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Saturday, September 27, 2014

You just never know what is going to happen.

Robert and Jan with the male twin.
Thursday started out as a normal day.  Maybe this is the new “normal”?

We were contacted by the Police Commander from our local Police station to ask if we could help a homestead in great need.  We were told that there was an old woman living with 11 small children and there wasn’t a grain of rice to feed them.  Could we just go and visit her and maybe assess the situation to see how we could help?  We said yes, and the next day I loaded up a crate of fresh green beans from the farm and box of Manna Pack and then asked Jan Bechtel and Robert Smucker if they wanted to come along for a short ride.  We would be back in an hour.  Ha!

Delivering fresh green beans from Project Canaan to a desperate family.
We picked up a Police Officer at the station and started on the drive that was not quite the “short distance” that we were promised, including driving down a dry riverbed because the bridge had been washed out by last year’s rain.  When we arrived at the homestead we were greeted by a middle aged woman (by our standards, but an old woman by Swazi standards), a few naked children running around, a few older children and a newborn male twin baby wrapped tightly in 5 layers of clothing and blankets (as Swazi’s do in 90F weather – I digress).   We didn’t even get the chance to ask the woman what her situation was before she handed the Police Officer the twin boy and reported that the mother had gone to town with the twin girl.  The woman was apparently an “Aunt” of the mother of the twins.

In the middle of flurried conversation in siSwati the Police Officer pointed to a 5-year old girl with a beautiful smile and told us that she is the reason that the Police know this family.

“That one was raped by her Uncle a few weeks past and that is what brought the police here in the first place” the Police Officer said.

The family's kitchen.
She delivered the sentence as if she was saying that this girl was good in math or soccer, very nonchalant, in front of everyone, including the young victim.  And just as quickly as the sentence was delivered, the conversation went back to the baby I was by then holding. 

Was the mother breastfeeding the baby boy? Yes.  When would she be back?  Maybe tonight or tomorrow.  What would the baby eat between now and then?  Nothing.  What is the baby’s name?  She didn’t know.  Houston, we have a problem.

As we spoke more and the story started to unravel, the police officer became more and more suspicious and concerned about the intent of the mother and welfare of the twins.  Allow me to make a long and complicated story short.

This 21-year old mother (who also has a 2 and 3-year old child) had a difficult pregnancy and passed out at work early in September. She was rushed to hospital and was admitted with Preeclampsia (Toxemia) for three weeks until her twin babies were finally delivered by caesarian section on Monday, September 15th (Ian and my mothers birthday too!).  Both babies were not doing well at birth and were admitted for five days. On Friday, September 19th they were all discharged, but the mother did not have the money to pay (equivalent of $30 USD) so she snuck out of the hospital with her twins and made her way back to a homestead where she had lived years before. Both of her parents are dead, and this was a distant “Aunt”. 

Unfortunately you don’t get your prescriptions until you pay your bill so with no antibiotics or pain pills, this young woman took a bus home with her newborn twins, after having had a C-Section.  Now, six days later she had gone back in to town with the twin girl because we were told that the baby had an infection where the IV had been in her hand while in hospital. The mother was going to RFM hospital to have it checked, but that didn’t add up to us because if she hadn’t paid her bill there, she couldn’t go back and ask for more help.  They would send her to the accounting department first. 

The Police Officer asked if we would drive to town to try to find the mother and we agreed, and we took the twin boy.  Thankfully I always carry a fully stocked diaper bag with me so we were able to put a diaper on the baby, changed his wet (size 6 months) clothes and Jan gave him a bottle of formula, which he guzzled 3 oz immediately!

We first went to the hospital on the off chance that she was actually there. As we pulled in to parking lot the police officer was called by the Aunt to say that the mother had just called her from a pay phone at the bus rank (a large area in the center of town where 50 buses and 100 vans gather to take people around the country – a somewhat dangerous and not “stranger friendly” place) and she was very weak and felt she was going to faint.  Then she hung up.  We raced down to that area and hopped out of the car to go and search for a needle in a haystack. Jan sat in the back seat of my car with the baby boy and Robert jumped in the front and locked the doors with instructions to leave if any trouble happened. 

Miraculously, within 15 minutes of scouring the busy bus area, we found the mother, with the baby girl on her back, and she was carrying 8 heavy bags of groceries.  As the story goes she actually went to town to confront the alleged father of the twins and he gave her R100 for food ($10 US).  She was the hopping on a bus back to her homestead. 

Both twins together again.
We put her in the car and I asked to see the baby’s hand immediately to see how infected it really was.  When we unbundled her we were shocked to find the IV needle still in the baby’s hand and taped up from the hospital – 7 days earlier!  What?  Again, until the bill is paid, the nurses don’t remove the IV ports as a way to deter people from running.  The mother had obviously pulled out the IV on the boy, and then got scared and didn’t do the girl. 

We had to go to another part of town to get the children’s health cards (!) and then went to the hospital. It took about 30 minutes of back and forth to get the bills paid (NOTHING is easy here) and by then the mother was looking very weak so we decided she needed to see a doctor.  Robert stayed with her while Jan, the twin boy, the Police Officer, the twin girl and I went to the maternity ward with the payment receipt to have the needle removed. 

When we got there the nurse remembered her well and then immediately said, “This baby needs to see a doctor. She is very jaundiced.  Please go straight to see a Doctor.”

So back we went to the Doctor side, paid for the child’s examination and got in line.  Finally we saw the Doctor (whom we know well) and he ran some blood tests, which came back very poorly so the baby girl was admitted.  Meanwhile, Robert found us to tell us that the mother’s blood pressure was very high and she was admitted.  It was 4PM. 

In the end, both mother and twin girl were admitted to the hospital with an expected two-week stay.  We were asked by the mother, police, and social worker at the hospital to take the twin boy with us to keep him healthy and reduce the mothers’ stress.  The boy was not breastfeeding at all so the mother had already purchased formula to feed him so us taking him to the bottle was not a problem. 

IV needle removed after being at home for a week.
We don’t typically do this kind of thing. We are not a temporary home or temporary solution for babies, but in this case we felt that we had to say “yes”.  Leaving a mother with high blood pressure in a hospital where she has to care for her own twins with a high chance of a health baby becoming a sick baby just didn’t make sense when we knew we could help.

So the baby boy came home with us (actually Jan never let go of him), we dropped the mother’s groceries off at the police station for the Aunt to collect and we got home around 6PM.  We pray that mother and baby heal quickly and that this family can be reunited in a couple of weeks. 

We don’t know what the future holds for this young mother and her four children, but we do know that El Roi sees her and He found her in that bus station and He got her and the baby back to the hospital in time. We believe that at least two lives were saved on Thursday, and all of us were changed.

Live from Swaziland …I am thankful for my car, fuel and a diaper bag.


Saturday, September 20, 2014

A picture is worth a thousand words

The last couple of weeks have been very heavy blogs so today’s will be much lighter, shorter and hopefully inspiring.

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words so today I will give you three photos to look at and, for those of you who have not been to Project Canaan yet, I will describe to you what you are seeing, in less than a thousand words.

Both photos were taken by Ian on his new “Phantom 2 Vision Drone”, which is the coolest thing I have seen in a long time. It’s a small 4-propeller remote control helicopter that Ian flies using his iPhone.  The video is spectacular and we hope to have lots of it on our website soon for you to see.  Today I will show you two still photos from the drone to wet your palette and to see the mighty hand of God at work.

The first photo is of the Children’s Campus and new Emseni Campus.

Starting at the bottom of the photo is the Emseni Campus, which is where the children will move when they are between the ages of 3-4 and it will be their permanent home until they finish High School.  The long building on the left where the walls are going up is Emseni East, the first dorm that will hold 40 children. The ground cut out on the right is The Oasis, which is the industrial kitchen and a dining hall that will seat 200 children. Both buildings should be up and running with children living there by March 2015.  The Emseni Campus will be home for 180 children in the years to come. 

Looking to the middle of the photo you will see a group of buildings with green roofs - that is the Children’s Campus.  The long building in line with Emseni East is the Labakhetsiwe Toddler Home.  The building to the right of that is the El Roi Baby Home. The building at the back of the green grass area is the Sisekelo Preschool and to the right of that is the Kuthula Infirmary where sick babies are taken to for special care.

On the top left corner of the photo is the new Project Canaan Academy Kindergarten, set to open in January 2015.  Of course in the top right hand side of the photo you can see our beautiful fields where we are growing green beans, mini-vegetables and baby corn.  Just last week we sold 4.5 tons of green beans alone!

The second photo is of Dam #3, which is being built in partnership with Rotary International.   As I type this, our water situation is getting critical and Dam #2 is down to only 20%.  Once the water is gone we will not be able to irrigate our crops between now and when the rainy season starts in November.   This dam will hold 11 million (41.4 million liters) of water.  It will be 50 feet high (15 meters), 590 feet (180 meters) long, 377 feet wide (115 meters) and the main road to the farm will run along the top of the dam.  It is being built with layers and layers of clay that is found right on Project Canaan and it is moved by a truck that carries 30 x 10 ton loads of clay each and every day to be dumped at the site. 

When the dam is complete and the rains come and fill it, we will be able to irrigate an additional 50 acres of land (20 hectares).  The water in the dam should last 240 days and thereby getting us through dry season with 3 harvests.  This will in turn benefit our community with more employment, access to food, and healthcare at the El Rofi Medical Centre.  The income generated through the increased sale of vegetables will help us provide for the 70+ children who are living at Project Canaan as well as get us closer to our goal of self-sustainability by the year 2020. 

Of course I can’t just give you those two photos without one that requires no words at all – all thousand words are in the picture itself.

Gabriel's Got Milk!
It is overwhelming to see all that God has done and continues to do every day. While we see it with our own eyes, the photos from the drone seem to give the projects a whole new perspective.  I sent the photo to a friend in Canada this morning and she replied back, “This is what God must see from His advantage point and He is smiling.” 

Live from Swaziland … I am incredibly thankful.


Emseni means “Grace” in siSwati.

Labkhetsiwe means “Chosen ones “ in siSwati.

El Roi means "The God Who Sees" in Hebrew.

Sisekelo means "Cornerstone/Foundation" in siSwati.

Kuthula means “Place of rest” in siSwati

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Dear Nomsa - things that needed to be said.

It’s strange how we want say things to people after they are gone that we couldn’t say to them when they were alive.  I am writing this letter to you, knowing that you will never read it, but knowing that there are things that still need to be said. 

I don’t have the courage to read the letter outloud so I have asked Ian to do it for me.  I hardly had enough courage to write it, but it needed to be written, for me, for Rachel and Leah and for the world.

I have never met anyone like you in my life. I have met people with courage and determination, but you were different. 

If you hadn’t gone and welcomed each new patient who arrived at the TB hospital and sat with them to get to know them, Baby Rahab would be dead today.  What kind of sick and dying person goes from bed to bed of other sick and dying people to encourage them and read scripture to them?  You are the only one that I know of.  I remember the night that Babazile died.  You sat with her until her last breath and then called me in the middle of the night to tell me she had passed.  We cried together.

If it weren’t for your direct intervention, Sepensile would be dead and so would her baby. But it was not okay with you that she was going to die in child birth at the TB Hospital and you made sure that I understood because you knew it woudn’t be okay with me either.  Only because of you, Baby Abigail is with us at the El Roi Baby Home and Sepensile is alive.  

I remember you asking me to bring English bibles for all of the women there and one in siSwati for the lady who couldn’t read English.  Why did you want them? So that you could have a bible study, with a room full of highly infectious women who had no visitors and very little hope for their future.  But you believed that Jesus was their hope, and you were going to make sure they knew that.

I remember you telling me recently that 70% of all the women you met at the TB Hospital had died.  You watched each of them, heard their screams during their night terrors, saw them fall and break bones, smelled them when all human dignity was lost and wept with them when they begged to go and die at home.

I also remember you asking me to bring you goodies.

“What kind of goodies?” I would ask. And you would just giggle and say, “You know what kind of goodies I like. You are my mother.”

Of course if I showed up with the wrong flavor of Oros juice, or if I forgot your Sprite or if the store didn’t have any pork ribs when I was shopping, I was scolded for my inadequacy.  And then we both laughed.

But here is the real truth. I did not like visiting you.  There, I’ve said it.  Not so that you could hear it, but I have spoken the truth.  I was committed to going and seeing you every week that I was in Swaziland, but I hated it.  I hated walking in and seeing women who were skin and bone lifting up their hospital gown to get a needle in their fatless hip.  I hated seeing the dozens of pills sitting beside the unidentifiable food that was required eating so that the pills might be absorbed.  I hated hearing the screams of pain of Sepensile after she fell and broke her femur in two (and her shoulder blade) knowing that Aspirin was the only pain killer available and no other hospital would take her for surgery because of her MDR-TB.   

I hated seeing your weight go down every week and I especially hated the days that I got there and you were having seizures, were not conscious and didn’t know I was there. That happened on your 26th birthday when Ian and I went to see you. Actually it was the day after your birthday, because I couldn't make it there on February 20th.  Too bad I hadn’t though because you were okay on that day, but the day after you were not. We left your favorite meat pizza for you, but I think you Isolation roommate may have enjoyed it.

Worst of all, though, was having to leave you there.  I hated going to visit because I hated leaving.  I grew to truly love you, even though I didn’t want to.  At times I was angry at God that He had brought us together because it caused me so much pain to go week after week, and afterall, why should I be feeling this pain?  You are not my biological child.   But our heavenly Father was teaching me.  You are a child of God, and He is the one who told me that you were the daughter of the King, and I must go and stand by your side. 

But there was another part of visiting you that I must also share.  When I would take my last breath of uninfected air, put on my N95 certified mask, strap on the protective shield around my heart and step in to Isolation Room #1 see you, your smile would light up the room, even when you were the most sick.  When I asked how you were doing you always said, “I am fine”.  That always made me laugh.

I loved the day in November that you were able to come to Project Canaan and get a tour in the back of a broken down bakkie with Lori Marschall at your side while I drove.   I loved that you could go in to Chloe’s room and sign her chalkboard with the message, “Hi Chloe, It’s your big sister. I love your room and I love you SO much!”  I loved that you got to eat your first hamburger at our dining room table and it became your favorite food (after pork ribs of course).  Obviously I didn’t fully understand your infectiousness at that time, but the Lord protected me.  

The day we were able to make a plan to move you to Project Canaan was one of the hardest days of my life.  How could I consider bringing someone with XDR-TB to a place where so many people work and live, not to mention my own family, your own babies, women living with HIV and people who would be exposed to your highly infectious disease.  I was wracked with guilt, but at the same time I knew in my heart it was the right thing to do. 

You will never know how many people you impacted in the 52 days that you lived on Project Canaan.  From the women who lived near you, loved you and cared for you to the people who came from the US and Canada and wanted to meet you and tell you that they had been praying for you for many months. You impacted our family at the deepest level and you have left a hole that will never be filled.  Even now I find myself checking my messages to see if I have received an SMS from you, and when there isn’t one, it is then that I remember you are gone… and there is no cellular service in heaven.

I think you knew you were dying they day you called the doctor and asked to go to the hospital.  Your last words to me were, “Janine, even though I am going to the hospital, will you still be my mom?  And will Project Canaan always be my home?” My answer was simply, “Yes.  I will always be your mother and this will always be your home.”  

Thank you Jere for a beautiful message.
Today we remember you with love and admiration and we honor you with our words, our music and our prayers.  We will tell your daughters about your courage, your strength, your feistiness and your faith in a God who never left your side, even to the very end.

Gcebile, I look forward to seeing you again soon.  But for now I mourn your passing.   Matthew 5:4 says, ““Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”  I pray for his comfort for all of us today and in the days ahead.  

You are loved.


The Swazi singing at the funeral was beautiful. We also played two songs that make me think of Nomsa: 

"Stand" by Donnie McClurkin

"I look to you" by Whitney Houson

Live from Swaziland ...


Saturday, September 6, 2014

If you're going to read this, are you going to do something?

This is Baby Eve so we are calling this our Christmas Eve photo.
  I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support the came from so many of you readers after hearing about Nomsa’s death.  Contrary to her personal desire to be buried here at Project Canaan, she was buried early this morning by her family at an empty homestead.  The family believes that is the only way she will meet her ancestors in the afterlife so she had to be buried there.  Next Saturday we will have a memorial service at the chapel and honor her and to pray for the other patients who are still dying of this horrific disease.  After that I plan to go away for a couple of days with Ian and mourn.  I haven’t been able to start that process yet.

I know that many of you have also asked the question, “What can I do to help”?  Well, I have an answer.  You can help us to care for Nomsa’s twin girls, Rachel and Leah simply by doing some early Christmas shopping.  Please don’t stop reading – today is the day to take a small step of action that can have a BIG impact on these children. 

Leah and Rachel Christmas 2013
The Khutsala Artisans here on Project Canaan have been busy making beautiful Christmas tree ornaments since January 2014.  We have been able to employ 24 women and men all year so that they could hand make 3,000 ornaments and our goal is to sell all of those ornaments in the month of September.  Each ornament is only $10 US and it’s a perfect Christmas gift, easy to put in an envelop and mail and 100% of the profit comes back to providing for our babies, including Leah and Rachel. 

Here is what I am asking EACH and EVERY one of you who is reading this blog.  PLEASE go and order TWO (or more) ornaments today.  You can get last year’s Christmas Angel or this year’s Christmas tree and they will be in the mail to you in the next two weeks from our office in Georgia.  It’s as easy as clicking here. 

Last week 1,150+ people read my blog about Nomsa, but on average 500+ people read my blog every Saturday morning.  Many of you tell me it's part of your Saturday morning routine, and that warms my heart.  Now, if all 500 of you readers bought only two ornaments (and I know some of you will buy more) we can generate close to $10,000 this weekend.  That’s real money.  We spend approximately $1,000 US on Baby Formula alone every month.  If we can sell 1,000 ornaments in the next couple of days we will have the funds to buy Baby Formula for 10 months.  And you would be a part of that.  Then we only have 2,000 more to sell. 

It’s that easy.

I thank you for being a regular reader and for sharing these stories with others.  Now I am asking for your help to take action and share these beautiful handmade ornaments with all of your friends and family. Together we really can make a difference.  Please don't make me beg :)

Live from Swaziland … thank you for starting your Christmas shopping today.


PS – I am told we are getting another baby girl next week. Stay tuned for details.

In case you missed the "click here" you can click on this link: