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Saturday, June 24, 2017

The sounds of Saturday morning

Beth has done a beautiful job coloring the red sea.
We love weekends on Project Canaan. The farm is quiet as only the children’s campus staff is at work.  Saturday starts the same as every other weekday for the Maxwell’s, sitting in bed with a cup of coffee overlooking Project Canaan.  Ian and I have our time of quiet prayer, devotion and scripture reading and then we move along with the day.

Saturday’s are extra special because at 9AM the beautiful sound of tiny voices begins to float up the mountaintop, notifying us that KIDS CLUB has begun.

KIDS CLUB was designed for the children who live at the Emseni Campus (our big kids) and any other children living on the farm who are in preschool or above.  The children are divided in to groups and move through five stations, shifting every 15-minutes.  It’s a fun-filled morning that includes a craft (two different ones dependent on age groups), singing/dancing, a race or physical activity, bible story, bible verse memory time.

The idea of this is to teach the children the bible story that will be presented at church the following morning, and help them understand what the story is about.  By acting out part of the story, making a craft with the story theme, hearing the story read, memorizing the bible verse and then dancing and singing about it, children’s church on Sunday becomes much more interesting and engaging to the children.

This was the brainchild of our volunteer Program Director, Bryan Throgmorton, but is fully executed with the entire Emseni staff, with support from our long term and short-term volunteers.  The 75-minute club ends with a fun snack and is followed by free play.

I LOVE the people whom I refer to as our “CARE TEAM”.  The Care Team comprises of anyone who is directly involved in caring for our children and includes Aunties, Uncles, Gogo’s and big brothers.  Ian and I are “mom and dad”.  In siSwati we are called Make (pronounced Mah – gay, which means mother) and Babe (pronounced Bah-bay, which means father). 

We are thankful for our Heart for Africa summer interns!
Our goal is to intentionally make this our children’s HOME, and not an orphanage.  Part of that intentionality is being focused on each child developing their own personality, individuality and identity. KIDS CLUB is one of those activities that helps allow our children to express themselves in different ways, and I spend my Saturday mornings watching, listening and laughing as they bloom in front of my eyes.

I am so proud of the people who God has brought to us to help raise these children and for all of you who support us financially and prayerfully.

Live from Swaziland … I love Saturdays on Project Canaan.


Saturday, June 17, 2017

This week’s health issues and surgeries

It’s hard to explain life on a farm in Africa, let alone life with 159 children under the age of seven.  There are so many moving parts, so many facets, and so many complex elements involved in raising these children, that even people who come and stay for an extended period are still learning many months after their arrival.

Today I want to share four specific medial issues that we navigated through this week (among many other day-to-day issues including HIV/AIDS, malnutrition, two sets of head stitches and common childhood illnesses).  I will only use the first letter of each child’s name, in order to protect their privacy.

1.     “B” came to us severely malnourished and we noticed an abnormality in his index finger.  We surmise that his finger was broken as a small baby and it never healed properly.  There is a piece of bone in the top part of his finger and a piece of bone in the bottom, but nothing in between, so the bone on the top is not growing.  The surgeon was very concerned about it because without reconstructive surgery, his finger would need to be amputated in the future. This week he went in for surgery, where they removed some bone from his leg and used it to attach the bones in his finger together.  The surgery was more complicated than expected and we are still awaiting a report from the surgeon. Sadly, the patient/parent/doctor communication system here is not always ideal.
2.     (Age appropriate reading on this one) “S” arrived severely malnourished and abused.  We quickly noticed that he was missing his testicles and took him to a specialist, who was unable to locate them.  He is almost 2-years-old.   We were able to get him in for a Bilateral Orchidopexy (here in Swaziland) and while in surgery they discovered another problem in that area, which required him to be circumcised.  The surgery went well and he is home with us, healing nicely.
3.     “L” is 4-years-old and in good health, but has a reoccurring infection up near her ear that ends up bursting with pus oozing out. We are told that it is an “extra sinus cavity” that continues to get infected and will require surgery. This week our Doctor was on the property and was able to lance it (YUCK!!!).  Now our goal is to get her infection free so that we can proceed with the surgery. 

4.     “M” is our most disable child. He was born to a 14-year-old girl and then left in a rural clinic for many months. After a few days of him being us we realized that something was very wrong.  He is 10-months old and has seriously neurological challenges, and doesn’t swallow properly. We suspect this is due to Cerebral Palsy, but until he gets older, and hits (or misses) developmental milestones we will not be able to properly diagnose.

To quote the movie Forrest Gump, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get”.

I feel that way about our children. Each baby who comes to us is a new gift, full of surprises, sadness and joy all in one sweet little package. 

Thank you to everyone has given to our Emergency Medical Fund in the past. I will say that the account is now empty, but we know that the Lord will provide again before our next medical need. If you want to give to our Emergency Medical Fund in the US click here.  For donations in Canada, please click here.

Thanks for taking the time to read about all that is happening at Project Canaan each week. I am grateful for your support, fellowship and love.

Live from Swaziland … preparing to host friends from three countries for dinner!


Saturday, June 10, 2017

Is raising children "women's work"?

Sharing with Dad is important
Next Sunday is Father’s Day and as Ian is father to Spencer and Chloe and also 158 little Swazi children, Father’s Day has become a greater time of reflection for me each year.

I was raised by a wonderful man (Russell Willis) who adopted me (with my mom Bernice) when I was just a baby.  He raised me as his own and provided me with food, shelter, education, opportunity, discipline and love.

I often hear comments about the children at Project Canaan not being raised in a “normal” home with a “real mom and dad”, and how they will suffer because of that.   I find it shocking each and every time because what is “normal” nowadays?  How many people in Canada or the US are being raised by their biological mother and father?  And even when children are raised in a “normal” home, that doesn’t mean the home is healthy or happy. 

I was reading a blog article by Dr. Gail Gross she said, “ Only 20 percent of American households consist of married couples with children. Filling the gap are family structures of all kinds.” 

In 2011 a stat said that 72% of all Swazi children do not have a father in their lives.  I can’t imagine what the current statistic is. 

As many of you know, our eldest children at Project Canaan are 6-year-old twins, Rose and Gabriel.  Each day we are learning and growing as our children grow. Raising 158 is very different than raising two (or six).   Our focus when the children are small babies is primarily health, nutrition and love.  As they get older their emotional, mental and spiritual development becomes more important. 

On thing that remains the same is that we strive to be intentional in everything we do.  We are now reviewing parenting courses that can help us with not only training our staff in how we want our children to be parented, but also forcing us to make parenting decisions all over again!  What is important in THIS culture that may not have been important in Canada in the 1990’s?  What was important to us as we raised Spencer and Chloe that is irrelevant in Swazi culture?  And how do we have fun with our children and our caregivers?

Tickle fights with Dad are important!
My point of today’s blog is that no two families are the same. We all parent differently.  We are all doing the best we can with what we have and what we know.  Our family looks very different than any other around the world, but we are doing the best we can, with what we have and what we know, to raise God-loving, God-fearing children who will contribute to society and change the face of a nation.  God is our heavenly Father and He is the perfect father who never ever lets us down, and we are secure in that knowledge.

I am so grateful for Ian who is a wonderful father to Spencer and Chloe and being intentional to be a Godly role model for our other 158+.  I am grateful for the Swazi men who God has brought to us to be big brothers and uncles to be positive role models for our children.  And I am grateful for our male volunteers (single and married) who are investing in the lives of our children and showing them what Godly men look like.

Having fun with Dad is important.
Raising children is NOT woman’s work. It takes a village to raise a child, and a village requires men and women to be strong and courageous together, whether they have been blessed with one child or a village of children.  Raising children is not for sissies either, it is hard work, all the time, so let us encourage one other, and build each other up, not tear each other down.

One more thing – we have added some educational tools and materials to our Amazon Baby registry. Feel free to shop for books, textbooks, teaching aids and, of course diapers and wipes.  US shoppers click here.  We are no longer accepting items for the Canadian container as it ships next week.  Canadian shoppers will need to access the US site please.   THANK YOU!

Live from Swaziland … I am thankful for the men in my life.


Saturday, June 3, 2017

What is a "mushroom daycare"? You might not want to know.

You likely haven’t heard of a “mushroom daycare” before.  I had not heard the term until a year ago when we picked up a baby (Margie) from one such “center”.   The reason it is called a “mushroom daycare” is because there are many (literally dozens) of children being cared for in a small, one room building in the dark with no exposure to sunshine, daylight, proper food, stimulation or love.  These children are growing like mushrooms, in the dark.

Please take a moment before reading on to stop and picture that in your mind.

Here is what is happening.  Young woman are getting pregnant often through false promises of love/marriage/free KFC/money and/or and then there is incest and rape.  The “middle age” generation has been wiped out by HIV/AIDS/TB and there is no one to care for the young children back at home (which is typically what happened in the past). The young mothers need to find work so they leave their children with a local “daycare” person, which means an unofficial caregiver takes the children in to her home for a month at a time and the mother should arrive with money at the end of the month when they are paid.

Sometimes the young mother just runs away and never returns, leaving more mouths to feed with less money. But how does the caregiver find the mother?  Sometimes the mothers come and pay the daycare lady a small amount of money and then go back to work, leaving the children living in the dark.

The result is an uncountable number of children living like mushrooms around the country.  I hope I don’t get in trouble for writing this, as it is a well-known problem to the police, hospitals and social welfare, with action being taken, but it’s a huge challenge, in a country with lots of other challenges.  No one wants the children being left at home alone, so what other alternative is there?  I believe this is a direct result of a missing generation.

Yesterday we welcomed a baby whom we call Wendy.  She started off life in a bad way, arriving three months early in her mother’s mud hut, weighing only 3.2 pounds.  But she lived.  Her young mother had no family to help care for the baby (and her other two children) so she sent the 4 and 7-year old to other homes and then took Baby Wendy to a local “daycare”.    The baby got very little food, nutrition, care or love.  She started to stop growing and was always sickly. 

15-month-old baby weighing 6.6 pounds
When Baby Wendy was 15-months-old (this past April) the mother took the child to a government hospital that has a wonderful pediatrician and nutritionist who specialize in malnutrition.   At that age, Wendy weighed only 6.6 pounds.  After two months of specialized nutritional care, medical care and a lot of love, Wendy was ready to be discharged.  But the care that the mother could provide wouldn’t be any better than what she had already given, so she begged for help. 

We brought home the 17-month-old baby and she weighed 14.5 pounds (the size of a 5-month-old).  It was a heartbreaking moment for all, but joy-filled at the same time because now Wendy has hope for her future. 

17-month-old baby now weighs 14.5 pounds
The nutritionist shared with me that she had lost 15+ babies so far this year, in that small rural hospital, due to babies coming in too malnourished to come back from the brink of death.  She shared her pain and her frustration that these deaths were preventable.

Another government official told me that she had found a “mushroom daycare” recently with 40 small children living in the room, under the table, just lying on the floor.  They are working diligently to shut these unofficial daycares down, but what is the alternative?  I simply don’t know the answer, but I do ask you to pray for the front line people who are dealing with these real life situations every day, and rarely have a viable solution to provide.

Today we have 158 children under the age of 7-years old living at Project Canaan.  We need your help more than ever. If you can help give monthly, please sign up to be a Heart for Africa Angel in the US or Canada.

If you want to help us today, please shop on our Amazon registries in either the US or Canada and send little Wendy diapers and wipes.  Every dollar spent helps us reduce our operating costs for these little ones.

Please pray for our staff who are tasked with the enormous responsibility of helping each of our children heal with special care and a lot of love.  As my friend Denise said last week, we are “loving them back to life”.  Amen.

Live from Swaziland … I am praying for all the mushroom babies in the country.