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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Nomsa addresses the nation ... and her voice is heard.

On Wednesday, July 16th we celebrated the Grand Opening of the El Rofi (Hebrew name for "The God who heals) Medical Centre on Project Canaan. We were hononred to welcome the His Majesty King Mswati's wife named Inkhosikati LaMbikiza as well as the Honorable Minister of Health, Minister of Employment and Social Security and many other high ranking officials of the country.  We felt that it was important to have a speech given by someone who is in need of healthcare, not just those providing healthcare, so we asked Nomsa if she would speak.

She was terrified, but she said yes.  And with much help to get the right clothes and hair to make her feel confident she appeared before the crowd.  She was tired and each sentence took a lot of energy to get her breath through her Tuberculosis filled lungs, but she delivered a message that brought everyone in the tent to tears and then they stood to their feet at the end with a standing ovation.  The link to her speech on Youtube is at the bottom of this blog, but it is very hard to hear her, so I have printed her speech below.  Please be sure to read on.

I greet you all in the name of Jesus Christ.  

My name is Gcebile Mabuza (some people know me as Nomsa) and I am a child of God.  I am HIV positive and I have XDR-TB or Extremely Drug Resistant TB. I met Janine on the side of the road on December 13th, 2012 when I was being taken to the TB hospital in Moneni.  I had given birth to twin girls on November, 19th and we were all starving to death in my homestead.  The Social Welfare Office made arrangements for my baby girls to go and live at the El Rofi Baby Home here on Project Canaan while I moved in to the National TB Hospital for the next 18 months.  In June of 2014 when my weight was down to 82 pounds Janine and Ian made a room for me here so that I could come and live with dignity as I continued treatment for my conditions.

I was asked to say a few words today at the opening of the El Rofi Medical Centre because of my medical status and because my daughters live here.  I am thereby qualified to speak to healthcare and childcare being provided by the Heart for Africa team.

I would like to take this opportunity of the opening of the El Rofi Medical Centre to greet Her Royal Highness, Inkhosikati LaMbikiza and thank you for coming to this important event.  I also humbly ask you to go and visit the National TB Hospital one day soon to encourage the patients who are suffering there and the nurses and Doctors who are serving at their own personal risk to help the people who are sick.  I personally watched 70% of the people die horrible deaths during my time as a patient there and I beg you as our Mother to help get additional care for those who are suffering.

I would like to take to thank the Honorable Minister of Health, Mrs. Simelane, for all that she is doing to help the people of Swaziland who are suffering with HIV, TB and other illnesses that are plaguing our Kingdom. 

I would like to thank the Deputy Prime Minister’s office and Deputy Director Mrs. Maziya for their support of the El Roi Baby Home here on Project Canaan. I believe that my twin girls, Rachel and Leah, sitting over there, would not be alive today if it weren’t for this home for babies in great need. 

Thank you to Nurse Brooke Sleeper and all who have supported the building of the El Rofi Medical Centre so that excellent medical care can be provided to the people of Project Canaan and the children who call this “home”.

Lastly I encourage all of the workers at Project Canaan to know your status.  Be tested for HIV and TB and if you test positive and are put on medication you must adhere to the treatment and commit to safe behavior. 

The greatest photo of this amazing woman.
It is not right that people from other countries must come and look after our children. We Swazi’s should be raising our own children, but because of choices that I was forced to make when I was young, due to the death of my mother and the poverty I was left in, I have had to pass on my duty as “mother” to Janine and the Aunties at the Children’s Campus. 

As I sit here today I give thanks to the Lord for His love and care for my daughters and me. I am praying for a miracle and that El Rofi, “the God who heals”, will heal my body perfectly so that I may one day be able to care for Rachel and Leah as their mother and give them hope in their heavenly Father. Until that day, I give thanks for Project Canaan and all who are serving the Lord here in this place.

Social Welfare officer who placed Nomsa's twin girls with us.
I have been reading the book of Job lately. The book of Job has been giving me strength.  Job’s children died and he was left with nothing, but he sill believed in His Lord.  The devil saw that he was still believing in the Lord.  He was very sick as I am, and I must stay strong as he did.

Thank you.

No, thank YOU Nomsa for your courage, your strength and your love.

Live from Swaziland ... she is my hero.


Thank you Briana Spohr for recording this video and posting it - 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Young mother wants to kill her baby and herself – dumps baby then takes rat poison.

Teresa and Jared.

 This week we have a team of 70 volunteers who are here from the US and Canada.  We are always thankful to greet and serve with people who have worked so hard to raise the funds required to come and help “the least of these” in Swaziland, while also supporting the work of Heart for Africa.  One of our volunteers this week is my dear friend Teresa Birk.

On Tuesday I got a call from Social Welfare asking me if we have room for another baby (actually a toddler).  I asked Teresa to join Khosi and me and we headed in to town to learn about this child. Another sad situation, this time with a young mother who had been forced at the age of 17 years to sell her body to provide for food and basic necessities since both of her parents had died.  She desperately wanted to stay in school and was leaving the child alone all day locked in a room while she went to school (grade 8).  The school reported the situation and we were asked to help.  

I don’t often get to meet the mother or father of a child that we get as most of our babies are abandoned, but when I do it is usually a heartbreaking meeting, for me.  But typical of others, this young mother had no tears and quickly ran away after the child had been placed in my arms. Her relief was visible and she was “free”.  I always have a firm conversation about abstinence and/or safe sex when I meet young people at the Social Welfare office. But when a young girl is forced to have sex for food it is a hard, and maybe uncaring conversation to have.  

When we were only a few miles out of town I got a call from the same Social Welfare officer called and asked how far away I was.  A newborn had just been abandoned and he wondered if I could meet him while he gathered the report.  We turned around on the highway and headed back to town.   
The story was short, but not sweet.  A young woman went to a Daycare facility in the morning and quickly handed them her baby saying that she was late and needed to rush to work.  They only accept 3-month old children and she assured them the baby was 3-months old, then reluctantly gave her phone number and ran off.  When they went to change the baby’s diaper they saw that the baby was a newborn, the umbilical cord had recently fallen off, and it was bleeding a bit.  

They called the mother right away, but she refused to answer the phone.  They kept trying throughout the day, but finally got a text message that explained that she was not going back for the child. In fact, the mother claimed that she wanted to kill the baby and herself, but decided to drop off the baby and only kill herself.  Then they called the police, who called Social Welfare, who called me. 

The mother told the Daycare workers (through text) that she had given birth to the baby in the bush and that there was no healthcard/birthcertificate.  But when I examined the child I found that he had been circumcised (clearly a hospital job, I found a prescription from a local hospital AND I found Nevirapine, which is a drug used to give a baby when the mother has tested HIV positive.  Sigh.

It was almost 5PM and the Daycare was closing.   I was asked if I would take the baby to safety until a full investigation was done, hopefully resulting in a family member being able to take the baby.  We got back in the car and headed home with two babies.  Another surreal day in Swaziland. 

The next day was the official opening of the El Rofi Medical Centre (El Rofi is the Hebrew word for “the God Who Heals”).   It was day full of special preparation as we were welcoming the Inkhosikati LaMbikiza (the King’s wife who is the Patron of the El Roi Baby Home) and the Honorable Minister of Health Sibongile Simelane, along with many other dignitaries and special guests.  The event went off without a hitch and the highlight was definitely a speech given by “Nomsa” sharing her story of pain and suffering with the Queen and the other invited guests.  In next week’s blog I will share her speech. 
Nomsa addressed the crowd.

At the end of the speeches, ribbon cutting and a million photos,  I was chatting with Teresa who was holding the new little baby when he suddenly started to have seizures. We thought we saw seizures the night before when he first arrived, but then they passed. These definitely were getting worse so we quickly took our first patient in to the new clinic and called ALL the Doctors who were in attendance to help.  With the best medical minds together it was quickly determined that we must rush him to the hospital because he likely had Sepsis or Meningitis…not the way we wanted to end the special day, but thankful that the right people were there at the right time. In addition to the medical team, the Social Welfare officer who asked us to take the child was there and gave permission for us to seek immediate medical treatment for the baby.  This is an important factor in case the child passed away in our temporary care.

The party ended, the tents were taken down and Ian and I drove the baby to the hospital.  The baby is there still today receiving broad spectrum antibiotics through an IV.  He joins our boy Levi who has been in hospital for the past few weeks being treated for burns he received from an accident with hot water.  He had three small skin grafts this week and hopefully will come home next week.  
The mother of the baby has been found and is receiving counseling. We learned that she had attempted to drown the child in water and dettol (disinfectant) earlier in the week, but then realized that was wrong. She also has a 3-year old child who is suffering from extreme malnutrition. She took weevil tablets (like rat poison – and is the suicide “drug of choice” here in Swaziland) to end her life, but thankfully she did not succeed.  Social Welfare found her parents and there are conversations going on with them to see if anyone can help the young mother, the young child and the baby. At this point we don’t know if the baby will stay with us, but we are praying that the situation will be resolved in a way that everyone is helped. 

I will end the blog by telling you that we are happy to announce that we named our new toddler “Jared” in memory of Jared Birk who lost his life in a swimming pool accident a few short years ago.  Jared and his family were the inspiration for the town of Cape Girardeau, Missouri to fundraise for and build the El Roi Baby Home.  We will never have enough words to say “thank you” to all involved.  The little baby in hospital has been named “Enoch” – Jared’s son in the bible (Genesis 5:18).

Live from Swaziland … we are grateful.


PS – we join the families who are mourning the loss of the people on Flight 17 and specifically all of the HIV/AIDS researchers and experts who were going to Australia to help find a cure for the disease that has had an impact on so many of the children who now call Project Canaan “home”.   

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The pregnant mother was told she is a "walking corpse"?

We have been on holiday in Cape Town and Stellenbosch, South Africa for the past week celebrating Chloe’s 18th birthday and we have had a wonderful time. As per my blog last week, we miss Spencer and it seems like there is a big hole in the family as we experience new places and things without him. But that is life, and I guess I will have to try to get used to it.

One of the other things that I have to try to get used to are the strange messages that I often receive when I am away on holidays.  We are blessed with an amazing team back at Project Canaan, and technically we could turn our phones “off”, but we do want to be available in case of emergency, so the phones stay “on”.

I was contacted by Social Welfare a few weeks ago about a young mother who was in trouble and was asking for our help once her unwanted baby was born.  The due date was July 10th and I have been speaking to the pregnant woman regularly on a popular “App” here in Southern Africa called “WhatsApp”.  Throughout this past week, while we have been on holiday, I received regular messages from the mother telling me that she was in labor, or that it had stopped or that she had gone to the government hospital, but they had sent her away.  We have stayed in close contact.

Last night, just before we were heading out for a nice family dinner at the popular Ernie Els Restaurant, I got an urgent message from her that said, “I have just come from the hospital again and they say I am just a walking corpse.  I will tell you what happens as the day goes by.  Thanks.”

What is a “walking corpse?” and did they mean her or the baby?  As I asked more questions I realized that she had no idea what they meant.  In the Swazi healthcare world it is almost forbidden for a patient to ask a nurse ANY questions about their own health, including what medicine they have been given, what is wrong with them or why the diagnosis was reached.  That is another blog for another day.  The point is she had no idea what they meant, but that was the message she was given and so she passed it on to me.

My amazing team of American and Swazi Caregivers moved into action and made many phone calls to try to ascertain what the real situation is.  That may be the hardest part of our jobs – finding the “truth”, whatever that may be.

This blog will have to have a Part 2 because right now we are in the middle of the story.  The baby has not arrived.  The mother is at home.  We are monitoring as closely as we can the arrival of Baby #61.

I will let you know what happens, but for now, we pray for the mother, the baby and for all involved. 

Live from Stellenbosch, South Africa … I am enjoying my last day of our holiday.

Happy birthday Chloe ... from the top of Table Mountain.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

They had a great life, and then it all changed.

Spencer hold Chloe when she first arrived home.
Our kids had a great life, and then it all changed.

One day they lived in a big house in Canada with nice cars, private school, lots of toys, all the Disney movies, and exotic holidays on the beach. The next day it all changed.  Suddenly their parents were focused on saving lives in Africa, downsizing, even moving to the US because they felt that “God wanted them to”.  Sheesh.

She just couldn't keep her eyes open any more.
This was hugely disruptive to their lives, and also transformative.  Schools changed, friends changed, extra curricular activities changed and life changed.  Was it all good?  No.  Was it all bad?  No.  Was it all different?  Yes.

One of my all time favorite photos of Chloe.
Then the decision was made to move to Swaziland, Africa. Another sucker-punch to the stomach.  Spencer would go off to FSU with no “home” to come home to on family holidays and breaks. Chloe would move to Swaziland where she would have to travel THREE HOURS every day to get to and from a school that was not like any school she had ever been to.  That schedule just couldn’t be maintained and then we decided she would go to school in Taichung, Taiwan. Why?  Not because it was close, or easy, but because it is an awesome school and it seemed again that “God wanted her to”. 

Today is Chloe’s 18th birthday so I am dedicating this blog to her.  I have no words to express how proud I am of both our children and how they have handled the crashing waves that have tried to drowned them,  yet some days it seems that they both know how to walk on water.

Chloe is “home” in Swaziland for her “summer” break (even though it is winter here) and on Monday we will head to Cape Town to celebrate her 18th birthday.  You see change just make things different, not necessarily bad.  That is what she wanted to do for her 18th birthday – see Cape Town, visit Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years and take a Gondola up Table Mountain.  She would never have thought of that if we were still living in Canada.  She also wants to share her birthday cake today with Nomsa, her friend and sister with XDR-TB who is now in hospice here on our farm.  She wouldn't have known Nomsa if we hadn’t moved here.

His plans are not our plans, and I am eternally grateful for that.  Is this life easy? No.  Do I miss my children?  Desperately.  Do I feel we are all in the center of God’s will?  Absolutely.

With permission, I am posting below a blog that Chloe wrote last year only eight days before she moved to Taiwan (I still struggle even typing that).  I hope you will take a few more minutes to read it.  I promise you it is worth sharing, and I hope you do.

Live from Swaziland … Happy 18th birthday Chloe!  I love you.


Sitting in Silence -

Have you ever had a moment where you just sat in silence and thought about whatever just happened? What happened a moment ago, a day ago, a week ago, maybe even things from the past year. I've found myself doing that a lot this year and when I did have those moments I’d try to write them down in my journal so that later on in life I could remember what was important to me or what even happened through out 2013.

I look back to May 31st, 2012 (the day we got on a plane to move to Swaziland), and can read what I was thinking before we moved here. My expectations, fears, hopes, and questions that I had. It’s interesting to look back and see how things have fallen in and out of place as time went on and to just see how God was working. This year was probably the craziest year of my life. Moving is always hard, but when you go to another continent with a completely different culture that’s 2 worlds behind you’re previous continent, it takes it to a whole new level. Talk about the adventure of a lifetime. I think back to a year ago when we moved and where I am now and how much has happened. I went to a British international school for 6 months, finished 10th grade in December, and decided to transfer to a school in Taiwan for 11th grade (that wouldn’t start until August 12, 2013). That’s just the school side, on the other side, I've got to see our babies at El Roi grow and start to walk and talk, go with my mama to bring home (to El Roi) some of the new babies, etc.

One “memory” I guess you could call it that’s treasured in my heart was with one of the moms of one of our sets of Twins, Leah and Rachel. The first time I met Nomsa was in the back of an ambulance as we were given her twins and she was rushed to the multiple drug resistant TB hospital. Since then, she’s become a big sister to me. Mom and I would go visit her and bring her treats, sit under the tree outside so we wouldn’t have to wear our masks and just talk. We encouraged her as she gained her strength and was fighting against this disease. It felt like we were fighting it with her, and I just assumed God would heal her because I know He’s big and can do anything He chooses, and this seemed like it would be such a big “win” for God, but like I said, He does what He chooses and He has a plan for everything. On top of that His plans are perfect. So when I heard that we were going to see Nomsa last Friday, and I heard the doctor say she had XDR (the last stage of TB), my heart broke. I looked at Nomsa and could see the hopelessness in her eyes as tears began to streak her face and mine as well. I didn’t understand... because we had been fighting this together? And she was supposed to get better and come home to Project Canaan? We had it all figured out and we had a plan, but this was NOT part of the plan. God was supposed to take care of the disease part, because we had everything else covered. This became one of those moments where I sat in silence, and thought. Where is God? And why isn’t He holding up His end of the bargain? That’s when you have to remind yourself that He is there and He does have a plan. His plans are perfect, and our plans aren’t always His plans, but His plans should always be our plans.

That’s just one of the stories of this past year, but it was an extremely important one. Watching people lives here seems so much more real to me. The struggles aren’t 1st world problems, they’re problems that effect your health and well-being. Will I have food to feed my family tomorrow? Am I safe to walk my 2-hour walk home tonight?

You see real life when you’re living here, but you see joy too. Like when you go to El Roi and Ester walks over to you with her whole face just lit up. You crouch down and she just falls/flops into your arms for a hug and then proceeds to sit in/claim your lap for the duration of the visit. How is God so big? He sees and saves this little girl, one of my little sisters who brings so much love and joy, but He doesn’t heal my big sister Nomsa who is fighting for her life.

I'm sitting in silence as I write this, thinking about this past year and wondering, “What if my parents had said no?” Wondering how many people before them said no to this calling, and realizing how God allowed our whole family to be apart of His perfect plan. Maybe life would have been “easier” if we had stayed in Georgia, but we would have missed out on something greater than anything we could imagine. I would never have met these girls that I now call my sisters, my big sister and all of my little brothers and sisters.

Then I pause and think about what’s to come. I'm moving to Taichung, Taiwan in 8 days from now for my Junior and Senior year (11th & 12th grade) of high school by myself. I could have gone back to Georgia or anywhere else God wanted me to be, but He made it clear to me that He wanted me to go to Morrison Academy. And if His plans are as perfect as everyone says they are, then why would I want to go anywhere else? Morrison is an American Christian international boarding school, with tons of missionary kids and TCK’s (Third Culture Kids) just like me. Its like “an island of misfit (freakin’ awesome) toys” and I can’t wait to call it home. 

In a year and 8 days from now I'll read my journal entry from August 7, 2013, and see what my expectations, my fears, my hopes, and my questions were. But what I’m most genuinely excited for is to see how God has exceeded them all. 

            Wish me luck, 

"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." 
     ~Jeremiah 29:11

I love you both.