One New Tire Swing – Volunteer Chris Cheek

One new tire swing tied in a tree ….. 35 kids Grade 1 – 7.  Will chaos erupt, who will dominate – boys, girls, older kids, younger kids?  Who gets the swing & the song began – “If you want to play the game, make a line – make a line. If you want to play the game, make a line – make a line.”  And as if it was choreographed by the great Balanchine himself the line formed & with one fluid motion the first child crawled on top between the ropes. The song continued, “one, two, three, four, five – one, two, three, four, five – one, two, three, four, five – game over.” With the singing of each number the tire moved with a push, a push, a push, a push, a push – three sets, game over, the larger kids stopped the swing & down came one kid & up went the next one in line. As the song began again the kid just getting off went to the end of the line to wait for their next turn.  No one argued, no one yelled she got more pushes, no one said its my turn – my turn, no one broke in line. It was shared equally by all. I stood watching & singing with the kids as they counted each set of pushes & the call of “game over.”  What just completely blew me away was there was no discussion about how they were going to be fair – they just sang & played – equally for all. (As they completed the first time through the line the older girl that had been pushing the younger kids got her turn.  She crawled on the swing & three of the smaller kids pushed her. )

This moment at the new tree swing was just one of many over the past two week as I helped with a mission trip of 32 people for 11 days here at Project Canaan.  I find myself trying to find a way to write about the experiences in a way that doesn’t become the next new epic mini-series yet will enable me to share with you the stories of the journey of the past two weeks.

As I have walked the journey through my mind I have found three distinct stories I want to share – Ebholi Methodist Primary School, Service & the Rhythm of a Mission Trip to Project Canaan. I will write about these over the next three weeks.

Today the story is about Ebholi Methodist Primary School. This story should logically be the last of the three because of where it falls in the week schedule but it is the one that has opened another layer of my heart in my love of serving in Swaziland at Project Canaan so it moves up the ranks to first told.

Ebholi Methodist School is almost a two hour drive from Project Canaan near the Mozambique border.   It is a primary school, grades 1 – 7 and has about 250 students.  Like all Swazi schools there are no buses. The children all walk to school.  I’m sure as you are reading this your thoughts go back to a time when we had neighborhood schools & almost all kids walked to school. The joy & laughter as kids make the walk back & forth certainly brings back a time when our life was much simpler & less complicated. For many Swazi kids that walk is done in the dark, early morning hours & late afternoon sunsets because that walk may be as much as an hour to an hour & a half one way. For 35 of the kids at Ebholi that walk is between 4 & 5 hours – one way. Can you imagine?

After dealing with high absentees from the kids living in the furthest & most rural areas, the Head Teacher converted two class rooms of the unused preschool building into a boarding hostel for these children, one for the girls & one for the boys. Each week the kids come to school on Monday morning & leave on Friday afternoon to make the five hour walk to their homestead.

I could give you statistics of kids at the school that are single orphans or double orphans, I could tell you how most get one meal a day, I could tell you about a five year old with no teeth at the school, I could tell you how the school is in the malaria zone of Swaziland & there are only 3 mosquito nets for the children living there during the week. I could write on how unfair & unjust it is but I’m not – I want to tell you about the one weekend each year the 35 get stay over & play with the people that come from the U.S. & Canada to serve with Heart for Africa at Project Canaan.

The last two days of the eleven day trip are spent with churches that Project Canaan partners with to address the hunger & poverty of the orphaned children in the church community. One aspect of this partnership is in conjunction with our service trips. Each service trip finishes up with the teams spending two days at one of the churches. We work side by side with the community (keep in mind church communities are children & a few very tired grandparents) planting a garden,  playing with the children, providing & helping prepare lunch & attending church on Sunday. Ebholi is the one exception because it is a school, it is the one weekend that 35 kids get to stay over the weekend & just be kids – playing & have fun. Project Canaan works with the school through its partnership with Feed My Starving Children.

On Saturday morning our team of nine was up early & loaded on our quantum (large van) filled with seedlings, fruit trees, soccer balls, nail polish, paper, markers, sugar beans, beets, oranges, Manna Packs, maize, pens, pencils, crafts & a lot of love.

After our drive to the eastern edge of Swaziland through acres & acres of green sugar cane we finally made the turn down the dry dusty dirt road that would soon have us arriving at Ebholi Methodist Primary School. As we drove through the gate a tiny little Swazi lady Mrs. Similane- the deputy principal of the school met us. I would like to say that she was filled with joy & excitement to see us but she looked tired & worn out. There was a slight smile in her greeting but mostly she looked like she was carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders. We later learned that she was sick but rather than disappoint the kids she found the strength to stay for the weekend so the kids could have their one weekend of the year to just be kids.

With a few directions from Mrs. Similane the kids had the seedlings & fruit trees & were off to the garden.  The kids all knew before they could play the garden had to be planted. They did not waste any time completing the task & as much as our team tried to help we seemed to be slowing them down. They were on a mission – two days of play were waiting for them.

The garden planting was happening as three of our team slipped away on a tree hunt – our big surprise for them was the tree swing.  The only resemblance of play is the one soccer pitch on the side of the school campus.  My heart sank as I realized how many kids were going to have to share the one swing. My lesson of the weekend – what I thought was going to be kids being selfish & all wanting to swing turned out to be a lesson in selflessness as you read in the beginning.

Soon there were kids playing soccer, nails being painted, hair being braided, great works of art being created with the paper & markers. Games being played, songs being sung & dancing by all.

Lunch prepared in the huge black cauldrons over the open fire – beans & pap filled the empty bellies. The best treat of the day – each child got an orange.  An orange – an orange accepted with two hands. Two hands – a sign of respect & appreciation.

As the day came to an end my soul was filled with quiet anticipation because I knew Sunday would soon be dawning & I would be back at Ebholi Methodist Primary School and in the face of 35 I would see the face of God.  Innocent, orphaned, vulnerable, filled with joy & laughter – the face of God.

We arrived Sunday morning & were greeted with the love of each child. The day was filled with smiles & laughter. Selfies on all of our phones – selfies to be a reminder of the two days of play – two days where a five hour walk can be forgotten, two days filled with soccer, swinging, dancing & play. The day passed quickly & soon the kids needed to rest because Monday morning was a day of testing & Mrs. Similane wanted them to be at their best.

I’m grateful for Project Canaan, Mrs. Similane, the teams that come to serve, my boys & friends that encourage me & have supported this journey – a journey that has given me an opportunity to play at Ebholi Methodist Primary School – to love & know kids that have a five hour walk to school & live a life of selflessness.

The journey continues……


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Out of My Comfort Zone by Sharla Miller

I hesitated to tell this story because I was afraid anyone considering a trip to Africa might be ‘scared’ off if you thought you had to do this, but let me just say, you are free to say ‘no’ to anything you just can’t stand the idea of doing…  So I could have said ‘no’…  But…

On the day we were out in the community around Project Canaan (PC), serving the families of the people who work at PC, and others in their community, we headed out to the home of a single mom.

Her home was in a pretty remote location, so we reached a point in our journey when we had to get out of our nice comfortable Quantam, (aka. Van), and all pile into the back of a pick-up truck to go off-roading!  I think a vehicle had passed that way before, but it was the bumpiest ride I’ve ever taken…  and the most fun too!  (There is a country girl just bustin’ to get out of this southern city girl!)

When we arrived at her home, we found we had a lot of prep work to finish before we could plant the garden.  We grabbed our rakes and pick axes and got to work.  At one point I stopped to rest for a minute (big mistake) and Anthony from Project Canaan, one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet said, “You need to go into the manure pen and get some cow dung.”

Now I have a history of misunderstanding what people say to me whose first language is not English (I am NOT good with language), so I smiled, certain that I had misunderstood him, and got back to work…  ASAP!!  I was really hoping he’d mysteriously forget (or find someone else) and I’d be off the hook.

But no…  a little bit later my friend Sallie and I took a break and we were chatting (silly girls)…  Anthony came over to us and said, “Take the seedlings out of the tub and go into the manure pen and fill it with cow dung.”  I said, “Anthony is there a shovel?”  He said, “No, use your arms, scoop it, scoop it!”  Sallie and I looked at each other, our eyes big as wagon wheels, shrugged and said ‘ok’.  I think we were in shock…  surely we had entered another dimension…  two southern city girls were going to scoop cow dung?!  And then we started laughing…  and we couldn’t stop!

Thankfully Anthony must have realized he had asked the wrong girls and he sent another one of the PC guys to help us.  We raked (ok, I raked and Sallie who had gloves, scooped with something we found laying on the ground) and the PC guy scooped it into the tub with his hands!  For those who will know to ask the question, “Was it dried or fresh?”  It was both!

Of course I yelled for my mom to come get a picture…  I needed proof for my husband, and for myself too, for when I emerged through the rabbit hole…  or the wardrobe…  or whatever would take me back to my comforts I’ve become far too accustomed to…

We filled the tub and even managed to spread it in the garden, but I have to admit, I was a little ashamed a few minutes later…  Anthony didn’t send us back to refill the tub, instead a child, probably not more than 10-12, came walking up with a big flour sack that they had filled with cow dung, and emptied it into our tub for us.

I am such a soft woman…  I know it’s ‘city life’…  the culture I live in…  but I can’t stand that doing things their way…  is such a novelty to me…  I hate that bugs scare me…  I hate that the thought of a snake freaks me out…  and I hate that standing in a manure pen (with all of its smells) grosses me out.

A friend of mine wrote last year that his comforts are an idol to him…  I have thought about that all year…  and it was so real to me on this trip.  I did my best to ‘suck it up’ and experience everything, but I really did feel like a visitor from another dimension (and this was my 7th trip!).  And there were things I couldn’t let myself fully enjoy because of the things I was afraid of…

I am thankful for my comforts and I am blessed to have them…  But I need to find a way to stop letting the absence of them limit me (like what to do when you’re in a country that has no Orkin man)…  I have no idea how to make that happen, so I’ll just start with praying about it… (Ugh…  I wonder if that will turn out to be like praying for patience?!)

I guess we’ll just have to see what happens… Who knows, maybe I’ll find that country girl in me yet and learn to be a little more like the women who are quickly becoming my heroes… some of the women of Swaziland who are fearlessly, hard workers.  Women who don’t complain, but just do…  Women whose joy overflows, and their trust in God is unshakeable, no matter what the circumstances are…  Maybe in part because comfort is not an idol to them!

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Why Heart for Africa? By: Kirstin Cassell

Let me be honest. If you want to do some international humanitarian aid, there are LOTS of ways to do it.  Many trips are cheaper and the travel time is considerably less.  To get to Swaziland, I left my house at noon (EST) on Saturday and 44 hours later, I arrived at our hotel in Swaziland – about 8 am on Monday (EST – it was around 2 pm local time). We had time for orientation and then went to bed. The next morning we were finally ready to get up and work.  You spend a considerable amount of time just traveling when you go to serve in Swaziland. Traveling home is faster – only about 33 hours.  Travel to Johannesburg is not cheap, and Swaziland doesn’t really have many safe options for a big group to stay, so we actually stay in a fancier hotel than I stay in when I travel in the US!

So why are we so committed to Heart for Africa? Why Swaziland?  Oh, I’m so glad you asked! :)

We have been involved with Heart for Africa since 2008 when my husband first traveled with them. He also just rotated off of their Board of Directors this past fall. I’m hoping when church-plant stuff slows down a bit, he’ll be able to serve on their board again one day.  Rob has been on five Heart for Africa trips and I just returned from my second. In the years we’ve been involved, we’ve really gotten to see how Heart for Africa operates. We’ve gotten to know Janine and Ian Maxwell, who moved to Swaziland about a year ago to be able to serve there full-time. And I am thrilled that I’ve gotten to know Jimmy and Chrisy Wilferth. Jimmy is now the President of Heart for Africa US since the Maxwells moved to Swaziland. You’ll just have to take my word for it, but these folks are fabulous.

There are two main reasons why we will continue to serve with Heart for Africa:

1. They are doing it right.

This is not an organization full of Westerners who are coming into a third-world country to “fix” things. Heart for Africa partners with local churches who are already working hard to improve conditions in their country. Heart for Africa staff and teams listen to them, partner with them, and assist with the things that they have identified as helpful.  It’s about empowering Swazis and encouraging them.  The Project Canaan Farm exists to provide food and employment to local Swazis, and food to the churches and orphanages with which HFA partners. Let me tell you, as a social worker, all this is REALLY really important to me. It isn’t a bunch of Christians who are trying to bring Western Christianity into a country.  Don’t get me wrong, it is very much a Christian organization. Everything Heart for Africa does is to bring glory to God; to be the hands and feet of Jesus in Swaziland.  I see Jesus in everything they do.  I have to admit, sometimes I hear how some organizations are trying to serve God around the world and it makes me cringe. Heart for Africa works within Swazi culture, not trying to change it but loving the Swazi people as they are, the way Jesus does for us.

And they’re really listening… to God and to the Swazi people. In Swaziland, there are no orphanages that will take children under three. So Heart for Africa has opened a Baby Home. It’s been open less than a year and they already have 37 babies. They’ve built a Toddler Home and many of the babies will transition there in September. Those children need education so now there is a brand-new Preschool and there are plans to have a Primary School and a High School as the kids grow up. The Swazi government knows about Heart for Africa and social workers now call Janine first when they learn of a situation involving a baby.

Sisekelo PreSchool

They’re helping the community. Some mothers who have chosen to place their babies with Heart for Africa have older children still with them. Heart for Africa is building a special home for some of those mothers so they can have a safe place to live with their children when they truly had nowhere else to go. As a mother and as an adoptive mama, this is really dear to my heart. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to empower mothers to be able to keep their children. What an incredible gift that is to a family and to a community!

Housing going up!
HfA is currently paying rent for two women & their children
until they can move in here!

Heart for Africa provides opportunities for job training and employment. They have a carpentry center, Kufundza Learning Center, where men can come and learn the skill. They are getting accredited so that participants can have official Swazi certificates of training when they complete the program.  They have just started a jewelry project, Khutsala Artisans, where women can come and learn to make jewelry that Heart for Africa will sell so that the women can earn an income.  On the farm, there are job opportunities as well!

Khutsala Artisans Jewelry
Kufundza Learning Center – Carpentry Apprenticeship

2. The Swazis are worth it.

If I lived there, I would hope and pray that someone would be willing to come even though it’s hard and even though it’s far. And they do pray that. It is so humbling to hear someone tell you that you are the answer to their prayer.  When I was in Swaziland in 2010, we were visiting homesteads in our community and when we told a man how far we had come, he stood up and hugged us! He said he’d been praying to God that someone would come and that we were the answer to that prayer. We brought him so much joy and all we did was walk up to his homestead and offer to pray with him. This is hard to explain, but relationships are really important to the Swazi people and just going and being there to encourage them does so much.

Swazis are relational. I’ve been told this many times. Until this trip, I thought that meant that although we did have tasks to accomplish each day (planting seedlings, watering gardens, distributing TOMS Shoes, food, and clothing), the most important thing was spending time with the people we came to visit.  And it is true that the time we spent with the children of Ebholi Primary School and with the families on the homesteads was meaningful to them.  But this year, I experienced this in a whole new way. I visited Ebholi for the first time this year, but my husband has been there twice. They knew who I was within five minutes of my arrival there. The kids saw my name tag with my last name and said “You are Rob’s wife! He has told us about you!”  And then they asked me about my kids! I brought a photo album with pictures from the previous year’s trip and they remembered everyone by name.  They recognized Rob’s guitar case.  Just being there means so so much to them. You don’t need to bring them anything; the fact that you have come is the greatest gift. This is incredible.

This is Rob in 2010 at Ebholi School… three years before I ever got to go!
He was also there in 2012, but I don’t know where he saved his pictures from that trip!  I recognize so many of those sweet faces!

This year, I got to serve as Team Leader for my team. Honestly, I was hesitant about it, but I am so glad I did. And one of the best moments for me was getting to complete the Heart for Africa survey with Ms. Similane, the deputy-principal at Ebholi Primary School. When I asked her what Heart for Africa does well, I was overjoyed and humbled by her answer. She said Heart for Africa is really good at helping them provide for the kids’ basic needs. Then she said, “it’s the encouragement. Knowing that they are here for us emotionally, that they are supporting us and that they stand beside us.” What!?!?  That is amazing!  In this country where people are starving, where children and adults are dying of HIV/AIDS, the #2 thing that was so important to Ms. Similane was knowing she’s not alone, knowing that Heart for Africa stands with her as she struggles to help the children in her care. That, my friends, is truly amazing.

I still can’t figure out why I get the honor of serving in Swaziland. I can’t begin to explain the joy it brings, I can’t explain how my heartbreak brings me closer to God. I can only show you and hope you’ll come with me to Swaziland one day. God is working there, and getting to be a part of what he’s doing is an honor. I am so grateful.

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Student Intern Blog By: Britta Jarvie

When life presents you with the opportunity to go to Africa you don’t say no… at least I don’t.  When I found out about the internship with Heart for Africa I immediately knew that I wanted to apply and I began to pray that I would be accepted. Serving the Swazi people was exactly how I wanted to spend my summer and I couldn’t think of a single reason why I shouldn’t. I had been to Africa before and it was an incredible experience, one that made me happy and at peace. I was anxious and excited at the thought of coming back.

I arrived in Swaziland on June 14 and each day since has been a testament to me that God is real, God lives, and God is always with us. I have visited over 25 families and their homesteads and served with hundreds of Swazi adults and children. I have heard story after story of heartbreak and suffering. I have had to walk away from people who I knew would not be safe and I often had to accept that there was nothing that I could do for them but pray. I’ve held babies on a weekly and sometimes daily basis that had empty bellies and aching hearts. I have seen, heard, and made witness to things I never wanted to believe were possible and wished could never happen. But I can’t and will not deny the things my eyes have seen.

But amidst all of the despair, I still have great hope and calmness in my heart, not just for the Swazi people but also for myself. I have true peace – not from money, possessions, or people. I have peace from God, a glorious God who understands our deepest fears and our smallest concerns. A God who picks us up, places us in the palm of His hands, and let’s us know He has all things within His control.

As I prepare to leave Swaziland I know that I can go with a peaceful heart and a cheerful countenance knowing that the great Creator has each of us, including me, in his tender out-reached hand. I leave with a hope for things to come. I have an understanding that all things will someday be made right, and that God will never leave us comfortless. So when my heart begins to ache for the people I have grown to love, or my heart saddens for the despair that I have witnessed, I will remember that God has all things in His control. He knows us, loves us, and will never leave us because He lives. He is always with us.

Isaiah 41: 10 and 13

10 Fear though not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.

13 For I the Lord they God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee.

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