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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Giving thanks for 3 things today.

Thursday was the celebration of American Thanksgiving and while we Canadiana celebrate Thanksgiving in October, it is a good reminder for us a “non-Americans” to stop and give thankful for all the blessings that we have been given.

In this weeks blog I would like to give thanks for three things:

#1.  This week Baby Rahab and Baby Titus moved up to the Toddler home, making them resident #39 and #40.  We built the toddler home 40 children so theoretically we are “full” in that home. Thankfully, we have managed to figure out a way to put two more bunk beds in each of the four rooms so we can “squeeze in” 64 children if we have to. I am THANKFUL for everyone who gave so generously to the building Emseni Campus building campaign – that is where the big kids will  move in March to make room for the other 41 who are quickly growing their way to the toddler home.

#2.  As the costs of running the children’s home continue to increase I am thankful for the hundreds of people who have supported our babies by simply buying Christmas gifts, ornaments and jewelry.  100% of the profit from Khutsala Jewelry goes back to supporting the children who live on Project Canaan. If you haven’t finished your Christmas shopping, please consider shopping at the Heart for Africa site today:

#3.  Today a team of volunteers from the US took our eleven eldest children swimming at a pool that is a 20-minute drive from Project Canaan.  As most of them are under the age of 3 it requires a lot of bodies in the water to assist a lot of little ones get in the pool.  Today was a great day and we give thanks for Raelenna and Jeremy Ferguson, their family, and their team for spending their Thanksgiving holiday here with us in Swaziland. 

Live from Swaziland … I have SO MUCH to be thankful for.


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Burned baby to receive life-saving surgery - for free!

Baby Shirley - photo taken November 21, 2014.

In 2011 we attended the Healthcare Business Summit in Las Vegas as guests of MedAssets.  That year the Dr. Norman Borlaug Humanitarian of the Year Award was given to Elissa Montanti, Founder of the Global Medical Relief Fund (GMRF).  GMRF aids children who are missing or have lost the use of limbs or eyes, or have been severely burned, or have been injured due to war, natural disaster or illness. I sat in awe of Elissa’s courage, her tenacity and her commitment to helping the desperate and suffering children of the world.  Elissa says, “What higher mission is there than aiding innocent, victimized children?”  Preach it sister!  I never imagined at that moment that I would ever be calling Elissa to help with a child who I knew personally (we had no babies at Project Canaan at that time).

Two weeks ago I was on a plane from China to Taiwan and was praying about how we were to help Baby Shirley.  Baby Shirley's mother dumped her in a pit latrine at birth and then dumped fire in on top of her to make sure she died.  She has burns so severe to her face that she can’t breathe well and gets infections easily, putting her very life at risk (see blog  I asked the Lord what we were to do?  The private (and expensive) hospital didn’t want to discharge Baby Shirley until we had a surgical hospital lined up to do life saving surgery.  Nothing could be done in Swaziland and she would need to go to abroad for even more expensive help. 

Just then, Elissa’s sweet face appeared in my mind and I KNEW that we had a solution.

During airport layovers I crafted an email to Elissa and John Bardis (CEO of MedAssets) to tell them the story of Baby Shirley.  When I landed in Taiwan I hit “send” and within an hour of me sending that email I received the most beautiful email from Elissa telling me that she had all the doctors to help!  Once I had a passport for the baby, she would send me a letter that would enable us to get a Medical Visa for her to enter the US.  GMRF would cover all costs AND they will provide any follow up surgery needed until Baby Shirley is 21-years old!!  She would, of course, live in Swaziland, but travel to the US for follow up surgery as needed. 

WOW!  Can you imagine!?

Simple.  Easy. Done.  Ha!

The big money, top Surgeons, excellent hospitals, “US side”, part was “done”, but not the Swazi side.  Swaziland has recently been labeled a “human trafficking hub” and there is a lot of suspicion around why people what to take Swazi children out of the country, especially to America.  I fully understand the concerns and support the initiative to eliminate any trafficking of any kind.

The battle was intense (and for many reasons I cannot share those details), but Jesus always wins.  On my 51st birthday, after three weeks of team effort while I was in China followed by 20 solid hours of Ian and I in government offices on my first week back, we were able to get a Swazi passport for our beautiful 8-week old baby girl. 

I want to give a huge shout out to the senior staff at the Ministry of Home Affairs, who moved mountains to help us help this little child.  Also the Consular at the US Embassy was not only sympathetic, but also pushed the Visa application to the top and personally completed it and had Baby Shirley cleared for travel.

Photo taken November 21st at El Roi Baby Home after returning from hospital for pneumonia.

Photo taken October 24th, when she first came to us.
I have witnessed a lot of miracles in my life, especially living here in Swaziland, but this experience is right up near the top of the impossible, becoming possible, through the ultimate authority – the Creator of the Universe.

Baby Shirley is back home with us now and is being kept in isolation to keep her healthy until she leaves for the US.  She struggles for every breath and has great difficulty swallowing and keeping formula down.  Baby Shirley will be there for approximately four months as they do reconstructive maxio-facial surgery first and then deal with digit amputations and other burn issues. And then she will come home to us to be loved and cared for by her new family.

Thank you Jesus for providing hope for this child through Elissa and her team at GMRF.  Thank you Jesus for John Bardis and our MedAssets family for their support of GMRF and Heart for Africa.  Lord, as always, I stand in awe of YOUR ways.

Live from Swaziland … I am praying for healing for our little one.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

She bought 100 angel Christmas tree ornaments to put on her own Christmas tree?

I was recently chatting with a woman named Kirsten Ortiz who I learned has 81 Heart for Africa Christmas ornament angels on her Christmas tree, and nothing else other than lights.  I asked her why she would do that, and this was her response (shared with permission).  You will want to read to the end.

“In November of 2011, I stood in the unfinished kitchen of what was to be the El Roi Baby Home, imagining what this place was to become.  I imagined what it would look like with children in those rooms.  And at that moment, God tied my heart to Heart for Africa and to Project Canaan.  I came home from that trip changed and would never go back to being the same person.

Anyone who knows me, knows that among the things I love most in this world, family, children and Christmas are at the top of my list.  I have always loved Christmas and decorated early…like seriously early.  I usually decorate in October, but have been known to start in September.  November would just be unheard of!  But things were different after my trip to Africa when I saw how little people in other parts of the world had and a struggle in my heart began.  How could I buy bows, lights, stockings, and other Christmas knick-knacks when there were babies on the other side of the world who needed that money to pay for their formula and diapers?  I could choose to spend less on me, and more on them.  Christmas of 2011 was painful, as it often is for someone who has been on a mission trip when they try to process all that they saw and learned.

By Christmas of 2012, El Roi had opened and 22 precious babies called it home.  I had been praying for these babies by name with my daughter.  That year I was overwhelmed when my sweet six year-old daughter decided firmly that she did not want to receive presents, but instead wanted people to donate money to the baby home.  Our 2012 family Christmas picture reflected the changes taking place in our hearts.

I traveled back to Africa in the spring of 2013 and the struggle I wrestled with grew stronger.  How do I balance my life here in America with the great needs there in Africa?  I can’t forget the things I have seen and I can’t un-know the tragedies and horrors I have learned about.  God will hold me responsible for what I do with this knowledge.  We had already simplified our lives in many ways so that we could help others simply live.  So, when Heart for Africa announced in September of 2013 that the Swazis working in the Khutsala Artisans Shop had made angel Christmas ornaments, it was clear to me what I should do.  Since I simply love Christmas and God had placed on my heart the children of Project Canaan (which by the time Christmas rolled around was now 47 precious lives), I needed to buy one angel ornament to represent each child.  I placed an order for 60 ornaments figuring it allowed for additional babies and was beyond excited.  Then only days after I ordered the ornaments, my heart broke as I read that Solomon had passed away.  When the ornaments arrived, I decided that I would add a nametag for each child.  That year my mother graciously let me put my angels on her tree and I knew I couldn’t leave Solomon out so I put his angel ornament at the top of the tree.  My daughter amazed me again by asking for donations to the new toddler home instead of presents.

Well, the babies kept coming in 2014, and our family has continued to pray for each child who calls Project Canaan home….all 81 of them.  As we near Christmas of 2014, I have already decorated of course.  I have fewer decorations than I did years ago, and the ones I have are more meaningful to me.  But the decorations most meaningful are my angel ornaments.  They bring me joy in the spirit of Christmas, and I also feel blessed to know that the money spent on them served a double purpose in providing income for hard working Swazis and funds for the baby home.  We ordered another 40 ornaments this year, and I’m hoping that will be enough!  Our tree is covered in reminders of the precious lives that God has seen and protected there in Swaziland.  As I stand and look at our tree with these reminders, I close my eyes and remember standing in the baby home, empty, yet God had plans to fill it.  And my eyes fill with tears and my heart fills with joy as I prepare to go and meet these children in a few months.  I am just in awe of the God we serve and His perfect plans for all these little lives and the lives of all who are connected to them.  I am grateful for the obedience of His servants who have supported Heart for Africa and these children.  And I am in love with a Savior who died for me and all the other sinners in this world.  This is Christmas to me.”

I have been inspired by Kirsten and her family and have decided to put a Christmas angel ornament on our Christmas tree on Project Canaan, with each with a child’s name on it, just as the Ortiz family has done.

If you would like to purchase an angel ornament for a specific child, please put that child’s name in the Comment section when you shop.  Each year we will add angels as more children come to us.  When the children grow up and leave Project Canaan, they will be able to take their angel with them.  You are also welcome to send that child a Christmas card in the mail, which will also go in their treasure box.  The address is:  Heart for Africa, PO Box 433, Lobamba, Swaziland H107.

Now, doesn’t that make you want to start shopping and also order a few ornaments for friends and family?

Order yours on line by clicking here.

Live from South Africa … I am almost home from my 2.5 week journey to Asia!


Saturday, November 8, 2014

Short and sweet – Baby Shirley needs surgery urgently

I spent the last five days in Yiwu, China with Jamie and Cameron Klee.  Our goal?  To set up a reliable supply chain for the “pieces and parts” that go in to the jewelry that the Khutsala Artisans women make to help us fund the El Roi home for abandoned babies.  Our method?  Scour the 20,000+ stall indoor “market” with a local Chinese/Taiwanese company, whom I have known for years, purchase pieces by the thousands, and try to endure through the pollution, smoke, human waste and black mold.  Headaches and sinus congestion aside, it was an awesome week.

Jamie and Cameron Klee with our hostess, Angel. 

Pick a chain, any chain ... then pick your coating. 
Now, on to critical business.  If you don’t know Baby Shirley’s story, please take a moment and go back to my blog from October 25th and get the full story -

Shirley - 6 weeks after being in a government hospital.
While I was in China I got a message from our amazing team in Swaziland saying that Baby Shirley was really struggling to breathe and her weight was going down.  A feeding tube would be easy (thanks to Brooke and Maria), but the breathing was a problem. She was admitted to the local private hospital (who has had three of our babies with a seriously infections viral infection for the past many weeks!) and we learned that she had a sinus infection (caused by her nasal malformation from the burn) that got in to her bloodstream (sepsis).  It is a miracle that she was taken in and treated the day that she was. 

The next part of the message to me read, “The bad news is that her nasal malformation is more severe and more urgent than we realized. The ENT who saw her said that she needs to see a maxillofacial specialist asap. Unfortunately, there are none in Swaziland, so she'd have to go to South Africa.  This will be another BIG cost.”
This sweet little finger needs to be amputated
Taking a child out of Swaziland, even for emergency health care, is no easy feat.  With the proactive commitment of the Swaziland and South Africa governments to reduce/eliminate Child Sex Trafficking it takes an act of God to be able to move a child across an international border.  In addition, we would need to send a driver and an Auntie for an extended stay in SA to care for this baby while she gets care – possibly months?

I don’t know what God has planned for this little one, but if HE wants her to have surgery, then HE will need to act. I do believe that if she were still in prison with her mother, that she would not survive very long.  I pray that she has a long, healthy and productive life with us!

That is all the news I have today, but I ask for your prayers for this little one, for the people who are caring for her and clear direction for us on how we are to proceed.

If you would like to contribute to Baby Shirley’s care (currently $300 US/day at the private hospital) we welcome your gift.

In the US click here.

In Canada click here.

Live from Taiwan … I am taking the weekend off with Chloe!


Saturday, November 1, 2014

I really don't like when people lie to me.

If you haven’t read last week’s blog please go do so now, otherwise this one won’t make any sense.

Last Friday afternoon I was called to the Women’s Prison to pick up a 6-week old baby who had been thrown in a pit latrine at birth by her mother, and then 7 hours later the mother went back to that toilet and heaped fire on top of the baby to make sure she was dead.  An uncle heard the cries of the baby, shoveled dirt on top and saved the baby’s life.  Mother, baby and sister were all taken to a local government hospital for care and 6-weeks later they were all discharged into the prison system while the mother was charged with attempted murder.  That is when we were called to enter the story, and asked to pick up the 6-week old, whom we call Shirley.

Late last Friday afternoon I was called to meet at the Prison (with four men from the Egg Farmer of Canada Association who happened to be with me) to see how we could help.  The El Roi Baby Home has two main guidelines when accepting children; first the baby should be under the age of 12-months, and second do not accept, nor are we set up for mentally/physically disabled children.  I can say 58% of all our children have come to us under the age of 6-months and 31% between 6-12 months.  We have made exceptions to that rule for 11% of our children, based on special circumstances and special requests.  I can also say that 10% of our children have some type of chronic condition (mostly Cerebral Palsy related) that requires some special care and regular Physio Therapy.  An additional 7% are HIV positive, but we care for them and love them all the same.

When we were asked to take Baby Shirley (the 6-month old) we were also asked if we would take Baby Rebecca (16-months old). I told the Social Welfare Officer that we only take children under the age of 12-months so we could help with one, but not likely the other. We would discuss in person.

It wasn’t until we got to the Commandant’s office at the prison that I saw that Shirley had been lit on fire and was severely burned on her face, arms and legs. In fact her big toe had burned off in the fire.  I knew that if we said “yes” to this baby that we would have a long and bumpy (and expensive road ahead), but we had to say yes.  After assessing Shirley I moved on to Rebecca and asked about her condition.

The young mother told me that she was born perfectly healthy and that at 6-months she had had a seizure, which left her with some paralysis, but that she was getting much better after her time in the hospital and had regained a lot of movement. Otherwise she was a perfectly normal baby.  After pleas from the Social Workers to keep the girls together, combined with the poor men sitting in the room trying to hold it together, I agreed to take both babies.

Let’s fast forward to Tuesday morning when Dr. Moira Lemmer came out to assess the new babies, check out sick babies etc. Moira’s assessment of Shirley was that she would need surgery within the next 6-weeks to fix the nasal passage that had melted in to her face. The baby is dehydrated because she has trouble eating and breathing at the same time.  If she got a cold or chest infection of any kind she would likely not live because she would not be able to breath.  In addition she has an index finger than needs amputation and we don’t know what damage was done internally.

Then she examined Rebecca and after a time we learned that Rebecca was born severely mentally disabled and physically disabled, and the reason for her severe malnutrition was because she can’t eat or drink anything without vomiting.  This is likely due to Cerebral Palsy, which doesn’t allow the swallowing mechanism to work properly, causing the child to starve to death.  She is unable to sit or lie on her tummy, and Dr. Moira doubts that she ever did. It was explained that this child would need 24/7 care and really it was a full time job for one person. 

This really bothered me. The mother lied to me, to the Prison Commandant and to Social Welfare Officer who was trying to help, with the hope that I would take both babies away and “off her chest”. The mother is in a very good/clean prison that provides medical care, food, counseling etc and she has all day long to care for her own child.   Rebecca is a sweet little girl who smiles, is loving and she brings me and others around her joy.  But here is the problem.  We don’t have the specialization, the space or the funding to have one-to-one care for this child.  If we had one Auntie caring just for her, then there are three other babies that we would have to say “no” to because our 4 babies to 1 Auntie ratio would need adjusting.  To be honest, my greater fear was that because she was dehydrated and not able to keep food down, that she would die at El Roi, and I don’t think my heart could take another baby death at this time, not to mention the effect that would have on ALL the Aunties, staff and other children.  The impact of the death of a child is immeasurable.

I didn’t sleep well that night because I know that what Rebecca needs is love, pure one on one love and care.  She needs her mother.  I was at the airport starting my 32- hour journey to Taiwan and China and called the Social Worker to discuss the situation.  At that point she mentioned that she had found out that the mother of the children has TWO parents who might be willing to take the older child.  THAT would be great. 

Fast forward again to Friday, October 30th.  The Social Worker picked up the mother from the prison and brought her out to pick up Baby Rebecca from Project Canaan.  Yes, she is going back to the prison with the mother for now, but the prison will provide safety, food and care.  Ian gathered a box of Feed My Starving Children Manna Pack with the hope that this child could get some high protein food that would stay in her tummy.

While they were all at the El Roi Baby Home, Baby Shirley went in to distress and was unable to breathe through her melted nose and so Helen had to rush her to the private hospital in town, right in front of the mother and the Social Welfare Officer.   At the same time, we got a call from another Social Welfare Officer saying that there was a 9-month old baby in great danger because her mother was dying in front of her and we had to send someone to Mbabane to pick up that baby, who is now, again, #81.  Her name is Bella (given to her by her mother).

I know that my decision to have Rebecca’s mother care for her wasn’t popular with some, but sometimes people in leadership have to make hard decisions.  Ian and I both believe with our whole hearts that Baby Rebecca is in the very best place for her right now.  If there was no one to care for her and she was to be left alone on a mud floor to die, we would absolutely have kept her, but she has a mother, and Grandparents, who, with some help from us, can provide for this sweet little girl, and we will follow up on her progress.

In the meantime, please pray for babies Robert and Simon who SHOULD be discharged on Monday after three weeks in hospital, for Baby Thuli who is in ICU with what Robert and Simon had and for Baby Shirley who needs surgery asap.

Proud of my lead Actress Chloe!
Live from Taiwan … I am LOVING my time with Chloe and am a proud mama.