunteer team.
“In developing tropical countries, Moringa trees have been used to combat malnutrition, especially among infants and nursing mothers. Leaves can be eaten fresh, cooked, or stored as dried powder for many months without refrigeration, and without loss of nutritional value. Moringa is especially promising as a food source in the tropics because the tree is in full leaf at the end of the dry season when other foods are typically scarce. Analyses of the leaf composition have revealed them to have significant quantities of vitamins A, B and C, calcium, iron and protein. According to Optima of Africa, Ltd., a group that has been working with the tree in Tanzania, "25 grams daily of Moringa Leaf Powder will give a child" the following recommended daily allowances:

Protein 42%, Calcium 125%, Magnesium 61%, Potassium 41%, Iron 71%, Vitamin A 272%, and Vitamin C 22%. These numbers are particularly astounding; considering this nutrition is available when other food sources may be scarce.

Scientific research confirms that these humble leaves are a powerhouse of nutritional value. Gram for gram, Moringa leaves contain: SEVEN times the vitamin C in oranges, FOUR times the Calcium in milk, FOUR times the vitamin A in carrots, TWO times the protein in milk and THREE times the Potassium in bananas.”    Source -

Question:  Linda from Georgia asked: How about blogging about your hopes and dreams for 2013?

Answer:  It’s funny that you would ask that while I am sitting in a guest room at a boarding school in Taiwan with my 16-year old daughter Chloe.  Today, my hopes and dreams for 2013 are that Chloe will find peace and joy in the school that she is going to attend for the next two years of her life.  She has gone through tremendous transition over the past six years as we moved to Alpharetta, Georgia and then to Swaziland, Africa.  She has supported our “calling” and the work that Ian and I are doing, but it has not been easy and not been without personal sacrifice.  Chloe is a beautiful young lady and the only thing that I want more than her happiness is for her to be right where she is “supposed” to be.  We believe that God has a very big plan for her life and the road ahead may not be easy and carefree, but I believe with my heart and soul that it will be well worth the hard work it in the end.  Linda, thank you for asking.

That's my girl - never afraid of a challenge.

Live from Taiwan … it’s Saturday evening.


Saturday, January 19, 2013

Good news and bad news.

Baby Nathan arrives at El Roi.
First the good news. Yesterday Baby #24 arrived quite unexpectedly while I was in town with Chloe running errands and preparing for our trip last week. The Grandmother of the baby brought him for help because the mother is not doing well physically and couldn't travel. We will go and check on her today. Thankfully I had an emergency diaper bag in the back of my car, packed with love by Lori Marschall for "such a time as this".  Baby Nathan was born on January 5, 2013 and he is now home at El Roi.  That's the good news.

Now for the bad news.

This past month I have learned four very bad words:  Multi-drug Resistant Tuberculosis (MDR TB).  Maybe it’s only three words, but they are words that I had never heard in my whole life until I met the young woman whom I will call “Nomsa” – the mother of our twin girls Leah and Rachel.

If you read my blog dated December 15th you will remember how I met this young woman.  It was a desperate and heartbreaking meeting as she handed her precious 3-week old babies to me from the back of an ambulance and then tried to be brave through her TB mask while tears of sorrow and regret poured out of her eyes.  I didn’t think I would see her again because she was going to the National TB hospital to die.  She borrowed a cell phone at the hospital and called me that same night to see how her babies were doing. I immediately liked her and thought that I should plan to visit her in the New Year. My visits have now become a weekly event and usually the high point and the low point of my week.

Nomsa has Multi-drug Resistant Tuberculosis and is “co-infected” with HIV.   She is very very sick and has a long and difficult road ahead if she is to live.

When I first went to see Nomsa I had to find my way to the TB hospital. I had never been to (or heard of) this place, but it was easy to find.  It is a huge, multi-building facility that was built in 2009 to provide a safe place to treat this highly infectious disease away from the general population.  The buildings are well maintained, very open (lots of ventilation) and sterile, as one might expect. 

There is a guard at the front gate (not sure if he is to keep people in or out) and once you pass him you move on past the mortuary sitting prominently near the entrance (also with a guard outside - ??).  Just down from the Mortuary is the Women’s Ward.  After you enter, you put on a paper mask and then find your way to the patient you are seeing.

The first time I visited Nomsa there were ten women in the ward with her.  She is 24-years old and most of them were around the same age, except for the 12-year old who was the youngest one there.  Each of these women are in for very aggressive treatment which includes 18 pills at 10 AM every day followed by a very painful injection in the hip.  They get 4 more pills at 10 PM and those are there MDR-TB medication.  All of the patients are “co-infected” so they are all HIV positive and are automatically put on Anti-retroviral medication as soon as they arrive IF they are stable enough to endure it.

This treatment is done for a MINIMUM of six months and can last up to two years.  The treatment has terrible side effects including daily violent vomiting, total hearing loss and psychosis.  While we all read the possible side effects of various medications that we take, we rarely see those side effects manifest themselves.  In this case, many (maybe even most) have the side effects of these drugs.  It seems that they all spend time vomiting after their meds.  Of the ten women in the ward on my first day, half of them were totally deaf and my friend Nomsa has ringing in her ears after only a month of treatment.  Of the ten women in the ward, four of them had extreme psychosis and would yell out for help, talk to invisible people, crawl around naked on the floor or urinate on the floor in front of you

I have been to the hospital to visit Nomsa six times in the past month and I have not yet seen one other person visiting in the ward.  I have seen the odd person standing outside, distant from the patients so as not to catch anything. (It reminded me of the scene in the Valley of the Lepers in the movie “Ben Hur” when people would hide behind rocks and peek at their loved ones from afar too afraid to go near.  I can’t say I blame them).  Inside the ward there is no radio, no tv, no books, no sound, no calendar to mark the day, no color and a lot of death.  But it is clean, appears to be professionally run and is clearly the only hope these patients have of survival.

On Friday I stopped in for a quick visit and to let her know that I would be away for the next two weeks traveling.  I took her some much needed protein and prayed that she would be alive when I returned.  MDR-TB patients who are also HIV positive can take a bad turn and die in a matter of weeks.  In fact of the ten patients who were there at the beginning of the month, five of them have died.

On Wednesday my friend Wendy was here from the US volunteering to distribute TOMS Shoes and help out at the El Roi baby home.  We had to take Leah and Rachel in to be tested to see if they contracted MDR-TB so Wendy agreed to go in and spend some time visiting/ministering to/encouraging Nomsa while we took the babies to be x-rayed.  The twins test was negative so we believe they do not have TB and now can come out of the isolation room at the El Roi Baby home and join the rest of the family.

Nomsa looking at her twins from a distance.  A very moving and difficult moment.
When we went back to pick Wendy up I took my usual walk around the ward to visit and encourage some of the women there.  There was one woman who had been very sick the past few weeks. She was just skin and bones and lay naked with her boney arm stretching out to us for help. Her eyes were stretched open wide and white as snow.  She cried out to us and said, “Help me!  I am dying!”  It was a horrific plea from a woman who had no hope left in life. We held her hand, rubbed her arm and tried to comfort her with words that seemed empty, but Nomsa reminded us that the woman was totally deaf from the treatment and couldn’t hear us. We had large protective masks on so she couldn’t see us smile or read our lips as we prayed wit her.  We all tried to smile with our eyes and prayed to God to help her.  When I returned yesterday, she too had died.  Nomsa said when the time came for the woman to pass away she started wailing and screaming.  Nomsa said it was terrifying, and then she was silent.  It was over.

While my heart ached for Nomsa and the other women in the ward who have now seen six women die horrific deaths in the past month, I can’t even begin to imagine how the 12-year old girl is processing and surviving this all.  Please pray for her and the others who are fighting for their lives.

We had the great privilege of meeting one of the founding Doctors at this hospital. He was more than helpful, informative, educative and very willing to help us in any way that he possibly could.  I look forward to continue learning from this man as we continue on this journey together.

As I was waking up a few mornings ago I had a random thought float through my head.  I recalled the book “Tuesday’s with Morrie” and wondered if Nomsa might be willing to allow me write a blog called “Wednesday’s with Nomsa”.  To me, Nomsa represents the women of Swaziland.  She has lived in poverty, but had hopes and dreams. She found love and then lost it. She had babies, and then had to give them away. She was a vibrant, smart, educated young woman and then became infected with HIV due to choices that she made or were made for her.  There are so many layers to the social situations happening here in Swaziland that maybe we could peel back many of them and take a peak inside through this one bright young woman. 

I have asked her if she would allow me to sit with her every second Wednesday and write her story.  She is thinking about it while I travel. I hope that you, the reader, might be interested in doing a little more reading every other week and go with Nomsa and I on this journey.  It won’t be pretty, but hopefully will be insightful.

On Tuesday Chloe and I will get on a plane and head to Asia for two weeks. We will spend several days in Taiwan visiting the Morrison Academy where Chloe will attend school in August. Then we will head to Japan to officially launch HEART FOR AFRICA –JAPAN. I look forward to sharing all that God has done and is doing in Swaziland with our friends in Asia, but I will be happy to get back home to visit my friend Nomsa again.  Please join me in praying for health and safety as we go our different direction this week.

Live from Swaziland … pondering life.


Saturday, January 12, 2013

Baby #23 arrives while 15 children still starve at home alone

Baby Asher

On Thursday I got a call from a Social Worker at a local hospital saying that there was another case of rape and the 17-year old girl couldn’t possibly care for the baby that had been born that morning.  Fortunately some of our friends and family signed up to give monthly to support the El Roi Baby Home over the Christmas holidays so I was able to say “YES” when asked if I could pick up the baby on Monday.  That baby would be #23 and what a gift to have a team of volunteers here with us to celebrate his arrival!.

Then late Friday afternoon I got a call about another newborn baby boy, this time from a different hospital in a different part of the country.  His mother is 26-years old and is in and out of the psychiatric hospital with many voices talking in her head.  Her own mother kicked her out of the house when she came home pregnant, but would welcome her back without a baby.  Could we take him?  The answer was “yes” and he would be baby #24.

So baby #23 actually will be baby #24 when we go to pick him up on Monday.

When does it end?  What is our maximum?  I am often asked those questions by well-intentioned people from North America, but I am never asked that question by my Swazi or Kenyan co-workers or family.  Not ever.  Why is that?  I think it is because they have been there when a baby is found or when a baby shows up starving to death or having been burned or left on the side of the road.  It’s great to build spreadsheets and set goals, but at the end of the day we must prayerfully say yes to any and all babies that El Roi (the God who Sees) sends to us.  I am not sure how I will say “no”, if and when that day comes.

I am thankful to each and every person who supports Heart for Africa and the El Roi home for abandoned babies.  I have no doubt that El Shaddai  (Our Provider) will continue to provide for these little ones.  I could not do my job without you and I can’t imagine not doing what I do.  I love my job, my calling and am eternally thankful to have been given this gift.

Taking the baby to the car to bring him home.

Early this morning we drove to Siteki to pick up the 4-day old baby boy, named Asher (means “Happy”) we stopped to drop food off to the homestead with 15 children living with no caregiver, whom I write about often.  A dear friend from Missouri dropped money off at the US office yesterday and asked me to buy them some food.  Last week I took Manna Packs and 10 KG of rice, which should have been sufficient for a month. Today I brought bananas, bread, oil, onions, potatoes, squash and other fresh food. We even brought plastic plates and cups because the children all eat out of the hot cooking pot with bare hands.  Today, I discovered that the food I left last week had been stolen by a 19-year old “Auntie”.  Nice eh?    I am so angry. But that fight is for another day.
15 children living with no adult to provide for them.

Our last stop before getting Asher home was at the National Tuberculosis Hospital.  My young friend (Leah & Rachel’s mother) asked if I could bring her some mayonnaise.  Mayonnaise?  Yes, because she said the food was inedible and she thought mayonnaise might help.  When I walked in her room I found a young woman lying naked, face down on the concrete floor.  She couldn’t have weighed more than 70 pounds and was skin and bone.  I was shocked and asked my friend if she was alive. She said yes, and shook her head. She said, “She is very sick and has gone mad. She refuses to lie on her mattress so lies here until they come and put her back.”  Minutes later two people came in with masks on (to protect from the TB), then put on rubber gloves and lifted/dragged the lifeless body back to her mattress on the floor. That is a vision that will never leave my head, and I am thankful that our volunteers stayed in the car with the new baby.

That’s all for today, I am a bit weary and weepy and it is time to sit on the patio, look at the beauty that God has created and give thanks.

Live from Swaziland … it is Saturday afternoon.


Saturday, January 5, 2013

My heart hurts for the women of Swaziland

My beautiful family
Happy New Year from the Maxwell family at Project Canaan, Swaziland!   I am incredibly thankful for my beautiful family being together over the Christmas holidays.  May the year 2013 bring you joy, peace and love.

Some of you have asked me privately what I struggle with and/or how you can pray for me?  My first answer is usually asking for prayer for El Roi funding so that we never have to turn away a baby in need.  But today I have a different request based on several women I spent time with this week. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Live from Swaziland … my heart is hurting.