Shirley and GoGo come to America! By Chris Cheek

A five hour drive, crossing the border with an envelope of legal documents allowing me to take a baby out of the country of Swaziland for three months, several hours in the airport and 20 hours on an airplane with a 16 month-old – Shirley and GoGo came to America!

From temperatures of 107 – 109 in the shade for weeks to 19 degrees with wind chill factors 9 degrees and snow.

It is 4:30 AM and I’m sitting with Shirley in my bedroom for the next three months. She is playing with her doll and we are listening to Swazi Gospel music as I write.  My thoughts are fuzzy from jet lag, but clear enough to be grateful for all the people along the journey from Project Canaan to New York.  All along the way people helped with our bags, paid for my dinner, helped me through long lines, shared books, the list goes on and on.  They came into our lives with compassion, helped and quietly disappeared on their own journey – random acts of kindness.

The journey has been in the works for months. Shirley needs to have the second round of surgeries due to the burns she received at birth after being thrown into a pit latrine and then having fire dumped on her by her mother….to read the full story see Janine’s blog:

Over the next three months you will find these updates will change from life living with 106 abandoned children on a farm in the bush to the journey of an almost 60 year-old woman, living with a 16 month-old as mom after 33 1/2 years since she had a 16-month old.  The changes have already begun – I now focus on nap times, diaper changes, meals on a schedule and poop has become a major word used in my vocabulary.  Whereas my daily routine is changing I find the renewed memories of the true innocence of a little one waking in the morning in a crib next to my bed well worth losing some of the personal freedoms that come with grown children.  There are doctors appointments and surgeries ahead of us, getting used to the cold, new people and places in our lives.  I know there will be moments of laughter and fun with Shirley, time comforting a little one that is away from home and her family for three months, pain and confusion for Shirley as she goes through more surgeries and times of comic relief as after 30 + years a 60 year-old woman cares for a 16 month-old.

I am honored to have Janine and Ian’s trust to be her caregiver and “mom” over the next three months.  I pray for guidance as decisions are made, strength and energy to keep up with a 16 month-old and the love and lessons of the next three months.

As I close this out this week I would be remiss if I didn’t share with you the irony in the fact that I have spent my life wanting to live one of service in Africa.  Finally, after all the years of raising my boys, traveling with them as they lived out their dreams, the doors opened for me and God led me to Project Canaan.  I have over the past year learned many, many lessons and I can say without a doubt that I have been given much more that I have given and I know that God has an incredible sense of humor as He said to me about serving in Africa – “just kidding about living in Africa, I am going to send you to New York to live on Staten Island a few blocks from the ocean, in the middle of winter to take care of a precious little girl from Swaziland.”   The mission is good, New York/Staten Island is wonderful – it is the living near the ocean in the dead of winter up north for the next 3 months that I have laughed at many times because of how I hate the cold –  “God has an incredible sense of humor.”

The journey continues as Shirley and GoGo travel to America…….


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Stepping In To Save Swaziland Babies – Susan Page

This baby Oprah look-alike was allowed by her grandfather to live at Project Canaan. Photos from Susan Page

Late January is summer in the Kingdom of Swaziland – and seriously hot. It’s also when poisonous black mamba snakes are out and about. Deadly, slithering creatures normally would deter me, but this trip halfway around the world was to meet 49 babies at a place called Project Canaan. On this 2,500-acre nonprofit farm, these babies – most abandoned at birth – are thriving under the watchful supervision of Janine Maxwell, co-founder of Heart for Africa and driving force behind its mission to save, nurture, educate, feed and house the otherwise discarded. She and husband Ian, Heart for Africa’s CEO, live on Project Canaan.

Just after our arrival, Janine asked, “Wanta join me tomorrow?”

After many “uncommon” outings with her in Africa over eight years, I always say yes, realizing that despite trepidation, I’ll be better for the experience (black mambas notwithstanding).

This particular morning, Janine was her usual multi-tasking self, negotiating the impossible roads of Swaziland in HFA’s worn four-wheel drive Land Rover. First, we delivered a pregnant 17-year-old Swazi girl to her final medical appointment before the due date in two weeks. After much anguish, the girl had decided not to abort her baby, a product of rape by a policeman, and instead place it at Project Canaan’s El Roi baby house. (Read the shocking details of a Swazi maternity hospital at

I was merely a tag-along, sworn to observe, not be my normal chatterbox. Also along was an El Roi caregiver and a little toddler who was, I swear, the spitting image of a baby Oprah Winfrey. Only two weeks prior, a Swazi social welfare worker had asked Janine if “Oprah” could live at El Roi, and she was already getting on famously there, a little talk show star in the making. However, her aged grandfather, as legal guardian, demanded a meeting to discuss his grandchild.

“Oprah’s” social welfare worker joined us, and off we headed into the remote countryside of mud huts and rugged roads in search of her grandfather’s homestead. As we drove, it was sinking in that Oprah might not come home with us. Little girls don’t fare well in Swazi culture, which affords them no right to refuse family males – regarding sex or otherwise. Girls are powerless and often abused. Under Swazi law, the grandfather has rights to Oprah, whose teenage mother died in childbirth. A younger sister, 15, couldn’t continue caring for the baby.

On the road, we blessedly encountered the village runner, the chief’s liaison, who knew the family. He led us down a narrow, rocky foot path to a rundown cluster of two mud huts overgrown with brambles, where mongrel dogs and some skinny chickens roamed. (Black mambas crossed my mind.) Eventually, grandpa emerged and we all sat in a circle. Oprah toddled over and crawled into his lap.

This hut is where the grandfather of ‘Oprah’ lives

Serious dialogue ensued in SiSwati. The runner weighed in, too. As Oprah stared intently at each talker, I pictured the real Oprah. Grandpa tearfully said he loved the child, who reminded him of his dead daughter. It was sad, but not enough to imagine Oprah left there for him to raise.

Suddenly, Grandpa announced he had to consult with his brother, who lived nearby. Trudging a sweltering quarter mile, we found ourselves in another circle with the brother and his wives. After everyone said their piece, Janine spoke eloquently. She was very respectful yet blunt. At Project Canaan, the baby would be nourished mentally, physically and spiritually. She would go to school for free and be loved. Oprah potentially could become one of Swaziland’s future leaders. The decision was theirs.

It turns out two other children from this family are placed in another Swazi care home. How many more would there be?

Relief overwhelmed us as we escorted cheery baby Oprah home. Then, around 1 p.m., Janine answered her ringing cell phone. The pregnant teen we’d dropped off for her appointment had gone into early labor. “Do you want me there?” Janine asked. “OK, I’ll get there as soon as I can.”

And off we went.

I lent support as Janine coached the scared teen through her first labor, then delivery. It was awkward and draining, but as we drove over the mountain that night in darkness, in my arms was a 45-minute-old healthy baby boy, Project Canaan’s baby No. 50, now called Jerry, after my husband Jerry Coffee. (Janine emails that 51 and 52 have since arrived.)

And why, you may ask, didn’t we adopt one of the babies?

Because it’s not legal to adopt Swaziland babies, in part because of concerns about potential abuses by human traffickers.

For more on Project Canaan, go to

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Today we buried Baby Solomon- By Janine Maxwell

This week Solomon died.  He died from complications as a result of Stage 4 AIDS, which included liver and kidney failure, bi-lateral pneumonia, lactic acidation and a myriad of other things that I can’t begin to understand. He was on a ventilator, had blood coming out of his nose and mouth from his lungs which were bleeding internally and he was cold due to poor blood circulation.  He did not die a painless death, but he is now pain free.

Last Tuesday a little baby died who was to come and live at the El Roi Baby Home (see last week’s blog).  I had the sad experience of watching a Grandmother scrounge around a carpenters shop looking for scrap pieces of wood for him to make a very inexpensive coffin.  Last week was like a Shakespearean foreshadowing that we read about in literature class.  I would never have known that only a week later I would be saying goodbye to one of our own babies and looking for a coffin for him.  Last week we were able to provide $35 to the Grandmother to buy a decent coffin.  This week Mark Klee literally cut the back off a beautiful bookshelf that he had just hand-made for his wife Jamie and used it to make the most beautiful coffin that one could hope for.  Why? Because it was just the right size, and he could always make Jamie a new bookshelf.  This was more important.

Solomon was almost 17-months old and weighed 18 pounds.  He only recently got his first teeth.  He never crawled, never walked and was just starting to sit on his own. He was severely malnourished and AIDS was ravishing his tiny body. But he had the smile of an angel.  Solomon was living at the El Roi Baby Home under our care because he was sickly and his mother was unable to care for him and begged the hospital for assistance. Our hope and goal was that once he was stable and strong that he would be able to go back and live with his mother and brother, so Tibuyile moved to the Sicalo Lesisha Kibbutz at the beginning of this month and has been working as a Khutsala Artisan.   This is a very unique situation and the only one of its kind at El Roi. Typically we only accept abandoned babies, but we were trying to keep Solomon from being abandoned, while helping to stabilize the family.

Death and funerals are complicated here. It seems that no one cares when a child is sick and dying, but everyone has an opinion as to what should happen once the child is dead. (I could pull out a giant soap-box here, but out of respect for Solomon and his beautiful mother Tibuyile, I will reserve that rant for another day). It was Tibuyile’s wish to have Solomon buried on Project Canaan, after many tears, conversations, prayers, meetings with the Chief, police and Social Welfare it was agreed that we could honor her request. She was not welcomed at her home to bury the child and Solomon’s father’s family wanted nothing to do with him.  So we welcomed the opportunity to give him a resting place where his mother could visit.

Denis and his team cleared an area in the trees right next to the chapel and it is now called “Emathune aSolomon” or in English “Solomon’s Cemetery”.  We knew that the day would come that we would have a funeral on the farm, but hoped that it would be many years from now.  Now we have a place, and I plan to be buried in Solomon’s Cemetery when that day comes.  Some of our long-term volunteers gave funds for beautiful pink bougainvillea’s vines that were planted on Saturday and we found some whimsical butterflies to bring warmth to the trees.

Tibuyile’s pastor came from town and resided over the ceremony.  The small body was picked up from town at 5AM and brought out to the chapel.  We were told that they would open the coffin for all to see the baby, but for some reason they didn’t do that today.  I will say that they don’t embalm bodies here, and he passed away early Thursday morning.  We did have to pay an extra $15 to have his little body washed.

After the praying and singing was finished the pastor lead us all to the burial ground.  The tiny coffin was placed down in to a deep hole and laid on a grass mat made by a woman from the Project Canaan community.  Two men jumped down in to the hole and the coffin was passed down in to them.  After placing a grass mat over the top, and putting some of Solomon’s clothing in with him, they started to shovel the dirt in on top. They held a shovel full of dirt for Tibyule so that she could throw a handful on top of the coffin and then the men took turns shoveling the dirt to fill the grave. After a few feet of dirt someone would jump back in and pack it down by foot.  In the end stones were laid on top and Solomon was laid to rest.

Death is such a big part of life, but for some reason death seems raw and “in your face” here.  Tibuyile buried another child, about the same age as Solomon, only a couple of years ago.  Similar illness, similar death, but back then she didn’t have a job or supporting family so her baby was held up in the morgue for 30 days while she begged and scraped for enough money to pay for the death certificate, the washing, the coffin and the public graveyard because there was conflict in the family and they didn’t want the baby buried at her home.  This time was different.  The pain of losing a child still rips at the heart of a mother and the memory of the child will never leave her mind, but today, she stood with her new family, her new friends and I believe she saw Jesus in a very new way.

I am now heading to the airport to fly to Taiwan.  I will see Chloe on Monday and Skype Spencer with high-speed internet.  I can’t wait to see my children and hold at least one of them.  I am thankful for their health and their lives.  It is hard to live with a foot in two different worlds (1st world and 3rd world), but I pray daily that He will continue to guide me and strengthen me so that I can continue to serve Him, even on the darkest of days.

Isaiah 35

The desert and the parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, 2 it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the Lord,
the splendor of our God.3 Strengthen the feeble hands,
steady the knees that give way;
4 say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
he will come to save you.”5 Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
6 Then will the lame leap like a deer,
and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert.
7 The burning sand will become a pool,
the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.8 And a highway will be there;
it will be called the Way of Holiness;
it will be for those who walk on that Way.
The unclean will not journey on it;
wicked fools will not go about on it.
9 No lion will be there,
nor any ravenous beast;
they will not be found there.
But only the redeemed will walk there,
10 and those the Lord has rescued will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

Live from Swaziland … Dance Solomon dance!

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Today was the big day..moving day for our toddlers! By Janine Maxwell

Today was the big day .. moving day for our toddlers!

Today was an amazing day.  It was the fulfillment of a dream that began in March when the groundbreaking for the Labakhetsiwe Toddler Home.  Labakhetsiwe means “the chosen ones” and our children have certainly been hand chosen by God to live at Project Canaan.

Peter Muli and Mark Klee have done a great job with the design, planning and building of this large and beautiful home.  Their construction team has done the impossible and completed this building in 5+ short months, and not without challenges (that would be an understatement).  We are thankful for the people who gave financially for the building itself as well as all who provided funds for the furnishings and appliances.  As of today, we are fully funded (thank you friends in Canada who finished up the last of that need).

Today we moved 11 children to their new home, new bed and new environment.  We moved 7 Aunties (caregivers) who love the children every day and are called to raise up this future generation.  We moved 11 other “crawlers” over to the toddler home temporarily so that we can do a deep clean, fumigation and repair of the El Roi baby home.  Next week after all the work at El Roi is complete the 11 “crawlers” and 18 “tinies” (who are currently living at Kuthula Place away from the chaos of the move).

Labakhetsiwe has room for 56 toddlers and El Roi now has a bit more room for a few more babies.  We have 40 children in total right now (having received another set of twins last week  – Michael and Matthew).  So 11 will live at Labakhetsiwe and 29 at El Roi.  As soon as Jeremiah, Andrew, Paul and Ishmael are walking a bit better they will move over with the “big kids” and free up 4 spaces at El Roi.

We are all tired, but invigorated and encouraged by seeing the hand of God on this project each and every day.  I want to give a special shout out to Lori Marschall, Shelly Harp, Michelle Cover and Linda Hunter who all came from the US to help with this mammoth move.  We are always thankful for all of our volunteers and amazing Swazi and Kenyan staff.  You are all a joy to serve with.

Live from Swaziland … I am filled with joy.


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