Sign up to receive this blog by email

Saturday, May 25, 2013

An inappropriate blog? You must be over age 18 to read this.

Many of my blogs are dark and heavy. They tell tales of abandoned babies, burned children, frustration and the experience of trying to see God in all things.

Today’s blog will be different. It will be more about life on a farm … a life that is new to us “city folk”.  This really is an inappropriate story to tell, but it is “nature” and part of our new life in Africa.

It all started yesterday morning when the sun was rising and the day had not quite started.  Our morning routine includes the first person out of bed opening the curtains to reveal the spectacular view of Project Canaan for the other person to enjoy while still in bed.  First person then goes and puts on coffee and lets out the little dog. 

That is what happened yesterday. I got up, opened the curtains and was putting on coffee when Ian yelled, “Ah, Janine?  I think we have a problem!”

Followed by, “Come quickly, Max mounted Twende and looks like he is stuck!”


I ran to look out the window and Ian had already thrown on shorts and was outside, bare-chested in his slippers.  I ran out in my nightgown and we both tried to approach the dogs, who were clearly “STUCK”, and not have them run away… well, truthfully they couldn’t run away. 

Okay if you are under the age of 18 you have to stop reading now and come back next Saturday.

Next we tried to untangle them and figure out what the problem was.  Sure enough Max had mounted Twende successfully, then I guess jumped off to the right, but didn’t “disengage” so now the two dogs looked a bit like they were playing the 1970’s game of Twister.  They were attached at the back, but both facing the opposite direction (yes, you can all say “ouch”).

Ian held Twende while I tried to lift Max back up over her so that things were at least going straight.  Oh what a tangled mess!

Both dogs were freaked out (not nearly as freaked out as Ian and I were and not anywhere near as freaked out as anyone on the farm would have been had they seen us out there in our pajamas unwinding two dogs who got stuck mating). I digress.

When we finally pulled his back leg back over her and got his front legs facing forward we saw that they really were stuck and her private area was a hard as a rock.  Ian finally got both dogs calmed down, as my anxiety increased.  I went inside to make an emergency call to Peter while putting on some clothes.  Peter was in town, but said he would call Anthony to come and rescue us all.  Ian yelled for me to bring out some vegetable oil.  Vegetable oil?  What on earth was he thinking of doing with that?

With pants on and vegetable oil in hand I ran back out to the yard just in time to see Twende run off and Max almost collapse in front of us.  I will stop short of describing his condition in full.

Ian and I were left standing in our yard, with the beauty of Project Canaan laid out in front of us. He in his shorts and slippers, me holding a cell phone and a bottle of sunflower oil.  Both of us totally freaked out and in a bit of shock at what had just happened.  Then we cracked up laughing. 

Life in Africa is not always easy, but we learned many years ago to laugh a lot at ourselves and at things around us that are funny (or strange). 

After we were sitting down with our hot coffee in hand Ian looked at me and said, “Well, I don’t think I want to start another Friday morning like that again.”  No kidding.

Live from Swaziland … it’s Saturday morning and the dogs are playing nicely.


Saturday, May 18, 2013

Momentum at Project Canaan

  It is exciting to see the momentum of what is happening at Project Canaan.  Everywhere I look I see growth, development, building and lots of smiles.    Yesterday Ian and I took a drive on 4-wheelers around the farm to do some planning and new building placement.  Even though we see it every day, we were amazed at what we saw.  Let me give you a quick update.

The farm:

Rains continue to fall and dams are full.  Our goal was to be able to irrigate 15 acres during the dry season, but because of the rains we are increasing that to 25 acres. We are growing cabbage, tomatoes, spinach, squash, potatoes, sugar beans and we sell our vegetables in local retail stores and roadside markets.  Soon we will be using the ISO Building for packaging the vegetables and will be selling them with the Project Canaan Produce logo. I can’t wait to see them in the store!  We planted 100 banana trees and a few dozen Papaya trees.  The goat population has grown to 100+ and we have five cows now on the property.

The Lusito Mechanic Shop is operating well and the team is proactively working on maintaining all vehicles and buildings.  They also are welding and have built the sorting tables for the ISO Building. 


The construction team is on a roll.  They just finished the Sisekelo Preschool and are now putting the roof on the Labakhetsiwe Toddler home.  We hope to move our toddlers to that home by early September.  The Manna Distribution Center (which will be home to our TOMS Shoes, Manna Packs, rice and other community distribution items) is complete and just needs shelving, which is being built at the Kufundza Center.  I will proudly add that the Kufundza Center also just completed four new double cribs for the baby home and is making all of the cabinetry for the Moringa Guest House.

Toddler home front left, Preschool at back, Baby home on right.

A home for our El Roi Manager and Construction Manager (Helen and Peter Muli) is underway and we expect to have it completed before Baby #2 arrives around July 11th.  We have laid the foundation for the Khutsala Artisans Shop, which will be a place of training and production of handcrafts, and the concrete floor will be poured next week.

We have begun clearing the land for Dam #3 and the surveying will be finished in the next two weeks.  We plan to have this very large dam completed before the next rainy season in November. 

Yesterday we chose the location of the Sicalo Lesisha Kibbutz for women as well as a soccer field for our children and workers to play “football”.  We hope to start clearing both of those places in the near future.  The plans for the El Rofi Medical Clinic are almost complete and architectural drawings are next on the list.

El Roi Baby Home:

This week we welcomed two more little lives. Isaac and Rahab joined the family and we now have 31 children living at El Roi.  The office was moved out and new cribs moved in.  Isaac is a healthy baby boy, but Rahab is a very malnourished little girl. Isaac was born May 10th and Rahab March 14th, but they both weigh the same (5.3 pounds).  On another note, we are thankful that we were able to move the burned child to a private hospital and he had skin grafting done yesterday. We pray that he will heal quickly and then will move home to El Roi in a couple of weeks. 

Baby Isaac
Baby Rahab
We have sad news about baby Grace.  We have been told that her blindness is total and permanent.  In addition she has Cerebral Palsy and serious brain problems – none life threatening, but she will need special care as she grows.  We are thankful that she has come to us.

Community Work:

We are now providing 74,000 hot meals each month to orphans and vulnerable children in the communities surrounding our partner churches.  We are preparing to give new TOMS Shoes to the children at these churches on our June and July trips and can use lots of volunteers to assist with this. 

It is overwhelming (in a good way) to see the hand of God at work here in Swaziland.  There is momentum and we know that it is His momentum, not our own.  Last month 129 people were employed on the farm, in construction and at the Baby Home at Project Canaan.  In a country with a 70% unemployment rate we are thankful to be able to provide jobs and an income, which in turn is benefiting 1,600+ people in our surrounding community. 

Thank you for your ongoing support, encouragement and prayers and for reading this blog :)

Live from Swaziland … I am thankful.


Saturday, May 11, 2013

The story of 4 Mothers in Swaziland - what would you do?

  Tomorrow is Mothers Day and want to dedicate this blog to my mom, Bernice Willis, who is living in Ontario, Canada, a million miles away from Swaziland.  Mom, I love you and am eternally grateful that you and dad adopted me as a baby and raised me to be the woman I am today. Without you, your faith in God and your faith in me I would not be here in Swaziland today helping other babies who weren’t lucky enough to get you!  Siyabonga Kakhulu Make.

I have a theory that Mothers do the best they can for their children with what they have. That means what they have in the areas of knowledge, upbringing, education, financial means, love, faith, confidence and a host of other tools. I may be wrong, but being an eternal optimist it is a view that I want to believe.  As I think about Mothers Day tomorrow I have been thinking about four mothers who I have had interaction with this week.  These women are not for you or me to judge, but rather maybe to prompt you to give thanks for the mother that you were given, think about the mother that you are and consider what you might do if you were one of these four mothers in Swaziland.

Mother #1 – a 14-year old girl who gave birth on Friday morning via C-section and who refused to look at the child or touch the child after birth.  The baby lies only 30 feet from the mother in the hospital, but this young girl wants nothing to do with it.  Why?  We don’t know, because she has not revealed who the father is.  Her secrecy in itself tells that the father is likely someone close to her or the family.  Is this young mother (or girl who gave birth to a baby) doing the best she can by turning away from the child so that she can focus on her own education and future?

Baby Isaac, born May 10th, 2013. 2.6KG
 Mother #2 –  a 30-year old mother of four children who has lived at the government hospital for the past 57 days.  Her 18-month old child was lit on fire by his own father (not living with the mother) and then hidden for five days to suffer his 3rd degree burns in silence.  This mother has watched her child live in excruciating pain and she has slept on a chair for almost two months resting her head on the child’s bed to sleep each night.  She asked us to take the child to the El Roi Baby home when he is healed so that he may be safe from the father’s revenge.  In the interim we have been able to move the baby and mother to a private hospital so that he can get excellent care while he heals and remains safe from further harm.  Is this mother doing the best she can for the baby by giving him to us so that the child will live in safety?

My new BFF - burned baby is moved to private hospital.
Mother #3 – a mother who handed her 5-week old baby to a neighbor so that she could go and use the toilet, then she ran away, never to return.  The child’s health card reveals that the mother was HIV positive and the baby is on Anti-retrovirals, which we will now give her at the El Roi Baby Home, which is her new home. Did the mother do the best she could by leaving the child with a stranger, knowing that she herself was sick and had no means to feed or care for the child?

Mother #4 – a young mother gave birth at a local hospital and then ran away leaving the child.  The baby girl has been living at the hospital for two weeks and there is no sign of the mother coming back.  The hospital has no record of the mother, no way to find her and not even a name for the baby. We are hoping that this baby may also come and live at the El Roi Baby home, but only time will tell.  We can’t begin to imagine what kind of situation this mother was in that would cause her to carry a child for 42 weeks and then run away from her when she is born.

These are only four of many stories that I we heard and dealt with this week. It was a big week for babies and mothers and I am thankful that I am here in Swaziland to be a part of these stories. 

I am thankful that my birth mother (who was 15-years old) made a choice to give me up for adoption so that I could have a better life than she could give me.  Giving a child away is a heartbreaking act, but in many ways it may be the most selfless act mother can do.

Live from Swaziland … Happy Mothers Day to all women who have brought a life in to this world and to all the mothers who have received someone else’s child to care for.  El Roi see you.


Saturday, May 4, 2013

Nomsa did not get good news ... and other updates.

 When someone asks you if you want the good news or the bad news first, which do you want? This blog will update you on several people whom I have written about in the past few months and  I will start with the bad news so that I leave you with good news.

Nomsa:  We finally got her tests result back and she is POSITIVE still for Multi-Drug Resistant Tuberculosis.  To make things worse she also has a new type of lung infection called MOWT.  I am in South Africa for a couple of days so I heard this by phone yesterday when the nurse called with the test results. Nomsa is devastated as she was sure that she would be leaving the hospital next week, but now she starts new treatment and according to the doctor it is another 6-8 months in hospital.  She was inconsolable yesterday, but I will head in to visit her tomorrow and bring love (and KFC J).  I will write a full report with more details of MOWT in this Wednesday blog.

Nomsa at her bed in the hospital.

Burned baby:  I have no good news to report on the baby who was burned by his father.  I met with the mother again this week and she is anxious to get back to her other three children who are now living alone.  She lost her job because she has been at the hospital for seven weeks, but at the same time doesn't want to be discharged because she can’t pay her $56 hospital bill.  I assured her that we will help her with the payment when the time comes, but we are still navigating the political waters to try to help this child.  I am hopeful that the situation will be resolved this week and that the child will be moved to a private hospital.

Now for the good news updates!

On Monday we will be receiving a new baby girl!  She is three weeks old and was left with strangers when her mother said she needed to go to the toilet. Imagine that?  “Please hold my baby while I use the toilet” and then the mother disappears. The people took the baby to the police and she is now in the hospital. We will pick her up on Monday.

Yesterday Beth Blaisdell, Elaine Baker and Kim Kennedy arrived in Johannesburg from the US and will be joined by the rest of their team from the US Bank on Monday. These women will be working diligently to assemble furniture and decorate the Sisekelo Preschool in one short week.  I will post photos next week, but I somehow think that this just might be the nicest preschool on the continent J.

Parents who wanted to drop off their babies at Project Canaan:  The little baby in this story is doing really well.  He is on Anti-Retro Viral medication for his HIV/AIDS and his lung infection is gone.  He is at home with his mother and his father is working at Project Canaan and goes home on the weekends.  He is a hard worker and we are thankful to have him on the construction team, which is building the Toddler home.  A great ending to a story, which started very badly.

Baby Deborah:  She is TOO CUTE!  I wish I had a current photo to upload here, but I am in South Africa writing this and don’t have a picture.  She is doing so well and although she is still sleeping in my fathers doll crib she will be moving to a “big girl” bed soon!

Jabu and her twin boys:  Jabu loves working El Roi and the family has settled in well at Project Canaan.  The boys are very active, fun loving and full of life now that they are eating properly (and regularly) and being stimulated with other children at the Farm Managers Building. We are thankful for Jabu’s care for all the babies at El Roi.

14-year old pregnant girl:  She is still pregnant.  Her due date came and went so we know that the doctor (and ultrasound) were correct, it was not the rape that caused her pregnancy.  There had to have been another “incident”.  We expect her baby by the end of May and will still accept him/her at El Roi.  Then we will see how we can help this young girl share with a Social Worker what really happened.

Live from South Africa … I am going shopping with the girls.