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Saturday, June 28, 2014

What is different about Heart for Africa now?

I remember my first trip to Africa in April 2003 like it was yesterday.  If I close my eyes I can still smell the sour odor of human waste and filth wafting off the street children, the smell of raw sewage that flows freely through the slums and the rotting flesh of HIV/AIDS related Kaposi Sarcoma cancer.   I will never forget the looks in the eyes of the children who were living on the street and remained living on the street as we drove away in our safe vehicle to return home to a shower and food on the table.   I remember asking myself how 500,000 children could be living on the streets of Nairobi and how 11 million children had lost their parents to a disease that was never talked about in Canada, ever? 

It was in April 2013 that I started on the journey that I have been on for 11 years and it was a journey to knowledge; knowledge about HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, malnutrition, poverty, wealth, greed, hunger, Christians, sacrifice, love, joy, peace and total surrender.

I remember clearly that I wanted everyone I knew to go and see what I had seen in Africa.  Six months after my first trip to Kenya I gathered a group of people from ONYX Marketing Group to travel with me to see what I had seen, so that together we could fight against the injustices of poverty, corruption and sin.  I was a bit like a rabid dog wanting everyone I knew to GO AND SEE!  And then I knew they would be transformed, as I had been, and we could do something to help.

In 2005 our family started volunteering with Dream for Africa and on February 1, 2006 we took over the ministry full-time and changed the name to Heart for Africa.  From 2005 to 2014 we hosted more than 5,400 (!) people on 11-day service trips in South Africa, Swaziland, Kenya and Malawi.  For many of those years we worked tirelessly to recruit people to go and see for themselves, so that they could help.  But I quickly learned, as so many do, that it’s really hard to help in any significant, long-lasting way, when you live thousands of miles from the people whom you serve.  I, along with many who volunteered with us, would often leave Africa discouraged, feeling like we hadn’t done enough or helped the people in greatest need.  Much of that changed when we moved to Swaziland.
Volunteering in Swaziland 2005
Living here has been a huge gift.  It is not easy, but we love it. I miss my children desperately and I am only now realizing the huge sacrifices that they have made in the past eight years, including our incredibly disruptive move to Africa.  There are days that I long for “normal” – you know, dinner in a restaurant, no emergency calls about a sick/burned/dead baby or no power outages.  But I know that we are where the Lord wants us to be, and that by being here we can help in a significant, long-lasting way.  I believe with my whole heart that the development of Project Canaan is not only benefitting the abandoned babies who are being raised here, and the people from our surrounding community who are employed here, but as we work to achieve our goals of self-sustainability we will also be helping many others in the rural communities who are currently unreached. 

With a plan in place to become self-sustainable (meaning no donor funds needed for operating costs) by 2020, we have now been able to identify areas where we can invite volunteers to come and help in maybe a more meaningful and practical way than before. 

Starting in 2015 Heart for Africa will only have one large 11-day service trip to Swaziland that is in the model of the past trips (i.e stay at Lugogo Sun Hotel, all ages welcome, great intro-to-missions trip, work at Project Canaan, visit community homesteads, serve at a rural church on Sat/Sun).  This trip will be in July to accommodate all westerners who want to come during school holidays.  We don’t plan to ever cancel that trip as long as people are willing and able to come.

Just had to add a cute baby photo from lunch time.
During the rest of the year we want to host smaller teams who can either stay at the Moringa Guest House on Project Canaan, or a the nearby Nkonyeni Resort (4 miles down the road).  We will be looking for people with specific skill sets like:
·      Trades people who can come and hold clinics to teach our tradesmen new techniques to improve their skills.
·      Sewers/knitters/jewelry makers to come design with and train our Artisans
·      Children’s Ministry leaders who can come and teach others the importance of and how to teach our little ones (and each other) about Jesus.
·      Farmers who can assist in helping us implement best practices in animal husbandry, crop yield, dairy production etc.
·      People who just love children – and want to come and read with our kids, play with our kids and take a little pressure off the Aunties who are there 24/7.
·      Dentists who can come and provide care for the 220 workers who have never been to a Dentist in their lives.
·      Nurses and Doctors who can help us provide care to the surrounding community.
·      And so many other skills that we don’t even know that we need yet.

This is a big change in focus for us, but now we believe it is the right change and look forward to continuing to have people come and serve God through the people of Swaziland.

 I was reading in Ecclesiastes yesterday and thought this scripture was very timely.

There’s an opportune time to do things, a right time for everything on the earth:
A right time for birth and another for death,
A right time to plant and another to reap,
A right time to kill and another to heal,
A right time to destroy and another to construct,
A right time to cry and another to laugh,
A right time to lament and another to cheer,
A right time to make love and another to abstain,
A right time to embrace and another to part,
A right time to search and another to count your losses,
A right time to hold on and another to let go,
A right time to rip out and another to mend,
A right time to shut up and another to speak up,
A right time to love and another to hate,
A right time to wage war and another to make peace.

But in the end, does it really make a difference what anyone does? I’ve had a good look at what God has given us to do—busywork, mostly. True, God made everything beautiful in itself and in its time—but he’s left us in the dark, so we can never know what God is up to, whether he’s coming or going. I’ve decided that there’s nothing better to do than go ahead and have a good time and get the most we can out of life. That’s it—eat, drink, and make the most of your job. It’s God’s gift.  Ecclesiastes 3:1-13 The Message Bible

Live from Swaziland … looking forward to spending the day with Chloe!


PS Registration is now open for a team of people to come and help us finish up the dorms and kitchen/dininghall for the "big kids".  We are looking for anyone who can paint, hang curtains, assemble furniture, fix-it people, or anyone who can just lend a hand.  You can register today at

Saturday, June 21, 2014

What ever happened to ...? (updates on people and projects).

Miriam's "Got Milk". Photo by Jacob Van Singel.
  It has been a relatively quiet and uneventful week (aside from a massive wind storm and fires) and I always try to be intentional during these times to stop and reflect on all the God has done and is doing here on Project Canaan and around the world.

I am thankful for each of you who read this blog faithfully and often contact me and as how this person is and that person is.  As I sat quietly today and walked around the farm in my mind, praying for each department or situation, I thought it might be a good blog to give you a few short updates on people and things that might be of interest.  I would ask that you join me in praying for each of these areas as well as you have a day of rest tomorrow.

Children’s Campus:  We have 35 babies living at the El Roi Baby Home now and 24 at the Labakhetsiwe toddler home. There are 10 living in the “tinies” room (which is full) and six “walkers” will be moving to the toddler home next week.    We received six new children in 18 days in the month of May, but no children thus far in June.  I often wonder if no more children will come to us, and then the phone rings again.  Elisha fell and hit his head yesterday requiring three stitches, but otherwise just the usual teething pain, runny noses and colds.

Baby Isaiah:  Brooke and Lori Marschall took Isaiah to South Africa last week to continue testing to see why he is not thriving (he is 8 months old and weighs less than 10 lbs).  The good news is that his heart is perfect, his brain is perfect and they couldn’t find any other problems (heart condition and hydrocephalus were both in question).  We have run almost every possible test on this little guy, but now we will take him back on Tuesday to see a Pediatric Gastroenterologist (again) and a Geneticist.  His mother was a severely disabled (and deaf and mute) woman who has been in a wheelchair since birth. She was raped by a family member, gave birth at home and Isaiah ended up in the hospital a week after birth.  We pray life for this sweet little boy.

Emseni East:  The land for the new Emseni East children’s home and Oasis kitchen has been cleared and we expect to break ground on construction next week.  We have hit 65% of our fundraising goal, thanks to people like you buying $25 blocks for family and friends.  Thank you to all who have given and/or plan to support this important building project. 

Project Canaan Academy:  The Kindergarten construction is well underway, thanks to the ladies at the US Bank for their funding and support.  They are busy filling a 40ft container with furniture and supplies for the Kindergarten.  Pam Joseph (Vice Chairman of US Bank) and her Executive team will come over in October to unload the container and get the school set up and ready for a January opening. Also, we are now accepting applications for a Preschool teacher starting January 2015.  

Khutsala Artisans:  The ladies are busy making jewelry to sell during the fall/Christmas season back in the US and Canada.  We are also getting ready to reveal our new Christmas ornament for 2014.  Stay tuned for that one.  Feel free to shop today at

Sicalo Lesisha Kibbutz:  We welcomed a new woman at the Kibbutz in the past couple of weeks.  She was literally picked up on the side of the road by one of our team members when she, and her 18-month old child, were being chased by a man who was beating her as she ran across the road.  Her boyfriend had just been released from prison for abusing her in the past and now he was out.  We welcome her and her son to Project Canaan.

Nomsa:  Nomsa (Gcebile) is settling in well at the Kibbutz.  She is still very weak and struggles to walk, but is still determined to live and takes her medication religiously. She went to the hospital this week and they gave her another 8-10 pills to take each day calling them “supplements”.  The biggest challenge is getting her to eat regularly, but we have a large team of people who visit her often and encourage her to eat and get strong.

El Rofi Medical Centre:  A 40 ft container of equipment and supplies arrived two weeks ago thanks to Cardinal Health and Giving Children Hope.   We have hired a nurse from Zimbabwe who will live on the farm and work at the medical centre Monday-Friday and she will work closely with Brooke and Dr. & Dr. Lemmer who will officially be responsible for the clinic. We will open the doors on July 7th and have a Grand Opening Celebration on July 16th when our large volunteer team is here.

Dam #2 – Rotary International: We started construction on the dam a few weeks ago, and now we must build a small building to install a holding tank for fuel so that the big machines don’t have to drive out to the gas station each day.  We were thankful to have visitors from our partner club here in Swaziland visit on Thursday and surprised to hear them on the radio and television the very next day singing the praises of Project Canaan and all that we are doing here.  What a lovely surprise and wonderful encouragement to all who work here and heard the news reports.

The Farm:  The farm looks great and the crops are rotating so that we always have fresh vegetables being picked.  We have a standing order with TexRay (a Taiwanese textile company in Matsapah) for 160 lbs of fresh vegetables every week and all other vegetables get sold to a local exporter.  Of course the children get farm fresh veggies every day to help provide nutritious meals to help them grow.

The Dairy: We’ve got milk!  And Chad pasteurizes it several times a week then makes all the yoghurt and cheese that we use at the Children’s Campus.  Yum, is all I can really say.

Sunday Worship:  Children’s Church is now happening at 9AM outside at the back of the baby home and all the children and Aunties attend, as well as those who just love worshiping with the little ones. It is a magical place to be and the feeling of peace and joy during our time with them is unexplainable. We are using the Children’s Program from Northpoint Community Church and starting at the beginning – Genesis and that “God created”. It is simply awesome. There is a Swazi service, in siSwati, at the chapel at 10AM and it is filled with Swazi music, dance and a message in siSwati.

The Maxwell’s:  We are in a good place right now.  Chloe is home for the summer (our winter) and it is wonderful to have her here.  She turns 18-years old on July 5th so we have a trip to Cape Town planned to celebrate with her.  We have never been there so are excited to visit a most gloriously beautiful city.  Work is always in front of us and there is always so much to do, but as I type this, Ian and Chloe are enjoying “Lord of the Rings” and we will have a social visit with the Klees and Lori Marschall later today.  God is good.

That is my update for today. If I have missed someone or a project you want to know about, please feel free to message me and I will give you an update.

Live from Swaziland … this is a peaceful day.


Saturday, June 14, 2014

880,000 hard boiled eggs a year?

Fred, Peter, Kurt, Brad, George and Tim.
Today we said goodbye to a team from the Egg Farmers of Canada (EFC) including their Chairman, Peter Clarke.  It’s been an egg-citing week and today is a good day to share it on this blog.  It’s a jaw-dropper!

We met Peter and his team two years ago when I was invited to speak at the International Egg Commission (IEC) Conference in Venice, Italy.   Since that time we have had visits from the Chairman of the IEC, the Chairman of the American Egg Board (AEB) and other important members of their respective teams.    After many conversations, emails, brainstorming sessions and site visits we now have a plan.

You may not believe this one, but I assure you it’s true.

These multi-generational Egg Farmers want to help the orphaned and vulnerable children of Swaziland by providing one of the most nutritious foods on the planet – hard boiled eggs!  Eggs are one of the few foods considered to be a complete protein, because they contain all nine essential amino acids. Amino acids are considered the "building blocks for the body" because they help form protein*.  The children of Swaziland need these building blocks!

Showing the rural children how to peel and eat a hard boiled egg.
The EFC and IEF have chosen Project Canaan in Swaziland to be the Pilot Project for finding ways to help children around the world who are in need of protein and proper nutrition.

The plan is to build an egg production facility that will produce in excess of 18,500 eggs per week, which will then be hard boiled and distributed to the children who are being fed through our rural church partners. This will provide an animal protein every day to each child we currently feed, in addition to the important vegetable protein that the children currently get through the Feed My Starving Children Manna Pack.  The fundraising, expertise and training will come through the EFC, and in addition the IEF is providing the services of Dr. Vincent Guyonnet**, who is the Scientific Advisor to the IEC, for Project Management and expertise.  

Heart for Africa currently provides 74,000 hot meals each and every month to orphans and vulnerable children in the most rural areas. That is 880,000 meals per year.  If the need continues to grow as it has in the past few years we anticipate that number growing to 2.6 million meals by the year 2020.  Our hope and plan is to grow the egg production to meet that need alongside our Feed My Starving Children partnership.

In 12-18 months from now we will have Project Canaan Eggs, in a big way. Un-boiled eggs will be provided for the children living at Project Canaan, which will in turn reduce our monthly grocery spending.  We will be able to train and employ people to work at the poultry facility and we will start distribution to the children at our church partners. 

This will not be a commercial egg production facility – these eggs are to be put into children’s hands and mouths in the same way we would put TOMS Shoes directly on children’s feet … all thanks to a group of kind hearted, caring, passionate, enthusiastic men who believe that this is not just about Corporate Social Responsibility, it is simply the right thing to do.

CEO of EFC, Tim Lambert, and Baby Timothy.
This was an egg-cellent week and we are more than egg-cited about this new partnership, and more importantly, our new friends.

Live from Swaziland … it’s time Get Cracking!

Of course they also helped with little road repair.

** IEC Scientific Advisor - Dr Vincent Guyonnet

Dr Vincent Guyonnet, DVM, Ph.D, Dipl. ACPV, was appointed as IEC Scientific Advisor in January 2010. Vincent is responsible for helping IEC deliver on its commitment to science based positions and guidelines as well as developing its relationships with international and intergovernmental organisations.

Vincent is a native of France, he obtained the degree of Doctor in Veterinary Medicine in 1987 from the National Veterinary School of Lyon, France and a Ph.D degree from The University of Georgia, Athens, GA, USA in 1991.  He was accepted as a diplomate of the American College of Poultry Veterinarians (US board certification) in 1994.

Vincent joined Burnbrae Farms Limited in June 2005 as Vice President – Research & International Business Development, and in 2007, received additional responsibilities for Quality Assurance.
Prior to joining Burnbrae Farms Ltd, Vincent worked for Pfizer Inc. from 1991 to 2005 in the Animal Health Group.   Vincent assumed a number of positions of increasing responsibilities in research, technical services, regulatory affairs and marketing (Pfizer World Headquarters, NY, NY, USA) and was general manager of Pfizer Australia – Animal Health Group (Sydney, Australia).

He has authored 10 peer-reviewed papers, given 25 communications at US and international scientific meetings and congresses and has been a guest lecturer at universities in Australia, Egypt, France, Malaysia and Thailand.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Nomsa has moved to Project Canaan – Not sure I can do this.

Chloe and I taking Nomsa out of the hospital to the truck.
For those of you who don’t know who Nomsa is you can catch up by reading

Her real name is Gcebile Mabuza, but when I first started blogging about her I called her Nomsa for two reasons; it provided privacy for me to tell her story and it was an easy name for people who were reading the blog.  “Gcebile” has a front tooth cluck to it and can be tricky for the untrained tongue.

On November 19th, 2012 (my birth day), Nomsa gave birth to her fourth and fifth children at the age of 23 years.  Her girls Rachel and Leah were her second set of twins and in early December she was dying on the floor of her mud hut from MDR-TB (Multiple Drug Resistant Tuberculosis).   She was taken to the TB hospital and I was called and asked if I could take the twins.  The answer was “yes”.  And that is how Nomsa and I met.

In January 2013 I started visiting her once a week to take her food, reading materials and to try to help her get healthy and well so that one day she could care for her own babies and they would not become orphans.  For a year she seemed to get better, gaining weight, taking her medicines and injections daily and helping so many other dying women who needed help in the ward.

In the fall of 2013 she took a turn for the worst.  She had left the hospital to take her medication at home, but got very sick and ended up back at the TB hospital.    One day when Chloe and I were at the hospital visiting we heard the news that we never wanted to hear (but always suspected).  Nomsa had become Extremely Drug Resistant to her Tuberculosis medication (XDR-TB).  This life-altering moment not only changed her life, but it changed ours.  This moment was captured live by film makers Jezz Newman and Beckie Stewart in their incredible film called “TB: Silent Killer - Return of the plague”, which is a PBS/BBC documentary about MDR-TB.  If you have not seen the film, I encourage you to google it or go to and watch it today. 

Since that day Nomsa’s health has been in decline.  She was moved in to isolation and has watched roommate after roommate succumb to this horrific “plague”, dying in front of her eyes.  Her weight has dropped from 120 lbs to 83 lbs.  She is skin and bones, can’t walk on her own, is in terrible pain and is not always lucid.

In 2013 we built a house for her (a single room) at the kibbutz on Project Canaan with hope that she would one day be “culture negative” (non-infectious) and could move.  That day of “un-infectiousness” does not appear to be on the horizon. In fact, we are told unofficially that only one person in Swaziland has recovered from XDR-TB.  We are still praying for a miracle.

Last week I succumbed, not to the disease, but to her cries to go home.  She had given up hope in the hospital and was failing quickly. The Doctor shared with me that they almost lost her a couple of weeks ago while I was away, but she rallied one more time and stabilized, with more medication.

Last week I could no longer bear her phone calls, begging and tears.  I sought council from friends and experts as to the risks of bringing her here and surprisingly got full support from everyone, including the other women at the Kibbutz and the Aunties at the Children’s Campus.  Everyone said that I MUST go and get her and they would all help care for her.  The Kibbutz ladies would help care for her and her room. The Aunties would send down food three times a day.  People from abroad have offered to pay for her food, get her a cell phone with a radio and come and visit her when they can.  The outpouring has been overwhelming to me.

Nomsa seeing her twins on the way to her house. She couldn't touch them, but saw them.
 She has been here for five days and I now realize this may be the hardest thing I ever do.  Here are a few personal confessions from me.  I am not good with sick people.  I am not good with hospice. I would be a better emergency room worker, but not a long-term care person.  I hate to see people in pain. I avoid watching people suffer.  Nomsa is sick, she is in hospice under my care, she has been in long-term care (hospital for two years), she is in pain and she is suffering.

Janice Johnson with Nomsa in her new bed.
 I have gone to see her each day to count out and put in the correct containers her 36 pills, for her XDR-TB, her HIV/AIDS and her potassium and magnesium deficiency (which has lead to kidney failure).  I (and everyone visiting her) must wear a N95 mask and replace it every week to keep me/us safe when I/we see her.  

The women at the Kibbutz have gone every day to wash her, clean her room, bring her water and try to encourage her. They are simply amazing.

I believe that Nomsa is suffering from depression and some dementia, which is causing unusual conversations and demands (i.e. she only likes white bread, doesn’t like boiled chicken, pizza isn’t real food, and she wants a full time nurse to come and sit with her).  We are all working together to sort this out and help get each of us through this for the weeks or months to come.  Three days a week a government nurse is driven out to the farm to give Nomsa an injection in her hip.  They are committed to doing this every week, but have said that sometimes there is no gas for the vehicle and they don’t always travel when it’s raining. Sigh. We will make a back up plan, because we can, but what about all the other people who will miss out on their injections? 

I will admit, I am really struggling with this.  I feel a huge burden of responsibility and want her to get better, and I do believe in miracles.  But I have to remember that if she is not healed in this life, that we brought her here so that she can die with dignity, surrounded by people who love her.  I need to try to smile when I visit her (though the mask) and not feel sick when I count out her pills.  I need to remember to show her that I love her and not that I am terrified of her death.

Thank you for reading this blog and for your prayers for everyone here.  Please pray for protection for all and grace, joy and HIS peace that passes all understanding.

Live from Swaziland … some days are better than others.