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Saturday, November 28, 2015

Let's talk about sex.

This poster was translated in to siSwati and posted around the farm to promote the (mandatory) event.

For months we have been working on how to go to a deeper level of discipleship and education of all of the Swazi’s we work with at Project Canaan.  If you read my blog from November 7th you will get an understanding of that plan -

Yesterday our many meetings and planning sessions resulted in what we called “The Great Debate”, and yes, it was mostly about sex. 

There was a women’s team and a men’s team with a representative from all departments on each team.  The debate topics came from challenges and issues that Swazi’s face everyday and that need to be taken out of darkness and brought in to the light.  We also had a panel of Judges/Moderators who are well known in the country and very knowledgeable and vocal in the areas of discussion.

My wonderful "Project Canaan Social Safety Team".

Our biggest challenge was that we wanted to be able to have EVERYONE who works at Project Canaan involved or in attendance and that is not possible when you have 104 babies who need care.   Solution?  Do the debate when we have a group of 19 willing and able volunteers, combined with our long-term volunteers who live and serve with us daily.  And voila!  All of our caregivers were able to leave the Children’s Campus for 2 hours!!! 

Here were the questions that were debated over a two-hour period.

Question #1
In Swazi culture it seems that women are inferior to men?  Traditionally they stay at home with the children while the men go and work, or go and sit with friends when there is no work.  Women do not have the same rights as a man, and in fact, we have no domestic violence laws that stop men from beating their wives.  We read in the paper that rape of women is at an all       time high and incest is a common occurrence.  But it also appears that Swazi women are stronger than men in many ways. They appear to be the backbone of our society, caring for many children and Grandchildren after the men have died or run away.   The question is: are women inferior to men or are we stronger?  How do you think women should be treated in Swaziland?

All Project Canaan employees.
Question #2
In Swazi culture some people believe it is okay to have sex before marriage and others think that it goes against our culture.  Even those who believe it goes against our culture are having sex before marriage.  It seems that marriage is something from the past and now it is all about having sex.  Even those people who are married are often proposing love to others who are not their husband or wife.  The question is: is it okay to have sex before marriage, and is it okay to have sex with someone other than your husband or wife?  What do you think these decisions mean to the future of our culture?

The men.
Question #3
In Swazi culture it has become common for a man to propose love to a woman with hopes that she will have sex with him.  In our culture it is not okay for a woman to propose love, but sometimes they do it with their eyes, their bodies or how they dress making it impossible for men to not touch them or want to have sex with them.  The question is: what is lust and what is love?  Are they the same thing? 

The women.
There was lots of heated discussion, but most of it was done with grace, respect and a lot of laughter.  Some of the highlights included:
·      The reason men cheat on their wives is because their wives are always complaining that they don’t bring home enough money to put shoes and clothes on the children. So of course they are going to find someone who doesn’t complain.
·      If women didn’t wear short skirts and dress promiscuously they wouldn’t be raped or sexually assaulted. 
·      Men are weak – they can’t help themselves when women wear short skirts.
·      Lust and love are not the same thing. Lust is a sin and love is from God.
·      If you “show it”, you have to “share it” – it was a man’s way of asking women to dress more modestly.
·      Sex before marriage goes against culture and the bible, but …
·      It is wrong that young girls/children are being raped by men because they can’t control themselves.
·      If our behavior doesn’t change then Swaziland will die.
·      We are sinning against God and we must turn from our bad ways and follow him.
·      Of course you should have sex with a man before you get married, to see if he is any good in bed (sigh).

Let me end by saying that this year, more than ever, we need your help. If you have been reading this blog and believe in the work that the Lord has us doing here, I sincerely ask that you make a year end contribution TODAY. The responsibility we carry for more children and all of the workers and their families continues to grow and we simply can’t do it without His provision, through His people … and that is you.

Every dollar that you donate up to $100,000 will be matched again this year and it is fully tax deductible.  Will you consider making a gift today?

In closing, I would like to share a few photos from today’s Project Canaan Academy Christmas Pageant.  It was awesome, inspiring and magical.  
Traditional Swazi dancing.

Away in a manger.

Hope puts hangs the angel ornament with her name on it.

Live from Swaziland ... thank you Lord for all you are doing in each of our lives.


Saturday, November 21, 2015

These are dark days.

Zodwa's grave was covered with a tree so that if the rains come, the dirt is not washed away.
This blog will be very short because I really didn't want to write at all.

These are dark days.

Lowlights from this week:
·      Dealing with a human trafficking case that has broken my soul and taken me/many of us to the darkest place of human cruelty and evil.
·      2-day old baby was born perfectly healthy (9+ lbs and HIV negative) and the family went to the hospital to kill the baby rather than taking him home. We pray that he will be safe for the weekend and come to us next week.
·      Personal betrayal at the deepest level.
·      Leaving the house at 4AM today to attend our sweet Zodwa’s funeral and burial, then having to speak at the grave site to her husband, 5-year old son and family who is mourning her loss. We miss our daughter, our sister and our friend.

What I know for sure:
·      Jesus is alive and securely on the throne.
·      All of these things are designed to draw us closer to Him.
·      We are to give thanks in all things, and so we try.

Please pray for Ian and me, for our family and for all those serving with Heart for Africa in Swaziland. The enemy is here to kill and destroy, that's it. So we must claim victory, but that is so hard some days/weeks/months.

These are dark days, globally.  Let us join together in unity, not division because this is too hard, without unity in the body of Christ, and without His grace.

Live from Swaziland … today I want to quit.  Jesus please give me strength, and restored hope.


Saturday, November 14, 2015

A rapist was caught this week and then terrible tragedy struck.

This week was hard.  No, this week was the hardest week we have had since we moved here.

Monday was a big day.  I was driving to town and randomly picked up a woman who was looking for a ride. She asked that I drop her off at a bus stop that was 10 miles from Project Canaan.  As we pulled up to the stop she asked me to keep driving.  As I continued on she quickly explained that the man who was standing in the bus stop had raped her that very morning.  She was on her way to report it to the police.

I pulled the car over and stopped to call a Police Officer who works at our local station.  I explained the situation to her and asked if they could quickly send a car to pick up the man. She explained that there were no police cars at the station at that moment, so I told her I was on my way to the station and would be there in less than five minutes.

When I pulled up to the police station the lady ran inside and two officers jumped in the back of my truck while loading their handguns and semi-automatic weapons. Before their doors were closed I was peeling out of the police station and flying down the two-mile long dirt road to where the rapist had been last seen. When we got to the bus stop, he was still there!  The police jumped out, arrested him, put him in the backseat of my truck and we drove back to the police station.  

We have since learned that he is a serial rapist and had violently raped women all over Swaziland and robbed them when he was finished. Only God knows why, but when he got to the police station he confessed to raping the woman whom I had picked up and then went on to tell them of many more whom he had raped and robbed. He will be in prison for a long time.

Then tragedy struck.

Wednesday Ian arrived home from the US and it was so great to have him back.  Only a couple of hours after his return I got a frantic call from Helen saying, “Mom, there was an accident with our transport truck.  One of our Aunties is dead.  Go quickly to the front gate please!”   Ian jumped in his truck and quickly picked up Kenny (our EMT), and I jumped on an ATV and flew down the mountain to the front gate. Once we got there we were told that the accident was a few miles down the road and so we headed to Gebeni.

We arrived at the scene to find that the truck was not able to make it up a steep part of a hill and when the driver tried to put it in first gear the truck started to slide backwards.  The people on the truck started to panic and one of our Aunties/Caregivers pushed her way from the front of the truck to the back and jumped off.  People were telling her not to jump and even tried to grab her and keep her on the truck, but for some reason she broke through and jumped, landing on her face.  The truck was already sliding backwards in the newly graded loose gravel and ran over her, killing her instantly.  

The next four hours were awful as we transported three people to the hospital (two requiring CPR en route – SO thankful that Ken and Anthony were there).  The police eventually arrived and paramedics came after we had taken three vehicles to the hospital.  By 10:30PM the last of the people had left and Denis and his team started to repair the five (brand new) tires that had gone flat because the truck ran over a thorn bush when it slid in to the shoulder of the road.  I headed home on my ATV and had heartbreaking responsibility of stopping at the Children’s Campus to tell all of our Aunties and Uncles about the terrible news.  Ian and Ken arrived home shortly thereafter from the hospital.  All three patients were discharged that night and Anthony took them home in the early morning hours.

The next two days were filled with conversations with witnesses, police, lawyers, government agencies and, of course, a visit to the family to share our deepest condolences.  As we were leaving the homestead of the Auntie who had died, the woman who had been raped on Monday was standing in front of me.  She was the Aunt to the deceased girl.  We hugged, and one of the family members pulled me aside and told me that Monday was actually the second time the woman had been raped. The first time it happened it was in front of her four children. 

The tears, the shock and the disbelief have not yet ended as we work through the realities of a senseless loss, but also as we see the miraculous mosaic of God’s timing and His handiwork.  

On Friday the driver of the truck was released from jail and we picked him up and brought him back to Project Canaan.  When we got to our house we discovered that a large fire had been deliberately started near our home and was burning out of control.  The winds were picking up quickly and suddenly furniture was blowing off our patio and trees branches were breaking.  The fire spread rapidly and was heading across the mountains and down to the farm.  

Suddenly (I mean within minutes of the wind picking up) the clouds opened up and the rain started to pour – the first rain we have had in many months of extreme drought. Then the hail started to fall and an epic hailstorm ensued, and after a massive 20-minute storm, the fires were out and only the smoke on the mountain remained. 

In addition to all of this, our baby Princess had to be rushed to the emergency room on Wednesday and Sipho was in respiratory distress and was rushed to the hospital on Thursday. On Friday Baby River had his final colostomy reversal and Isaiah had surgery on a hernia.  Both surgeries were successful and we hope to have all four babies out of the hospital early next week.

I saw the hand of God over and over again this week.  He is our strength and He is our shield.  I give thanks for the rain, I give thanks for His mercy and I give thanks that Ian was home this week.  Please pray for us all and for the family of our beloved sister and daughter.  She leaves behind a husband and 5-year old son.

We hope to have a very quiet and peaceful weekend.

Live from Swaziland … I am tired.


Saturday, November 7, 2015

No, you are not allowed to grab her breasts at work!

Adding a cute photo 'cause I can't post any photos pertaining to this blog.
I have written a lot about our babies, the farm, our challenges, HIV/TB and other health related topics.

Today I want to tell you about something that will be “new news” to even our most die hard followers and supporters.

A few months ago we started something called “Lehora lekufundza”.  Simply translated it means “lunch’n’learn”.  It’s a concept that most people in Canada and the US are familiar with if you are in a corporate environment.  You bring your lunch and sit for an hour while someone talks about a topic that is relevant to the company or to you personally (or so you hope).

Many of our workers can not read or write. Many only got through grade 4 before their parents couldn’t pay for their education anymore or they had to stop school to work and help the family with chores or income.  Some have finished High School and might even have a Post-Secondary diploma.  One of the many things I have learned in the last few months is that education is so much more than schooling.

Out of a personal frustration around the amount of rape, incest, domestic violence, STD’s, new HIV infections and TB transmission we encounter every day/week I literally cried out to God and asked what I could do to try to stop these destructive (and often evil) behaviors.

I met with the highest levels of Government Health Officials, NGO’s, Police officers, Social Welfare Officers and even Pastors to see what we could do to stop the death and destruction.  In the end, I felt the Lord telling me to start with Project Canaan.

And so it began.  First, I met with all of the women who work on Project Canaan and listened to many of their challenges and woes.  I wept with them and we had a few laughs too.  Then I met with all of the men at Project Canaan and shared my heart with the challenges that I am seeing the women and children going through here and in the communities around us.

After many meetings over a period of several months, we formed a very structured adult education program that will address a long list of questions and issues that have been given to me by a committee whom we call the “Project Canaan Social Safety Committee”.

Each month there are two education days. A guest Educator (specialist in that area) speaks for 60-90 minutes to the baby home Aunties, then they move to Khutsala & Construction, then to the farm workers and then back up to the toddler home Aunties and teachers.  Once a month we have a “health” topic (HIV/TB/STD’s/family planning etc) and once a month we also have a “social” topic (domestic violence/incest/reporting rape/sexual harassment etc).

We started the series with Ian and I telling who we are, how we got here, why we are in Swaziland, what Project Canaan is and why they are a part of it.  You know, I assumed they all knew those things, but alas, only our Supervisors did.

The next most critical topic was HIV/AIDS.  I thought that EVERYONE in Swaziland had been overeducated on the topic of HIV transmission/health/treatment.  And in actuality, that is true. But they had so much false information that they couldn’t separate the truth from the lies.  We have a LONG road ahead to totally solve this issue, but we are working on it.

Our topic of Sexual Harassment at work was moved right up next to HIV/AIDS when I learned that it was VERY COMMON for men to walk up to women at work (AT PROJECT CANAAN!) and just grab their breasts or their hips and make a very sexually derogatory comments and want to have sex with them in the bush.  I literally had to say to a guy, “No, uou are NOT allowed to grab her breast at work! Or at any time any where if she doesn’t want you to!”  I could write volumes on this, but won’t today. 

Yesterday we had the very best talk yet.  The topic was Sexually Transmitted Infections/Diseases (fun eh?).  The speaker brought huge color photos of the worst cases of herpes, gonorrhea, syphilis, genital warts, public lice and ulcers you could ever imagine. At the end of each session there was no one in the place who planned to EVER have sex again. I am thinking of getting those photos blown up and posting them all over the property (not sure Ian will allow this when he gets back from the US J). 

At the end of the day it was reported that several people waited at the clinic to be tested for STI’s that they had been suffering with for months. They were so thankful for the education session and were so thankful that we had a nurse who could help them immediately.

Most days I LOVE my job, but there are many dark and discouraging days too.  Yesterday (in a strange and twisted kind of way) was a highlight for me.  We are starting to break through. The gift of knowledge is the best gift that can ever be given to someone, and we are starting to do that with our employees in a mighty way.

Thank you for reading this long blog to the bitter end, so that YOU TOO can become more educated about what is happening on Project Canaan, in the tiny Kingdom of Swaziland.

Live from Swaziland … Jesus bring the rain.


PS - I can't possibly post photos related to this blog so will just post some cute baby photos for those of you who like pictures :)

Junior's 3rd birthday.

Ruth enjoying a pear after her piece of birthday cake.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Everything is dying – we are in a crisis here!

Some of you know that we are praying for rain.  Two of our dams are dry and the Living Water dam is almost too low to pump water and irrigate our crops.  There is no way for us to know how much water is left in the wells that we get our drinking water from.

But our irrigated fields still look green, while the hills surrounding us remain brown, or on fire due to the dry grass and high winds.
The fire up behind the Emseni Children's home last night.  Photo Credit: Chris Cheek.
In June 2015 it was predicted that the drought that was ensuing would kill an estimated 200,000 cattle if there was not immediate government intervention.

Today I sat down with Anthony and got a report from our work in the surrounding community and with our 27 church partners and I was given a much deeper understanding of what  “drought” really means today in Swaziland.

The number of children seeking food in each of our church partners has increased by 25% in the past two months.

But I was confused.  I asked why the lack of water now would be cause more children to be hungry, when the food they are eating now would have been grown in last years crop?  Here is how it was explained to me.

The maize that is the staple to the Swazi diet is planted in October/November and harvested in March/April.  It is then dried and stored, to be eaten throughout the year.  The harvests in the past decade have decreased and so the maize has not lasted from one year to the next.  Swazi’s have used the “early rains” which typically start falling in mid-September through October to plant back yard gardens, which provides with healthy food quickly while they wait for their maize to be planted and harvested.  Also, they typically are required to sell a cow or some goats to pay for seeds, fertilizer and food to get the family through the gap.

The drought is killing the cattle and thereby leaving Swazi’s in an even more dire situation.  Even we at Project Canaan have lost 5 cows in the past month.  Sickness, heat, snakes and disease are hard to manage even when you have full-time dairy staff, outside expertise and veterinarian support.  The rural Swazi has none of these. 

So, here is what is happening.

There are no cows to sell because thousands have already died and the ones that are still alive are too thin and sickly to sell.  There have been no early rains so the ground is hard and dry and gardens cannot be prepared and planted.  Even many of our church partners who had access to year-around water no longer have it and their gardens have died. 

I also received more deadly news from Gebeni, the community beside us. I was told that there are many people there who are on ART (Anti-retroviral Treatment) for HIV/AIDS who are now stopping their treatment because they know that proper nutrition is a critical part of the efficacy of the medication that is so hard on their internal organs.  Going off treatment will make their infectiousness increase and death will come faster.  UGH!

I did receive some good news while I was in Taiwan, and that was that King Mswati III made a public declaration that the drought was officially over. We are thankful for that and look forward to the rain falling soon.

In the meantime, if you can contribute to our ongoing feeding program we would very much appreciate it.  Thanksgiving is right around the corner and maybe you would consider making one less pie or reduce the variety of wonderful treats and instead give to help us feed the orphans and vulnerable children of Swaziland?  A $50 donation will purchase 110 pounds of maize, which will feed up to 250 children.

Live from Swaziland … please pray for rain!


Another interesting article:

Saturday, October 24, 2015

She was sent to an “initiation camp” (sex camp) when she was 11-years old.

I have been in Taiwan for the past two weeks as a guest of the 10th International Youth Conference that Mr. Lewis Lu hosts each year.  A big part of this event is fundraising and awareness building for Heart for Africa.  This year Mr. Lu made an incredible addition to the conference called the 2015 Malala Youth Award.  

I am sure you remember young Malala Yousafzai, a Pakastani activist for female education and the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate.  She is known mainly for being shot in the head and then rising up with a passion and advocating for education and for women in her native Pakistan.  She is who this award was designed and named after.  

One of the recipients of this new award was a young lady named Memory Banda.  She is 18-years old and is from the southern part of Malawi.  In her culture young girls are taken to “initiation camps” or “sex camps” as soon as they start menstruating.  The camp is two weeks long and it is a secret what is taught and done at the camp.  The camp was designed generations ago to welcome girls to womanhood. They are taught about sex, pregnancy, childbirth, child care, how to sexually please your husband and how to provide care for your husband and as many children as he decides you should have. At the end of the camp a man from the community is paid to come and have sex with the girls, and prepare them for marriage.  

Girls who had gone through the initiation camp were not allowed to tell the younger girls what had happened to them. After all, it was all a part of becoming a woman. Memory refused to go to the camp when she was of the right age because she had a bad feeling about it. But her refusal was met by a serious scolding by the elders in the community and resulted in her being ostracized because of her disrespect and rebelliousness.    Shortly thereafter her 11-year-old sister got her period and was sent to the camp.  When she returned home, she had changed. She was quiet, reclusive and afraid, but she would not talk about the camp other than to say that she was now a woman.  

Several months later it was discovered that Memory’s sister was pregnant – a result of the forced sex (rape) at the sex camp.  Even though the pregnancy was not of her doing, the family was ashamed and she was forced to marry the man who had raped her.  Memory was devastated for her sister and at that moment vowed to change the archaic cultural practices that invaded the lives and took away the rights of the girls of Malawi.  

Memory worked diligently with the other girls in her community, and many girls clubs were started through an NGO called “Girls Empowerment Network”.  On weekends they would meet and talk about human rights, gender equality as well as topics such as reproductive health and safety.  At that time the legal marrying age in Malawi was 15-years old, but that law was not enforced in the rural communities.   

That network of girls grew exponentially and as Memory said, “Once the girls united, we amplified our voices”.  Within a few years the girls were in front of Parliament and the legal marrying age was changed to 16 and then later to 18.  
Laws are a very important part of change in any country, but particularly when it relates to gender based violence or human inequality.  While the rural communities may continue to marry girls at a young age, there are now laws, and education around those laws, by which the girls can seek assistance.

Khalidi Mngulu, Mrs. Dlamini (the Ambassador from Swaziland's wife) and Memory Banda.
I learned a lot from Memory this week as well as Khalidi Mngulu from Tanzania who is the youth representative for the country speaking out on behalf of the Albino community.  Albino’s in many African countries are considered “lucky” (in a superstitious way) and if people want to get rich they often cut off body parts of Albinos (arms, ears, fingers, legs) and take them to the local witch doctor to be made in to a powerful potion.  We don’t see that in Swaziland, we see albinos being killed and sacrificed whole, not in pieces.

Oh Africa, my beloved Africa.  Why am I drawn to you so?

The students at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ready to present the challenges of their countries.
I am forever changed by the young people I met this week, and while the things I learned will never be forgotten, I am more hopeful that the youth of today is preparing a revolution of change.  As a dear friend said to me this week, “Something’s gotta give."

Live from the Hong Kong airport ... I am going home.  


Saturday, October 17, 2015

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” – Edmund Burke

I had an “ah ha” moment this week while I was preparing to speak to 300 students at Changhua Senior High School in Taiwan.

I was talking about the topic of hope.  Then I talked about hopelessness.  Then I talked about evil.  And as I prepared for my presentation a link between the three became very clear to me.

I used three examples of hopelessness; Baby Shirley, Baby River and Little Phephile.

Baby Shirley’s mother was hopeless, so much so that she felt the only option she had was to dump her newborn baby in a pit latrine and then dump fire on top of her and left her to die.

Shirley "before".
Shirley "after".
Baby River’s mother was so hopeless that after she gave birth to him she put him in a plastic bag and then dumped him in the river, and left him to be eaten by river crabs.

River "before".
River "after".
Little Phephile’s mother was so hopeless that she was powerless to stop a year of abuse by family members that resulted in Phephile’s arm to be broken in five places and her leg broken in two places.

Phephile "before".
Phephile "after".
I find that people who hear these stories are quick to judge these mothers and call them “evil”.  They are also quick to sentence them for their crimes and demand the harshest of punishment.  But I don’t see it that way. I have looked directly in to the eyes of Shirley’s mother and Phephile’s mother and what I saw was hopelessness.  They were empty, dead inside, with no options, and no hope.

I showed my Taiwanese students before and after photos of these three children. The before photos represented hopelessness, and the after photos represented hope.  And then showed them a quote by Edmund Burke that I find very powerful.  It says: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Could it be that hopelessness turns in to evil when good men and women do nothing?

Could it be that River, Shirley and Phephile would not have had to suffer if their mothers could have found people who cared and acted to help them before their hopeless turned to an act of evil?

Oh how I wish we could have helped these young women when they were in need rather than having to try to put the pieces back together after their babies were injured.

After my speech was finished a young man came up to me and was visibly moved. He said that he has always wanted to stand up against injustice and make a difference in the world, but he has always been told that he wasn’t good enough and would never make a difference. I told him that he had been told lies, that he was powerful beyond measure.  Later in the day he sent me a message that read, “Today, after listening to your speech, l felt something turned to be different in my heart.”

Working and living in Africa has taught me that hope is life-saving, and life-giving.  And hopelessness is life-taking and life-threatening. 

On my darkest days when I am discouraged or wanting to give up it is inevitable that I get an message from someone from around the world writing to encourage me and remind me to keep my eyes on our only true hope … Jesus. Those words are always timely and are exactly what I needed to hear.

I pray that each of us will reach out to others with words of true HOPE when we feel prompted to do so.  You may just save a life.

Live from Taiwan … I am hopeful.