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Saturday, May 23, 2015

Baby “River” in emergency surgery, twice this week.

Some of you have heard about Baby River from my blog  River was born on March 2nd, and was immediately put in a plastic bag and left on the side of the river to die.  Fortunately he was found, but not before his backside was badly eaten by river crabs.

After having a double-colostomy he came to live at the El Roi Baby Home and healed in record time!  Several weeks later he went back to the hospital to have his colostomy reversed, and the surgery happened without a glitch last week. A few days later, things took a turn for the worst.  There was a breakdown at the surgical site and River had a belly filled with infection.   The surgeon called to tell us that he needed to open up the baby again and try to close up the intestines.

Here is a challenge for us.  We are the legal guardians of the baby, and so we wanted to move the child to a private hospital in Manzini (complete with ICU and Pediatrician), but the baby came to us through a different hospital, and the surgeon responsible for that child wanted to do his very best to help make the child well again.  I totally get that, but what if we could do “better” than that by moving him? 

We had a team (Brooke, Ken and Shongwe) in the car driving to the hospital to transfer the baby to the private hospital for the corrective surgery, but what if the baby died in the car under our care (against the advice of the attending surgeon/hospital)?    We were in a tricky spot.

Thankfully, everyone involved truly does have the best interest of the child at heart. Brooke spoke directly with the Superintendent of the hospital attending to River and he assured us that River was getting good care and asked that we leave him there for the “clean up” surgery.  Our team turned the around, crossed our fingers and prayed for the surgical team.

Three days later (yesterday) I got a call from the surgeon saying that the baby was not well at all.  He needed to do a third abdominal surgery because puss was oozing out of the baby’s belly - the surgical site had broken down, again.  He would clean up the wound, but also give the baby a new colostomy so that the internal wounds would have a better chance at healing.

I “just happen” to have the best surgeon in Swaziland on “speed dial” and I had him “on call” this whole week in case we could transfer the baby.  I called him right away and while he agreed that the child should be moved to the private hospital and agreed that a new colostomy must be done right away, but in order to save the baby’s life the third surgery needed to be done before transferring the baby to the private hospital.  I wanted to pull my hair out.

There was nothing we could do, but pray, and ask El Rofi (the God who heals), to be with the surgeon and guide his hands.  Three hours later, I was called by the surgeon to say that the surgery went well, and he agreed to release the baby to us to be taken to the private hospital.

At first I planned on making the two-hour drive (each way) with Brooke, but the thought of having a 2-hour post-Operation baby in the back seat freaked me out. What if … ?  Getting an ambulance and nurse is not an easy feat in Swaziland, but we had people at two hospitals (and me) working on it.  Within an hour we literally had THREE ambulance options (ranging from $350US to free) and the child was on his way to the private hospital 75 minutes after surgery.  The hospital staff in BOTH hospitals worked together beautifully and I was thrilled to see his little face when I arrived in Manzini.

River is in ICU now and we should hear from a Doctor today on his care plan, but for now, they are keeping him hydrated and treating for infection and we have an Auntie with him 24/7. 

We are thankful for all who are praying for this little guy. We are thankful for all the nurses, doctors and Social workers in both hospitals who helped keep River alive.  He is very strong and even 3-hours out of surgery was holding my finger tightly and talking up a storm.  The cost to have him in the private hospital is close to $500 US per day.  He has a large incision across his belly and has a new colostomy that will need to be reversed (again) in the future. If you can help us with his hospital costs we would be very thankful.

To donate in the US please click here.

To donate in Canada please click here.

Live from Swaziland … it has been an eventful week.


Saturday, May 16, 2015

Would you give this swing to your child?

Home made swing - complete with chain, wire and old notebook.  Photo credit: Chris Cheek

In the next few weeks we have a container being shipped from the US to Swaziland, thanks to our friends and partners at UPS.  It’s always great to be able to send equipment and items that are either unavailable or very expensive here, not to mention a few treats that we all miss from home.

On the “wish list” we asked for more swings so that we can have swings for the kids up at the Emseni Campus.  We have had a donation of $1,000 to buy swings so we were debating whether we should spend the whole amount on getting two really sturdy swings that will last forever, or get some small, cheaper ones that might not last as long, but we could have more of them. 

Then there is the question of wood, vs. plastic, vs metal?  Our team in the US diligently researched the options and sent links to me so that I could go and look at them for our ongoing discussion of which swings to by our big kids.

And then this happened.

On Tuesday, I had the privilege of going out to visit one of our neighbors with our volunteer team from North Point Community church. When we arrived at the homestead the first thing we saw was the skin of a cow draped over a tree branch, drying to be made in to rope to harness their oxen.  Below the drying skin was a long chain with an old notebook hanging on it.  I was asked what that was all about, but I had no idea.

Cow hide hanging by the swing.  Photo credit:  Chris Cheek
We went on to meet with a family that was made up of an old Grandfather and Grandmother living with 14 Grandchildren (age 2-18), all of them sleeping in one room (the family kitchen).  They had no food, no jobs and all were suffering from poverty.  We sat and talked with them, brought them clothing, shoes, a soccer ball and a box of Manna Pack (food).  We purchased all the mats that the Grandmother had made, we prayed with them and then we said our goodbyes.

Later that night Chris Cheek messaged me and said that she had shown the photo of the long chain and notebook to several of the Aunties and asked them what the strange object was for?  They all laughed and said, “Gogo, that’s a swing!”  All of them knew that if you didn’t have a fancy swing made of wood, plastic or metal, that you just take an old notebook and hang it over a chain, and voila!  A swing!

Old note book that serves as the seat on the swing.
I struggle with this.  I want to give our Swazi children the best of what we are able to give, but part of me knows that they are missing out on the small things in life, like making your own swing out of a notebook. Lots of people do it in North America with old tires for swings, and have had summers of fun swinging on them.

I am not convinced that a notebook on a chain would be “fun” (at least not for my backside!), but I know that the old Grandfather at that homestead was doing the best he could with what he has.  And the kids were thankful.

So I have an idea.  In 2016 I would like to have the Kufundza center start making good/sturdy wooden swings, complete with chain, that can be purchased by our volunteers/donors for us to take to our church communities and to our homestead visits.  It will be a small way we can bless each family (in addition to leaving clothing, shoes and food). 

In the meantime, if you would like to help us build our playground for the big kids at the Emseni Campus, please go to this link today and do a little shopping:

Everything purchased will be shipped in early June, arriving in Swaziland in July.

I feel like there were several lessons in this story for me personally.  I will be chewing on this in the days and weeks to come.  I hope you will be too.

Rose swinging at the Kindergarten. Photo credit: Ken VanWinkle
Caleb on the swings at Kindergarten.  Photo credit: Ken VanWinkle.
Live from Swaziland … giving thanks for everything He has given us.


Saturday, May 9, 2015

Baby in hospice is virtually raised from the dead.

  On Monday I received a call from someone at the Baylor Pediatric AIDS clinic asking for assistance.  She explained that there was a baby in a hospital who had been very sick and needed help. 

The story was that the child was 22-month old and was taken to the hospital in January 2015 because he was near death.  He was severely malnourished (and had been from birth), he was HIV positive, but had not been on any treatment from birth AND he had Tuberculosis!   The clinic and hospital worked closely together to save this little boys life, but hospice was called and the child was treated in hospice with a hired caregiver sitting beside him day and night. 

Where are his parents you ask? Both parents are severely mentally disabled and the mother spent time in the Psychiatric hospital after the baby was born.  The family suffered from a “lubane”, which means that fire broke out spontaneously at their homestead (no lightening, matches or foul play) and burned everything to the ground. Swazi’s believe that “lubane”, is a result of someone visiting a Traditional Healer and having a curse put on the family that results in spirits burning the homestead and fields. 

I traveled to the homestead with the Social Welfare officer and a representative from the Baylor Clinic and it was simply devastating to see how they were living. I am not sure I have seen much worse during my community visits.  The walls had open sides with clothing trying to keep the cold air out and the only food they had were a few groundnuts (peanuts).

The child remained in hospice for 4-months and every day he got better, until he was well enough to be discharged!  Sadly, the parents were not living together and neither of them were in a position go take the child (who they had cared so badly before in his first 18-months of life).  We were told (and saw for ourselves) that the Gogo had nothing to help care for the child and did not want the child returned to her. 

The hospital and Baylor clinic started working on a plan, but were not able to find a home for the child for 5 weeks.  It was then that we got the call, but they had been warned that we only take children under the age of 12-months. Well, the truth is, we have made two or three exceptions to that rule, and this week we made another exception and welcomed little Thando to our family.

The Doctor who saved Thando's life wanted a photo of the child before he left. So sweet!
Thando turned two years old on April 11th and he still does not walk on his own, but he is a sweet boy and we know that he will develop well at the El Roi baby home.  His TB treatment is finished in June, but his anti-retrovirals will continue for life.

We give thanks to all who help support us financially so that we can say “yes” to children who are in such great need.  We know that El Roi saw Thando and has saved his life for a purpose. We look forward to seeing him grow and develop in the weeks and year to come.

Live from Swaziland … we are driving to Johannesburg to pick up a team from North Point Community Church!


Saturday, May 2, 2015

What a week: 37 children moved, turned away a baby, and a memorial service

This has been a week! 

It started with the race to get the Emseni building finished so that 20 of our biggest children could move up to their permanent home. The reason it was so critical was because we were full to overflowing in all our children’s housing. Kuthula Place, that should house 10 babies (age 1 day to 4-months), had 14 babies in it.  The El Roi Baby home, which now has 32 beds, had 34 children living there.  The Labakhetsiwe toddler home, which was built for 40 children, had 44 children living there.  We were bursting at the seams, but on Wednesday, April 29th the dominos started to fall.

First, the 10 big ones moved their bags up to Emseni. Then 10 toddlers from El Roi moved to the toddler home. Then 7 babies who are 6+ months old moved from Kuthula Place to El Roi.  With the help of awesome volunteers, incredible Children’s Campus staff, and anyone else who was around to help, all the moves went off without a hitch.

Paul, Emmanuel and Ishmael were all packed and ready to move!

Hope loves her new bed!
In the midst of the planning for all of the above I was asked to go and help assess an 8-month old baby who was reported to be disabled and needing help.  We do not knowingly accept disabled children as we do not have the staff or training to help, but as it turns out, 10% of our children have some kind of long-term disability

We were told that the mother of the baby was dead, the child was living with an old Grandfather (who is the one who reported the case to Social Welfare) and the child was starving to death.  I wondered if maybe the child was just developmentally delayed or stunted due to malnutrition, so I asked Brooke and Shongwe to come with me to the homestead, with the Social Welfare officer, to assess the situation. 

After driving for an hour, over hill and dale, then through the bush, we came to a home that had many, many small children running around half naked.  As soon as we arrived we saw the child in question, but the story wasn’t at all what had been reported to the government office. The mother of the baby was alive and sitting in front of us. The Grandmother of the baby was there as well as several other women, who were mothers or Aunties for the dozens children who were sitting on the ground watching us.  The baby was not starving to death, as was reported, and in fact, she wasn’t 8-months old, she was 8 YEARS old. The only part of the story that was true was that she was severely disabled, and we found her sliding around dirt yard on her bare bum.  She is no doubt a severely “at risk” little girl, but in no way qualified to come to live at our baby home. 

We thanked the family for inviting us for the visit and left them with some food for the children.  We must all pray for the safety and protection of that little girl.

I don’t often tell those stories in this blog, but that type of “wild goose chase” happens fairly often, but it’s always worth the drive when a child’s life can be saved.  I am thankful for those who give money to my compassion purse which allows me to buy fuel and food for those trips.

We ended the week with a memorial service for our dear friend Shirley Ward.  It was a beautiful day as we gathered with Shirley’s family, friends, government officials, Doctors and Social Workers to celebrate a life will lived.  Shirley was the one who actually set up the Heart for Africa charity in Swaziland in 2004.  She was also the one who found the Project Canaan land in 2009 and navigated government relations so that the El Roi Baby home could be opened in 2012. 

In honor of Shirley Ward.
There are no words to describe the sadness we feel to say good-bye to Shirley, but her faith was strong enough to move mountains, and we saw her do that many times in the ten years we worked with her.

The El Roi choir sang.
Shirley with Cindy Van Wyk at the dedication of the Project Canaan land June 21, 2009
Many mountains were moved this week and we give thanks for the dozens of people who made the whole week a success.  Thank you Jesus for your provision, your love and your attention to detail.

Live from Swaziland… we are going to take the weekend off.


A fun aerial photo of The Oasis reception with Emseni East to the right.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

What if God asked YOU to move to Africa? We are thankful for the people who said, “Yes”.

It’s Saturday afternoon and it’s the end of a long week, which is at the end of a long 5 weeks.  Like anyone whose been away from home for 4-weeks, there is a LOT of work to catch up on when you return.  Ian and I have had a very intense week filled with meetings, decision-making, project follow-up and new project initiation.   Those things, coupled with jet-lag and the important role of planning a Memorial service for Shirley Ward (complete with accommodation many Royal and Government VIP’s) has made sitting on our patio to write this blog, a good ending to a good week.

While we had a lot to do when we got home, we continue to give thanks to the amazing team of people who keep things running smoothly while we are away.  Our Swazi and Kenyan leadership are truly amazing and we are thankful for the extra burden they carry when we are away. None of it is easy, but they all do it with grace and joy.

Today I would like to tell you about the other people who help our Swazi’s and Kenyan’s “hold the fort” as we say in North America … the people who heard God tell them to “move to Africa”… most Christian’s worst fear, and they said, “YES”.

Our long-term volunteers have “given up everything” to come and serve here and while this list is in no way exhaustive, I want you to think about it from your own perspective, what if it was YOU who was asked to move to Swaziland to serve the Lord at Project Canaan. 

·      They miss seeing their own children, family, friends or co-workers whenever they want to.
·      They miss having their family present when their baby is being born.
·      They miss having their mom their to rock their newborn to sleep or feed him/her so that she can get some rest.
·      They miss favorite restaurants, movies and entertainment of almost any kind, whenever they choose.
·      They miss reliable electricity, internet and hot water, not to mention paved roads, fully stocked grocery stores, and International borders that don’t close.
·      They miss access to making a simple phone call to say hello to a friend,  complain about a bad day or share good news.
·      They miss “normal” mail service to drop a card in the mail or send birthday wishes or condolences for a lost loved one.
·      They miss the seeing the latest episode of the favorite show, or real time sports games or the Stanley Cup playoffs.
·      They miss birthday parties, and anniversaries and graduations and Easter and Thanksgiving and Christmas and Mother’s Day and Father’s day.
·      They miss visiting their parents who are in a nursing home, or friends who are in hospital.
·      They miss attending funerals of children dying of childhood cancer or aged relatives slipping away in their sleep.
·      They miss sleeping in their own beds, in their own homes (without bars, electric fencing, a security guard and 44 little children in the same building).
·      They miss the “normal” part of a “normal North American life” including traffic jams, annoying co-workers, their home church on Sunday, dry cleaners and drive-thru restaurants.

But in return for their obedience, they get to see miracles every day, they get to see what God is doing everyday and they get to be a part of a new work that is and will continue to change the face of the Kingdom of Swaziland including. Here are just a few examples of how our long-term volunteers are directly having impact at Project Canaan.  They are:

·      Producing milk for the children who live at Project Canaan.
·      Identifying and stopping the spread of diarrhea or ear infections to 90 other children.
·      Designing jewelry and training men and women to make it so that they can provide for their own families rather than begging in the streets for food.
·      Developing and teaching good farming and management practices that will help generate income to make Project Canaan self-sustainable.
·      Driving a baby to the emergency room to save his/her life, and then getting to pick that baby up again when he/she has been healed.
·      Making cheese to be sold in local grocery stores to help generate income and awareness of the work that is being done.
·      Teaching the once abandoned children who now live about Project Canaan about language, spelling, math, colors and texture as well as about love, giving, caring and the Word of God.
·      Constructing beautiful buildings that will last for generations and be home to hundreds of orphaned children that God is sending for safety at Project Canaan.
·      Sitting and rocking an Autistic child to calm his spirit and tell him he is loved.
·      Making sure that our accounting practices are excellent, current, accountable and beyond reproach.
·      Doing CPR on a dying baby in the backseat of a car, while your husband is rushing to the hospital with hopes of saving the child’s life.

There are not enough words for me to list all of the things that our volunteers do here in Swaziland, or to fully explain their lives here, but Ian and I want to say “thank you” to each of you. Please know that we love you and are so incredibly proud of you and thankful for the sacrifices you have made to follow Him.

May the Lord bless you abundantly for your obedience and continue to give you the desires of your hearts.

Live from Swaziland … it’s Saturday night.


Saturday, April 18, 2015

Africa – Canada – United States – Africa … a journey of hope.

This past month has been fun, long, hard, exciting, exhausting, rewarding, encouraging and filled with hope.

I am always encouraged to meet people who say that they start their Saturday mornings with a cup of coffee and this blog.  Many of those people also follow me on Facebook so when I write my weekly blog I try not to repeat what has already been posted.  That being said, for those of you readers who don’t follow on Facebook, I want to be sure to give you a short update on some of our favorite, and important moments from our time in North America this past month.

I will start by saying that Ian and my hearts are in Swaziland.  The work that we do and roles that we fill are more than full time jobs and we spend 100% of our time focusing on all things “Project Canaan”, and we LOVE IT.  So packing for 3 weather zones, to go on 12 flights and stay in 9 different hotels/rooms in 4 weeks is not really our idea of “fun” anymore.

That being said, this month was amazing and here are just a few photos to give a glimpse of SOME of what we experienced.

The highlight is always seeing our 20-year old son Spencer, and just hanging out and chatting with him. He is a remarkable young man, and so much fun to "chill" with. 

We had a fantastic 12-days with the Egg Farmers of Canada and Egg Farmers of Ontario as they officially launched their partnership with Heart for Africa and their commitment to build a Egg Farm on Project Canaan in 2015. This photo is with the Canadian Minister of Agriculture.  We got some great media exposure and the links below are two worth seeing/reading. 

CTV News Segment:

The Toronto Star:

Tim Lambert (CEO EFC), Honourable Minister Gerry Ritz , Janine, Ian and Peter Lambert (Chairman of EFC)
We visited with Ian’s family in Ottawa and always enjoy seeing everyone and had the privilege of speaking at the West Ottawa Rotary Club to thank them for their participation in the funding of the Living Water Dam.
Diane and Jim Maxwell
We got to visit my 84-year old mom, who lives in a nursing home in Ontario and my cousin Kim who is my voice when I am not there.  Each time I see her I am so thankful that my mom is the reason that I believe in Jesus and have followed His path, and I am equally aware that each visit might be our last.
I love you mom.
So thankful for my cousin Kim.
We loved seeing old friends and work colleagues and enjoyed getting caught up with their lives and families.
My besties... Dee Dee, Judy and Kathryn.
So awesome to see Charlene, Sally and Diane (with Carol Kirk taking the photo).
It seemed that this month was 4-weeks of meeting for coffee, breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Not ideal as we are trying to lose weight, but so much fun to meet new people and hear their stories. 
From Canada we went back to Georgia for more time with Spencer and got to have amazing burgers with Chad and Amy Gregory as they search Atlanta for the very best hamburger experience.

Our friends, Chad Gregory, CEO of the United Egg Producers, and his beautiful wife Amy.

Welcome North Point/Waumba Land team!

Welcome Marsh family who want to commit to do something "more".

Thank you Kim and David for your hospitality and generosity.
We enjoyed seeing all of our friends at the MedAssets annual conference in Las Vegas where we sold $4,800 in jewelry and recruited more people to volunteer with us in 2016.

MedAssets conference with Board members, Sandra Green and Ned Lehman.
On our final Sunday night we were a part of a wonderful fundraising event with our inspirational friend Captain Jerry Coffee as the key note speaker. Our goal was to get more people to sign up as a monthly Angels and the event raised $24,000 to help with the monthly costs of raising our 91 babies. Maybe you can help with that today?

The Grand Finale happened in Washington, DC, where we spent time visiting Senator John McCain and then attended a magical evening that our friends from UPS hosted in the beautiful UPS town house.  The goal of that event was to raise funds for us to start our Hydroponic Greenhouse project to grow strawberries and tomatoes and this mighty team raised $47,000+ for the project!

Such amazing friends - Janice Johnson and Teri McClure.
Thursday night we got on a plane in DC, routed back through Atlanta and then flew on to Johannesburg.  Today we woke up in South Africa and took one last flight to our beloved Swaziland.  

We are so thankful to all of our friends, family and supporters who give selflessly and sacrificially help us provide for the children at Project Canaan, and so many others around the country of Swaziland.

We are thankful to be home and we are feeling hopeful.

Live from Swaziland … it IS Saturday morning.


Saturday, April 11, 2015

Eating at "Road Kill Grill". (Confessions from a self-proclaimed ‘foodie’)

Food in Swaziland is simple.  We eat very “clean” food (not that our weight reflects that in any visible way).  We don’t eat fast food, food with preservatives and Ian and I love to cook at home together. 

But when you live abroad and plan to head back “home” the dreams and visions of past food loves start to dance in your head.

When Ian and I landed in Canada, our first lunch stop was to get Poutine.  What is Poutine you might ask?  It is a delicacy from the French part of Canada and it consists of a bowl of French fries, delicately sprinkled with squeaky cheese curds, all covered with smoking hot beef gravy.  Then you flavor it to your personal taste by adding white vinegar, ketchup and lots of fresh pepper.  It’s divine, but you can almost feel your arteries closing while you consume it.  

Ian and I love watching The Food Network on Sunday afternoons, and a particular favorite is Guy Fiery’s “Diners Drive-Ins and Dives” (DDD).   A few months ago we discovered that DDD has an APP for our phones, which we both purchased immediately.  Now you might ask WHY we would do that when we don’t even live in the US, but you should check out the APP yourself and you will see why. You can follow the locations of the show, add locations to your personal “bucket list” or just search the APP while you are in a new city.

Ian watched a particular show about a food establishment in Las Vegas called “Road Kill Grill” and immediately added it to his “bucket list”.  Not only that, but he arranged for us to arrive in Las Vegas a day earlier than needed for the Med Assets conference, JUST so that we could go there.  No word of a lie.

A 30-minute taxi ride, with a driver who had never been to “that part of town” ended in an old suburban area that had to have been the very first houses ever built in Las Vegas.  As we arrived it was clear that this was not at DINER, nor was it a DRIVE-IN … but it clearly qualified for the show, if you know what I mean.

This place is a butchery, and they smoke and preserve meat, with the claim to fame of being the largest Deer meat processor in the southwest (pause).  

I won’t lie, if the taxi driver hadn’t driven off so quickly, and my husband hadn’t planned this visit for so many months, I think I would have headed back to the Vegas strip for a light lunch.  But no, the scene was set, the actors in place and we entered the “establishment” with great expectations (I could use the words “hesitation” or “anticipation” here).

We were not disappointed. A large stuffed coyote was the main decoration in a very small cafeteria-style room with five main food items on the menu. You could order meat, meat or meat.  We chose meat … ribs to be exact.

The food was good old-fashioned southern cooking complete with all the usual sides of mac’n cheese, potato salad, slaw, baked beans or over cooked green beans.  The ribs were good and the BBQ sauce even better.  The salt induced coma that I fell in to shortly after eating required me to not only have a two hour nap in the afternoon, but our stomach’s actually refused any thing further for the rest of the day, including dinner.  

We still have one more very busy week of fundraising and meetings ahead so Ian and I decided to make a “wise” decision last night and stay away from the big costume party/blow out that annually closes the MedAssets conference.  Instead we decided to do a “tapas-hop” and try a few appetizers from a few new restaurants.

Our final “hop” landed us at a restaurant that is a MUST GO if you are ever in Las Vegas. It is located at Mandalay Bay and is called Rx Boiler Room.  It was there that we fell in love … with a slider.  (For those who don’t know what a slider is, it’s a very small 2-bite size burger).  I was highly skeptical of the “Surf  & Turf” slider that was described as “Filet Mignon, sweet butter poached Maine Lobster with Maltaise sauce”, but when we questioned the Waiter about it, he literally rolled his eyes with the look of love and said “you must try it”. And we did. And we fell in love with a slider.

The rest of the menu was equally outstanding and the Meze platter of baba ganoush, tzatziki and taramosalata finished of our visit to Las Vegas (and helped redeem my memories of ribs that almost killed me). 

Whether it’s fresh green beans from Project Canaan, “fresh” Poutine in Canada, or famous ribs in Las Vegas, we love food.  And we are thankful that we have access to good food and choice each and every day when so much of the world does not have such luxury.

Live from Georgia … thankful to be able to eat meals with Spencer this weekend.