Rat Adventures – Chris Cheek, Long-Term Volunteer

Where, oh where, do I begin this week….there has not been a down moment all week. Everyday could have been an update all in itself. Now my challenge is to see if I can keep this as an update, not a book. Don’t panic, I have narrowed it down to two adventures & a couple of moments with the kids.

Let me jump right into Tuesday morning. Every Tuesday morning at 8:30 am we have a construction meeting at Ian & Janine’s.  Now I’m sure you are asking why is Chris attending construction meetings?  I miss building hotels so I sit in on our construction meetings here at Project Canaan. You know how process driven I am & toddlers are not process driven so it is an hour of me going to a comfort zone that I love.

For me it is about a 15-minute walk straight uphill. For someone younger, it would take about half of that time. I hate to be late for anything so I typically try and be out the door a little after 8. I build in a few extra minutes in case I have to rest before I reach the summit.

As you leave the children’s campus there are a couple of hills before you reach the “y” to turn up the big one. As I was walking toward the Y I could smell the burning of bush as the workers were finishing up some of the last acreage of firebreaks. The smell reminds me of Octobers at home when I was a kid & on Friday nights we would build a bonfire & roast hot dogs & marshmallows. I was enjoying the moment as I was topping the last hill before the dread hill climb when I heard yelling.  As the firebreak came into view I saw all the Swazi workers and the security guard from the children’s campus running away from the fire.

Quickly I could feel my heart rate rushing & not from the walk. A quick thought passed through my mind – maybe the fire was out of control.  I’ve watched them control the fires only using a branch from a tree & have wondered how the workers don’t lose control.

With a quick glance my fear of out of control fire was put to rest. Nothing appeared out of control. Now keep in mind this is all happening in a matter of seconds. The guys are yelling, running and now jumping the edge of a bush line into a maize field. The bush is so high I couldn’t see them but the yellng continues. I’m trying to decide should I turn back & head for the safety of the toddler home. Maybe they stirred up a nest of black mambas – the Swazi’s are just as frightened of them as I am – that would certainly give them cause to yell & run.

Just as the panic is about to completely control me, out of the bush area next to the field comes the largest rat I have ever seen. It was huge & it was running for its life.  Because right after he came out of the bush came our security guard and five Swazi workers – all yelling and throwing stones at this gigantic monster of a rat.  It dashes across the road in front of me & into the bush  on that side of the road. The guys were now yelling “Gogo, Gogo – did you see all that meat?”  I started laughing so hard at the site of these grown men chasing a rat through a field, throwing stones trying to knock it out so they could kill it & eat it. All I could say to them was, “yes I saw the meat but guess you are not going to eat it cause he was faster than you.”  So there we were a security guard, five workers & a Gogo standing in the road in Swaziland, Africa laughing about the big one that got away.  As I walked the rest of the way I did carry two large stones just in case he doubled back & followed me up the hill.

I’m going to jump to Saturday – our day of distributing TOMS Shoes to the children of our workers. Although the bulk of the distribution was done on Saturday, the preparation began on Friday morning. I’ve done the shoe distribution at our partner churches here in Swaziland but this was my first experience with one for our team.  We have 291 employees and just under 1,000 pairs of shoes were distributed on Saturday.

The majority of our workers come from two communities one on the east side & one on the west side of Project Canaan. Keep in mind this is all rural country & dirty roads. Most living with no running water, electricity and if we did not provide transportation would have to walk hours to get to work each day. In a country of 70% unemployment every day is a blessing for our employees because it means theirkids will eat & be able to attend school.  The days that we do distribution of shoes, clothes or food are days for the whole family to celebrate.  Saturday was dedicated to shoes.

We are about half way through the school year – new shoes means the kids stay in school.  For children to attend school they must wear shoes. Shoes….I know for us this is a given. Something we don’t even think about – my child has a growth spurt we go buy shoes, a pair wears out – most likely in the closet there are four or five more pairs to choose from.  Here a family is grateful to get one meal a day – shoes are not a priority for survival.  Hopefully the lead teacher will look the other way when a kid walks thirty minutes to school with no shoes.

Early Saturday morning I was up early & walked down to our distribution center.  Our transportation truck arrived at the main gate just barely in view of where I was standing. As I looked closely I could see the images of all ages of children briskly walking up the hill. Their steps seemed to have a spring of anticipation as they bounced and laughed toward the center.

Soon after they arrived like any time Swazi’s are together the music was playing and all were dancing.  I quickly maneuvered my way into the middle of the group & was dancing & celebrating the joy & excitement of getting new shoes. (Many of the farm workers only know me from seeing me drive past the fields on the 4-wheeler waving as I pass – so there seemed to a bit of surprise from the workers as I joined them.)

After dancing, prayer of thanksgiving for the blessings of jobs & shoes, instructions & the measuring of feet, the shoe distribution began.  For three straight hours child after child passed me with a smile that could light the darkest night. They gave me their shoe size & age then came the great moment of the day they got their shoes.

As each child passed me all I could think about was the power in the gift of this one pair of shoes.  The difference this pair of shoes could make – the world that could open before them because of a pair of shoes. A world of education – a world of hope – a world of not walking thirty minutes to school in bare feet to be sent home. A world that Heart for Africa is making better in the work & love happening at Project Canaan.  I’m getting so much more than I could ever give – I got to see almost 1,000 kids get shoes.

Best news of the week – Baby River is home at Project Canaan. Here is Janine’s summary of his first 3.5 months of living in this world. He was dumped in the river in a plastic bag at birth, eaten by crabs, 7 surgeries, 3 colostomies and a miracle for the whole world to see. I’m have no idea what gifts this child is bringing to the world but I know it is something powerful – his journey continues.

To close, here are a few moments from the kids: Beth loves shoes and every day when she goes outside the first thing she says to me is, “Gogo – my shoes, my shoes!”  Well, let me correct that.  She calls me Bobo Cheep. She hasn’t gotten the G or the K down yet.

At least once a day I will hear our Project Princess Deborah say, as she puts her hands in her pockets and looks sternly at me, “Gogo – come!”

Every day is a joy. At the end of the day I slowly crawl into bed, give thanks & laugh at all the joy & wonderment that comes with living with 94 children 4 and under.

The journey continues….


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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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Student Intern Blog By: Garrett Lobaugh

Traveling into the communities around Project Canaan

By: Garrett Lobaugh

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

Galatians 5:13

All decisions in life are motivated by specific reasons and objectives. I must admit that my decision to become a summer intern was somewhat selfish and was driven by my desire to feel good about who I was and the things I was doing. Little did I know that this single decision would, and has, changed my perspective and understanding of what truly is important in life and that the capacity to love is limitless. The Swazi people have taught me to grateful in all things – even when understanding and hope seem fleeting.

Today I met a woman, Lizzy, who is 91 years old. She lives in a large, run down homestead with just a 12-year-old grandson to help carry the burdens that life often brings. Although our time with her was short, her impact was great. Lizzy has experienced much loss, including both her husband and her child. She is now raising her orphaned grandson, but I can’t help but assume they raise each other. She relies solely on the help of her husband’s second wife’s son. She also just lost her kitchen structure because of a fire, most likely arson, while she was away at church. Her safety is in constant jeopardy and she faces the threat of someone coming into her home and stealing her things or causing harm. But even through her continual desperation and fear, she has and will forever be a beacon of hope for me. Although the words she spoke may fade from my mind, I cannot forget her open arms that welcomed me not only into her home, but into her heart.

Over the course of the past several weeks, I have had the opportunity to be welcomed into the rooms of many different homes. The picture to the right is the inside of a one-room home. At first glance, you may feel that things could not be much worse than they appear. I certainly felt this way. But as I have come to learn, that what you see is what you get. They have clothes, blankets, a candlestick, a raised bed, and even a teddy bear. Far too often this trip I have walked into similar shaped homes with empty floors and barren walls. As a typical American, I couldn’t help but look around and feel sorry for their living conditions. My heartstrings were pulled as I realized they had little more than nothing. But I have quickly come to understand that the Swazi people are not only proud of where they live, but are grateful for what God has provided for them. Although each day may not offer a peaceful night’s rest or thoughtful mind free of worry, they are confident in our God and in His ever providing hand.

As interns, we are often asked how we choose which families to help. Lizzy explained it so well today when she stated, “It was in God’s plan for us to meet”. As with all things in life, our actions should, and can be motivated by the gentle persuasion of God’s forever outreached hand. I have never felt the love of God more strongly or seen it as apparent than while I am with my Swazi people. As I finish the remainder of my internship and return back home, I pray for open eyes and a willing heart as God shapes and prepares the plans He has for me. As Lizzy so simply and purely taught, it’s all in God’s plan.

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Student Intern Blog by: Kaylen Knepp

What a wonderful week!

Thursday was our first day of distributing TOMS Shoes. We partner with TOMS to help provide children with new shoes. TOMS is a company in Los Angeles that with every pair of shoes purchased, gives a new pair of shoes to a child in need around the world. One for One™. We started off our day with a 5:15 a.m. wakeup to get everything ready for the ride over to El Shaddai Children’s Home (partner home with Heart for Africa). Our first stop was the preschool of El Shaddai, which some of us had never been to before. We were greeted with warm smiles and laughter of the kids playing on the jungle gym outside, always a beautiful sight.

Being that it was our first distribution, things were a tad hectic, but NOTHING can ruin the smile you see on children’s faces from a brand new pair of shoes. We started off by measuring each child’s feet, marking their hands with the proper shoe size, pulling the shoes and then putting them on their feet to make sure they fit. After finishing the distribution at the preschool, we headed down to the primary school, which is kind of like an elementary in America. They gave us a precious welcome assembly, where Janine & Jana were able to tell them about TOMS and the importance of wearing their new shoes all the time.

A lot of times when children are given something new here, like a brand new pair of TOMS, they don’t want to wear them or scuff them up. We made sure kids understood that they needed to wear their shoes every day to keep their feet protected and could do everything in their shoes because we would be back with more TOMS Shoes in about six months. We also wanted the children to realize that their new black TOMS Shoes were like the ones that us interns had bought before we came. They thought it was really cool that we had TOMS on just like them! The primary school distribution was well organized, and we are very thankful for the practice run we had Thursday.

We ended our day with hanging out at the Gables (mall) where we waited to pick up Chloe from school. We always love being out in about throughout Swaziland, you really feel like you part of the community when you see it in so many different aspects.

Being able to see all the children’s smiles and hearing their laughter after receiving their new pair of TOMS Shoes was such a delight. Knowing that was some of the only pair of new shoes those children have ever received is a hard concept to swallow, but we are so grateful for our partnership with TOMS and the new shoes each child receives. We are also looking forward to distributing more TOMS through out the summer in the community!

Today, Friday is a much more laid back day, which is wonderful since we’ve been on the go all week! The girl interns had the day to clean and tidy up things, along with finishing a rock wall by the Lodge. I, Kaylen, was lucky enough to join in on the visit to the clinic with our eight beautiful babies for their check up.  They needed one extra person to help. It was super interesting to see how the health field is here, something I’ll never forget. Reece was in charge of trash, which I know might sound somewhat unfair, but he does get to drive the ATV around PC all day! So grateful for Reece! The other two guy interns visited their churches with Jimmy for the day to let them

know when they would be coming next week and to deliver maize & Manna Packs. Ally and Caroline made some yummy peanut butter cookies with their free time today, which we totally suggest trying at home! (1 cup peanut butter + 1 egg + 1 cup sugar) Yummy. Pictures below are of baby David J He’s getting so big & healthy!

Photos by: Garrett Lobaugh

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