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Saturday, November 30, 2013

Another woman (girl) arrives at the Sicalo Lesisha Kibbutz today

This week has been a time of giving thanks.  We are thankful for our family, our friends, good food, good fellowship and all the other blessings that we have received.  I could write all day long the things I am thankful for, but I will focus on just one today - having a spare room at the Sicalo Lesisha Kibbutz (which means New Beginning Communal Living) on Project Canaan.

There have been many times that I have been asked whether we would consider opening a home for unwed/pregnant mothers?  The thinking is that even if the girl is raped and is pregnant from that rape she might want to keep the baby after its born rather than giving it away (or throwing it away).   It was a good thought and was the germ of the idea for the Sicalo Lesisha Kibbutz to be built.

This week I was called about a 17-year old girl who has been badly abused (sexually, emotionally, physically) since she was 8-years old.  She is now 5-months pregnant after a multiple rape and does not want the baby. She has tried to commit suicide on several occasions and has tried to abort the baby twice.  Her attempts were not successful.

The girl was discovered by a group of kind women specifically helping young pregnant girls in need.  They offer counseling and some assistance while the girl gives birth and then they do some counseling after to help the young mother with motherhood.  When this girl told her long and terrible story to the counselor she called in the senior leadership to help. The girl was then taken to the Social Welfare Office to get assistance, both for the baby who was unwanted, and also for the girl who was in fear for her life and desperately wants to go back to school after the baby comes.  She will be 18-years old at that time and is just now going into Grade 6.

I was called and asked to come and hear the girl’s story and then pray about how we could help, and so I went.  For two hours this young girl told me the story of her life from the age of eight until she was 14.  Due to time restraints she had to jump from age 14 to 17 quickly to tell me how she became pregnant.  There were several times that I wanted her to stop because I didn’t want to hear anymore.  There were times that I put my hand over my eyes to hide my disgust or pain.  She is a brave girl and we wanted to help.

The good news was that we have two empty rooms still at the Sicalo Lesisha Kibbutz and the next step would be for me to discuss her situation with the four women who already live there to see if they were willing to open their new home to a girl in desperate need.  I went straight back to Project Canaan and called a meeting.  I explained a small part of the story, which I was told and all of the women together said, “She must come here.  We can help her.”  I almost cried.  I was so proud of them.  Offering to bring in a 17-year old stranger, who comes with mountains of baggage, was the greatest gift that they could give.  I asked what would be needed and they said that they would scrub the floor of room #1 and we would just need to bring a bed, sheets, blankets and a towel (all of which we had in storage).  It was done. The young girl would come and live here.  It was that simple.  So here is the plan.

She will arrive in about an hour from now. Her room is ready and there is food for her to eat. She will start work on Monday morning making jewelry at the Khutsala Artisans Shop.  Her due date is February 3rd and her plan is to stay with us until after she has healed from childbirth. We have agreed to take the child to El ROI if and only if that is her desire when the child comes (right now she wants nothing to do with the baby conceived by rape).  She wants to go back to school, but realizes that she would have to wait until January 2015, and she will be almost 19-years old entering Grade 6, but maybe she will love living here and want to stay. Maybe she will love being taught a skill and working alongside other wonderful women who have been chosen to come here.  Maybe she will find hope and love in the safe haven called Project Canaan. 

We don’t know what the future holds for this young girl, but we know that tonight she will sleep well, maybe for the first time in nine years.  We know that she will be loved and that she will know that Jesus loves her so much that He has brought her here to us.  Interestingly, she has already named her unborn child – he/she will be given the name “Innocent” as the girl sees the child as the innocent outcome of her own tragic life.  I see the child as part of God’s perfect and Holy plan – none of which we can even begin to understand.

Today I give thanks for the people who gave so generously to build the Sicalo Lesisha Kibbutz so that this week we could say, “yes”!

I also give thanks to the anonymous donor who has put forward a $100,000 year end giving match so that every dollar that you give to our Year End Campaign will be matched to double its work.  As you give thanks for all that you have I ask that you consider making a Year End gift to us at Heart for Africa on this link.  Thank you.

Live from Swaziland … I am truly thankful.


PS - Photos from her arrival.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

138 chickens, 17 goats and Nomsa got to see her babies.

I had a really great week.  On Tuesday I celebrated my 50th birthday surrounded by friends and family (I even got to have a GREAT Skype call with Spencer in the US and Chloe in Taiwan!).  We hosted the “big kids” from the toddler home as well as “Baby Debs” (on Ian’s invitation), Rachel and Leah (Nomsa’s twins – see and all the Aunties who care for the 46 children living at Project Canaan.  It is hard for me to grasp that I share my actual birthday with Rachel and Leah and that one-year ago after they were born they almost died in a mud hut while their mother lay dying next to them. 

The day of celebration included eating cake, chasing chickens, petting baby goats and enjoying a great view with amazing people.   I had a great day.

The next day is what today’s blog is about.  It is my day with Nomsa.

My personal “what do you want to do on your birthday Janine” desire was to go and visit Nomsa at the TB Hospital and then bring her out to see Project Canaan. She has been diagnosed with XDR-TB (Extremely Drug Resistant Tuberculosis) and is infectious so she lives in an isolation room, by herself, at the hospital.  She has no TV or radio, no way to communicate with the outside world, no family to visit her and she has been really really sick.  We didn’t know if she would make it this time, but after six weeks she has rallied like the phoenix and is at least able to walk a little bit again.  She is very thin and gets weak easily, but she is still taking her meds and she is very much alive so we have not given up hope yet!

On Wednesday Lori Marschall, Ralph Glass and I started out on our all day journey. It’s about a 75-minute drive each way to and from the hospital, so that meant 75 minutes to go pick her up, 75 minutes to drive back to the farm, 75 minutes back to go back the hospital and 75 minutes to drive back to the farm.  We had to borrow a truck with an open back because Nomsa can’t ride inside a vehicle without running the chance of infecting us.  So Lori rode in the back of the truck on an old cushion and off we went. 

Nomsa was beyond excited to be getting out of the hospital on a day pass, out in to the fresh air to spend a few hours with people who are not sick.  She enjoyed chatting with Lori, looking at the beauty of nature and getting Fanta Orange and potato chips that Ralph picked up. 

When we arrived at the farm she turned around and faced the front of the truck so that she could see all there was to see.  Lori was her tour guide as we slowly drove past the El Rofi Medical clinic, Kufundza Carpentry Center, and down through the fields of green beans.  We visited the new dairy milk building, saw dozens of baby goats playing and stopped to taste our Moringa leaves.  It was like taking a child to Disney World for the first time. She was in awe of the beauty of the people and the farm.  Each time she was introduced, she was greeted warmly and welcomed by all.  Of course she had to keep her mask on at all times AND stay three feet away from everyone, but it was okay. We did our best not to make her feel like she had leprosy, even though the disease she carries is deadly to all in its path, especially to those who are HIV positive.

Then we went to the Sicalo Lesisha Kibbutz where we are building her a separate room.  We have talked about it for a year, but I am not sure that she ever believed me when I told her we were building her a home. She knows that she can’t come and live there until she is “sputum negative”, and she knows that it will take a miraculous act of God for her to actually become “sputum negative”, but that didn’t matter on Wednesday. That was her new home and we all believe in faith together that she will live there one day, soon.

From there we went to the El Roi Baby Home to see Nomsa’s twin girls, whom she has not seen since they were tiny newborns.  I have taken baby photos to her at the hospital, but to see her see the babies in person was not something that I was prepared for.  She couldn't hold them, she kept her mask on and her body at a safe distance, but there they were in front of her… beautiful, plump, happy, healthy and alive.  It was a miracle.

I wept.  Actually totally lost it and struggled when I looked at Helen who was also visibly shaken.  What total joy and sadness all at the same moment.  Auntie Shongwe and Helen held the babies and played with them while Nomsa sat and watched, and cried.  After some time and it was time for the babies to go and have their nap Nomsa looked at me, pulled her mask down and mouthed the words, “thank you.” 

We got back in the truck and I cried all the way to the TB Hospital and only was able to pull it together long enough to stop and buy her KFC (to make the day perfect), groceries, toiletries, and a few treats.  Thank you again to everyone who gives money to my Compassion Purse so that I have extra funds to do things like that (and even to pay for the gas in the vehicle).  We walked her up the stairs slowly, walked past sick, dying and naked women rolling around on the floor in delirium and put her things in her isolation room.

I cried all the way home and can’t write this blog with dry cheeks.  I am so overwhelmed with gratitude that I would be the “lucky one” to be called to do this work.  I can’t imagine doing anything else.

I had the best birthday. 

Thank you to everyone who made my day special. The Heart for Africa “50th Birthday Campaign” raised $55,000+!   Thanks to your generosity we can purchase 138 more chickens (for chicken coops at the toddler home and the Kibbutz), 17 more goats, a cow, 25 packs of diapers, 23 tins of formula, 99 BIRTHDAY CAKES (!),  4 bee hives, a HUGE playset for the kids AND we have most of the funds needed to start building the foundation for the next children’s home (when the toddlers outgrow their current home).  And on top of it all, my Compassion Purse has been refilled and I can continue to help people in need when the need arises. 

Live from Swaziland … thank you.


PS – if you didn’t see the video of our Toddlers singing “Happy Birthday” to me, please click on this link. It is only 14 seconds, but it will bring you joy. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Happy (early) 50th birthday to me :)

This weekend my wonderful husband of 22 years has whisked me away to the Island of Mauritius to celebrate my 50th birthday (November 19th) with some great friends, Ralph Glass, Mark Klee and Janice & Roy Johnson.  I have struggled with the feelings of guilt being in this beautiful paradise (4.5 hour flight east of Johannesburg in the middle of the Indian Ocean) and no doubt, some will judge us for going away for these few days, even though we have paid for this personally. But I am giving thanks for His provision and love and choose to enjoy this time of rest and fun. 

Mark, Ian, Janine, Roy, Janice Ralph.
I think that my friends would say, “Janine, take the weekend off!  You don't need to write a blog today!”   So to you friends, I thank you. I won’t write a blog today, I will just post a few photos and ask you to celebrate with me as I head in to another decade.  

It is hard to believe that 1,533 people read my blog post last week.  Thank you for reading it and for sharing it with others to help with awareness of what we are dealing with in Swaziland.  I was imagining if everyone who read it last week would give only $6 (the cost of a chicken) to my “birthday wish list” we could raise $4,599 to directly help the children living at Project Canaan.  Would you consider giving $6.00 US today?  Or more?  Thanks for considering it.

Help from US - click here

Help from Canada - click here
Live from Mauritius … it’s Saturday evening and I am thankful.


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Inmate gives birth in prison then strangles her baby - not making this stuff up

Yesterday Thabile and I had an appointment in Mankayane and left the farm early to make the 90-minute journey.  On our way we saw a newspaper headline which read, “Inmate gives birth, attempts to kill her baby”.  I pointed at it and asked Thabile if she had seen that and she said yes, and she had heard it on the news the night before.  I was shocked by the headline, but drove on.  When we finished our meeting, we stopped and bought a newspaper then headed home. “Coincidentally” the woman’s prison was right on our way, meaning we LITERALLY had to drive past it to get back, and I felt prompted to stop by the prison and ask how the baby was doing. 

We have a very good relationship with the leadership at the prison so I sent a text message and put in a call.  We also contacted Social Welfare and the police to make sure it was okay with all the stakeholders that we check on the baby.  They all said, “YES!  Stop in and we will meet you there.”  So we did.

We checked in at the front gate and walked down to the highly secured building and waited to be called by the head of the prison.  After a short time we were escorted up to her office and walked past a sad looking woman holding a baby.  We knew instantly who she was.

After greetings were made and formalities complete the girl was asked to come in and sit on the floor. I took the baby from her and started to unwrap all the blankets to see what lay beneath.  When I finally got to the baby I saw a plump (3.6 KG or 7.9 LB) baby girl with lots of hair. She was/is beautiful.  I looked to the mother and asked her what happened.  Here is what we learned.

The mother is 27-years old and has a 14-month old child. She is very poor and the father of the child has gone off leaving her with no support.  She stole R800 ($80 US) from an old Grandmother and was arrested.  She was charged with theft and given the choice of paying a R1,000 ($100 US) fine or go to prison for one year.  She had no money so had to choose the prison sentence. She and her 14-month old child went to prison on October 26th.   On October 28th she started treatment for HIV (although we learned that she had known before her first child was born that she was positive, but didn’t want to start treatment).

She did not mention to anyone at the prison that she was pregnant, and for some reason, no one noticed.

Early on the morning of November 7th the mother had stomach pains and diarrhea and stayed behind in her room at breakfast time.  She claims that she didn’t know she was pregnant (her story changed a lot over several hours), but suddenly a baby came out. She knew she was not allowed to have two babies in prison and the father of the new baby didn’t even know she was pregnant so she decided to kill the child.  

She didn’t have anything sharp to cut the umbilical cord so she torn it off with her bare hands, leaving the placenta deep inside her.  She put her hands around the baby’s tiny throat and squeezed to stop her from breathing, leaving deep fingernail marks on the baby’s tender skin.  Once the baby stopped breathing, the mother put her in the bottom of a trash bin and then piled garbage on top of her hoping that when the trash was emptied the baby would be done and no one would know. 

The mother started to bleed profusely and another inmate came to check on her and found the pool of blood. They screamed for help and a nurse and several officers came running.  The nurse immediately thought that the woman had tried to abort a child, but the mother said it was not true. Slowly the bleeding mother walked over to the trash bin and started pulling the garbage off the baby.  She reached down and pulled the newborn out by her foot.  The baby was grey by this time. 

The nurse and the officers were shocked and immediately went in to action. I am told that the nurse started CPR immediately and the officers around stood and prayed out loud. I can only imagine what the sound of their cries was like.  After a time, the baby took a deep breath and her heart started to beat again.  (No doubt the angel that was protecting her also took a deep breath too!)  The nurse brought this newborn back to life and then they rushed the baby and mother off to the hospital.  The mother was hemorrhaging badly and was in and out of consciousness.  The doctors were able to remove the placenta and the mother stabilized quickly.  By the next morning, the day we were there, both mother and child had returned to the prison.

So there we sat. We listened to her story as it was slowly and painfully pulled out of her.  She seemed totally detached from the baby and from what was happening around her.  I couldn’t begin to put myself in her shoes. She had just delivered a 7.9 LB baby (BIG) by herself, killed her child, almost bled to death and 24-hours later is sitting on the floor talking to us.  Surreal.

Thabile and I took turns holding the precious baby and praying over her, but she started to cry and wanted to eat.  The prison officials suggested that the mother nurse the baby, but because the mother is HIV positive we wanted to discourage that in case the child was going to come to El Roi where she would continue with bottle-feeding.  We didn’t want to chance passing HIV to the baby through breast milk if this was going to be a “one time” feeding (the mother did breast feed during the night and the baby has been put on Nivirapine as a HIV prevention method – we will have her tested in six weeks).  But we had nothing else to give her.  The nurse scoured to find a bottle and formula and finally found both, but could not find a nipple for the bottle.  The baby started to cry more.

I think this is my favorite part of the whole story.

I always carry a diaper bag in my car complete with bottles, formula, diapers, wipes and clothes. I just never know when I am going to get a call to pick up a baby.  But this time, I was in Ian’s car because mine was in the shop so my usually “prepared” items were not in the back.  As the baby’s cries got louder and started to think. I said to Thabile, “You know, if we had known that we were picking up a baby today we would have packed a diaper bag right?”

She said, “Yes, we would have, but we didn’t know”.

I said, “Right, but obviously Jesus knew that we were going to pick up a baby. I wonder if He packed a bag?  We know that He cares about the small details. I wonder if there is something in the back of Ian’s car?”

I handed the keys to Thabile and asked her to go check.  That is not an easy thing to do because we were inside the prison walls and she would have to get escorted back out through security, take the long walk to the main road, pass that security and go to my car parked on the highway.  She didn't want to go because it was a long way, and a hassle, but she was obedient and took the keys.  (I love that girl!). Twenty minutes later she walked back in the tiny room where we were sitting and had a FULL diaper bag with her complete with bottles, formula, diapers, wipes and clothes!  Jesus packed a bag and it was in the back of Ian’s car.  I later discovered that Ian had put it there two weeks prior when he thought it was needed for a trip to get Baby Isaiah, but Isaiah was not ready for pick up at that time, so it stayed in the car.  I love my husband!

At that time we were all overwhelmed by God’s provision for this little baby.  Not only did He bring her back to life, and then He had us right near the prison to drop in an check on the baby, He also made sure that we had all the supplies we needed for this little angel.  And that is what we have named her.  Angel.

After four hours at the prison we were asked to take the baby to the El Roi Baby Home. The mother will be charged with attempted murder and her time in prison will be extended.  I don’t know whether to feel pity for her or anger.  I guess I feel both.

We have received four newborn babies in the past week.  We welcome Mary, Isaiah, Glory and now Angel.  We thank all of the people who give to Heart for Africa on a monthly basis because without you, we could not continue to say “yes” when a baby needs a home.  We pray that funding will come in for these four soon.

Thanks for reading and praying.

Live from Swaziland … we have 45 babies living at Project Canaan.

PS - Now, for a bit of shameless self-promotion, my 50th birthday on November 19th and my friends at Heart for Africa asked me what I wanted for my birthday, then they put a “wish list” on the website. All of my birthday wishes are for the babies at Project Canaan or the women at the Kibbutz.  Feel free to buy a goat or a chicken or contribute to the next children’s home on Project Canaan to help me celebrate!

In the US: Click here

In Canada :  Click here

Thanks friends.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Newborn baby this week, newborn baby next week, Superstorms and no electricity. Giving thanks in all things.


“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”  Theodore Roosevelt

In the past few weeks/months we have seen babies diagnosed with HIV/AIDS and others die after the disease weakens their immune system beyond repair. We have seen people diagnosed with Multiple-Drug Resistant Tuberculosis and watched people die from it.  We have seen rape cases, trafficking charges, and young girls having sex for food, just to survive.  We have watched storms destroy property, waters flood our house and winds blow down large trees.

On the flip side, we have seen children test NEGATIVE for HIV. We have seen babies come back from the brink of death to new life at the El Roi Baby home. We received a newborn abandoned baby girl last week and will receive another one next week, who was left for dead in a pit latrine.  We have seen storms miss buildings while the rain from the storms water the crops and fill our dams.   We have seen people brought to justice, young women brought to safety and beauty come from ashes at the Sicalo Lesisha Kibbutz. 

I have been in Taiwan for the past two weeks and have loved seeing Chloe in her new school and home environment. She is thriving. I have loved Skyping Spencer in Georgia and hearing about his school, his company Cirque Freaks and just be able to chit-chat about life and cats and stuff.  He is thriving.  Despite all of the trials and tribulations that we are going through, I can see the hand of God in my children’s lives and in our lives and I stand in awe at all that is happening around the world. 

On Thursday I was watching Chloe rehearse at her school play.  Suddenly we experienced an earthquake and it was jarring to say the least.  At the same time Ian was emailing me photos of our house in Swaziland that had been flooded by water.  Not too long after, I got a text message from Ian, which read: 

“ It was over 100 F degrees today, with the flood there is a very high humidity in the house, another super storm just went through and took out the electricity, oh ya, and a bunch of roof tiles. I'll let you know the extent of the damage in the morning. (Both dogs are in the house). Payroll is tomorrow and my computer battery is at 40%. Did I mention that I wouldn't trade this for anything?  I love living in Africa. Missing you." - Ian

That is from the guy who was NEVER going to Africa.  That is from a guy who says there will not be electricity for another couple of days in the bottom half of the country (!). That from the guy who had to do payroll for 195 people by hand on Friday including counting bills and coins then hand writing envelopes and pay slips).   When I read his text message I wept, and gave thanks.  Only God can change the human heart and truly have us give thanks during difficult times, while protecting us from harm and giving us joy, all at the same time!

“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.”  James 1:2-4

Live from Taiwan … it’s Saturday afternoon, and I am thankful.