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Saturday, April 28, 2018

We want to see the burned baby.


We talk a lot about stigmatization in eSwatini.  I am not sure if I had ever used the word before working here, but it’s a word that is used almost daily.

There is stigmatization of people with HIV/AIDS, OVC’s (orphans and vulnerable children), and people with disabilities.

A few days ago we had Pastors from our 30 church partners come for the day and there were two women who asked one of our staff to see “the burned baby”.  What?  Yes, they wanted us to call over our child who had been burned by her mother so that they could see her face.  They had read about her in the paper and then saw her a couple of years ago when they were here, so wanted to see her again.  As you might imagine, “mama bear” rose up and stopped the Auntie who had been asked from going and fetching our little girl. But then I took the opportunity to talk to them about stigmatizing a child because of the way they look.  They understood and apologized.

Another category of stigmatization is for people with albinism.  Albinism is quite common here (much more so than in the US or Canada) and I invited the founder of the Albinism Foundation of Swaziland to come and educate our staff on what it is all about and to help dispel the myths that circulate here about the condition.

Some of the myths that our staff learned growing up include:

·      People with albinism don’t die they just disappear.
·      People with albinism can see in the dark.
·      If you laugh at a person with albinism then you will “catch” albinism.
·      People with albinism have to cut the tags off the back of their shirts so the tags don’t cut their skin.
·      Albinism is contagious. 
·      People with albinism are not human, they are animals.

It was a fascinating conversation and Stukie (the founder) as she dispelled the myths and answered our questions with such grace providing us with excellent information.

She also explained that children with albinism are at high risk in Swaziland because they are considered “very lucky” and are often stolen from families, killed and used by some witch doctors as an “ingredient” to make muti (potion) for a person to drink to become powerful. Yes, children with albinism are sacrificed for a potion. It’s big business and people have paid as much as $200,000 USD for an albino child.   That is partially the reason for the myth that Albino’s don’t die they just disappear.

The conversation was as enlightening as it was disturbing.  
 
I personally know a family who has a baby with albinism who had two cars arrive at their front door and ask to take the "animal".  Fortunately they were able to send the cars away and get their child to safety.

Some days I have to go home and just sit on our patio and look at the beautiful scenery in front of me to forget the things that I have learned. Some days I have to go and watch babies learning to feed themselves to remind me why we are here and what God has called us to do.  Some days I am just numb.



Live from eSwatini … some days I just don’t understand.

Janine

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Kingdom of Swaziland no longer exists


Thursday was a big day here in Swaziland. It was His Majesty King Mswati III’s 50th birthday and it was the 50th anniversary of Swaziland becoming an independent nation after being a British protectorate. During the celebrations His Majesty announced that the country will no longer be called Swaziland, it will henceforth be called The Kingdom of eSwatini (translated from siSwati meaning land of the Swazis). http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-43821512

We too celebrated the day with our children eating traditional Swazi food, coloring the Swazi flag and practicing our Swazi handshakes, dances and songs. It is important to us to maintain and teach our children about their own culture – these are Swazi children. 


It saddens me to think of this rich culture being lost in the rural communities where so many orphans and vulnerable children live.  As the aging Grandparents/caregivers die, who will teach them about their country’s history? Who will teach them a proper Swazi handshake or how to search for and cook traditional ligusha, as our amazing staff did this week?



In other news, our numbers are changing, and not in a good way.  We have received 11 new children in 2018, which is a child every 9.9 days. If that trend continues, we will receive 37 children this year, for a total of 215.  Last year we received 32 children and the 11th child arrived on May 12th, whereas this year she arrived on April 19th.  In addition to an escalation of children being placed with us there is also an increase in the level of starvation or malnutrition that these little ones are coming with.  Seven of the eleven have arrived severely malnourished (and three are products of teenage rape). 

Information is important and for us to plan for the future for the children.  We don’t ever want to have to say to say  no to a child inneed.

Effectively, we are full.  We have a total sleeping capacity of 204 children and have 189 children now. If social welfare continues to place children with us at this rate we will be FULL by the end of August. 

The good news is that because we track our stats so closely, we have started construction on a 4th Emseni building (dorm for 40 children). We are praying that the funding will come in to complete it quickly as we need it built by September.  


If you want to help us finish building Emseni, please contact david@heartforafrica.org today. 

Live from eSwatini ... it's Saturday morning.

Janine

Saturday, April 14, 2018

A visit with Baby Shirley's mom in the mens prison




Earlier this week three of us went to visit Baby Shirley's mother in prison. I will call her "T" for this post.   Baby Shirley is the child who was dumped in a pit latrine as a newborn and then had hot coals dumped in on top of her to make sure she would die. She did not.  You can read her story at http://janinemaxwell.blogspot.tw/2014/10/do-we-have-to-say-no-to-more-babies.html.

T was in the Mawelawela Woman's prison for two years and was then moved to a Men's prison 1.5 years ago where there is one room for 10 women within the prison. This is like a “holding” room for women ready to go to trial because the prison is closer to the courts than the Woman’s prison.  For 18-months she has been waiting for her case to get to get called.

A few months ago she started calling me every week to say hello, ask how Shirley was doing and generally have some contact with the outside world.  She asked repeatedly for me to visit, and I finally did.  I feel such empathy for this young woman because not only is she living with the guilt of trying to kill her own child, AND she has a severely disabled child (her second born, born with Cerebral Palsy) in prison with her. The child, whom she calls Rebecca, is now 5.5-years-old, can’t sit, walk, speak or communicate in any way, but she is living in the men’s prison with her mother and nine other women. Her firstborn child died from malnutrition. 

We arrived at the prison and were told to take off our jewelry and watches and to leave our cell phones and all other things in the car. We went in with only our ID cards and a note from the front guard saying that we could visit for ten minutes. We went through the big steel doors, with no windows and were greeted by a social worker and a guard who took us to a private office to meet with T. They were very kind and empathetic, and I think wondered who might be these first visitors for this sad inmate.

T was so happy to see us and she sat with Rebecca on her lap and asked us how Shirley was doing and told us how much she missed her baby. I struggled with that a bit since she was the very person who was responsible for the permanent scaring on Shirley’s face and her not having a big toe on one foot or an index finger on one hand.


We asked when she thought she would go to trial and she had no idea. It was a waiting game. My friend Janice asked her if she had a lawyer or if the court would appoint one?  They all shook their heads, no. The court only appoints a lawyer if it’s a serious crime. 

Wait, what?

This young girl is charged with attempted murder, and that’s not a serious crime?

Nope, if she had actually committed the murder, she would have a lawyer.

We asked if there was a time she might have been given bail, rather than keeping her in prison for so long with a disabled child.  T told us that when she first went to prison Baby Shirley’s biological father's family gave E3000 ($300 US) to T’s sister so that she could be bailed out of jail (3.5 years ago).  The sister spent the money on herself, and T stayed in prison.

The family is broken and her parents are so angry at her. She knows that when she is released from prison that she will return to a home filled with conflict, anger and shame. What will she do for food? It’s very hard to find a job and she is the only who can manage and care for Rebecca, who is growing every day. She is afraid and she is hopeless.

Where does T find hope?  I reminded her that God’s plans are not our plans and that maybe He has them both in prison as a place of safety? Seems strange to say, but she is provided with food, shelter and a clean place to sleep.  But that's easy for me to say when I get to walk back out through the gates and get in my car to drive home.

I am conflicted because I feel such empathy for the young woman, but then I am responsible for the child who was hurt, and whose heart and mind are still healing.  T is desperate to come and visit Shirley when she gets out, but I don’t know how that will work or what will be said. I am thankful to have our wonderful social worker, Margie Brewer, here to help us navigate that when the time comes.

A photo of T and Baby Shirley the day we first met in prison.
Some days are easier than others here.  Some days I can solve other people's problems, but that day was not one of them.

Live from Swaziland … going to play with Shirley today.

Janine

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Just tears

These two girls are the same age (20-months).

This week has been filled with tears.  Tears for starving children, tears for children who are being hunted so that can be cut apart and sacrificed by a Traditional healer (witch doctor) to allegedly give people power, tears for helpless and hopeless teenagers who are being raped and impregnated by an enemy, tears of hopelessness.

Yesterday we received two children, a girl and a boy. I was told that two girls were coming, because that is what the mentally disabled/drunkard/abusive father told social welfare.  When social welfare picked up the children and found the eldest to be a boy, he asked the father about it and his response was, “I didn't know I had a boy”.  The child is THREE YEARS OLD and has been living with his father since last August … and he didn’t know he was a boy.

The youngest child is a girl. She is 20-months-old and weighs 13.4 pounds (6.1 KG). 
Each day that father would lock the two children outside his mud hut and go drinking. When he arrived home at night, drunk, they would move inside. Neighbors alerted social welfare and when they arrived at the home the little girl was almost dead from starvation. They were both rushed to hospital and have been treated there. Yesterday they came home to Project Canaan. She is the size of a 4-month-old and the 3-year-old does not walk well, and doesn’t speak. We have a policy of not accepting children over the age of two, but the father told social welfare that the children were ages one and two.  He didn’t know he had a boy and had no idea of their ages.  We made an exception.  I wept.

We always pray over the children as soon as they arrive, but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t speak.  How can this happen in 2018?  How can this happen where we live?

We have received nine children in 2018.  Six of them arrived severely malnourished, two were newborns (product of teenage rape) and the last one is a child who was called an “animal” and was being hunted.  I can’t go in to any more detail on that story for privacy and security reasons, but it is THE MOST EVIL story I have heard to date.

I know that Jesus is our only hope, and I cling to that each and every day. Some days are just harder than others.

Please pray for our staff. We have a lot of children who are in desperate need of healing, love and hope.  We are also in need of more funds for the new children who have arrived and have a steep hill of healing to climb.  Please consider making a one time gift today, or become a monthly donor.  



We can’t do this alone.

Live in Swaziland … come Lord Jesus come.

Janine