When will someone yell “cut” – Chris Cheek, Long-term Volunteer

Greetings from Project Canaan!

First the most important news – we had the arrival of the 6th baby since I arrived in Swaziland.  It is so hard to wrap my arms around the fact that in my 11 weeks in Africa we have become home to 6 more abandoned babies.

There are days that I feel like I must be on a movie set & someone is going to yell “cut.” We are on 2500 acres of some of the most beautiful mountain views & farm land I’ve ever seen.  I begin my mornings to the voices of the most angelic sounds of little ones singing “Building up the Temple of the Lord, the Itsy Bitsy Spider, ABC, Jesus Loves the Little Children” echoing down the hallway into my room. Soon the songs are followed by the patter of little feet heading to the bathroom.

Each day I learn & see more and more of their unique personalities just blossoming. Lucy shaking her finger back & forth as she tells you something, Joshua calling me Gogo Cheap, Elisha’s mischievous laughter, Esther showing her latest booboo, Rose’s twinkle in her eyes, John saying, “you be nice,” Gabriel saying “Gogo sit here,” and Leah & Rachel just being sassy to our very own Project Princess Deborah.

Shapes, letters, numbers and colors are being learned from Kindergarten down to preschool. Afternoon playtime on the playground, adventure walks around the farm, fun in the pools, bubbles, toy dump trucks, wagon rides, baby dolls, sandbox, slides & swings, soccer balls & books. All the fun things you would imagine for a child.

Healthy meals, snacks, fresh milk, fruits & clean water.  Clean clothes & shoes. Warm fuzzy pjs for winter & cool cotton ones for hot summer nights.

Laughter & giggles, tears & runny noses and shoes on the wrong feet.  Sunglasses upside down, chicken feathers in hair & rocks in pockets. All the things that go with being 2, 3, & 4.

Then I remember these babies were left to die; abandoned in lonely, dangerous forests, pit latrines, plastic bags, in rivers, and along side the road. Parents without jobs, no hope, no way to provide, sick & broken. So deep in the darkness they cannot find their way out, let alone see any light.

When will someone yell “cut?”

I have to be on a movie set. This can’t be real. It is 2015 and a country is dying, the average age is about 18, 40% of the population is under the age of 15, the average life expectancy is between 29 & 33, there are orphaned children everywhere, there are GoGos taking care of their children’s children, their nieces & nephews children and maybe a few of their neighbors. They are tired & exhausted. They walk 30 minutes for dirty water out of the river. No electricity, living in a round hut made of sticks & stones. Praying for rain to water the fields so the maze will grow so they eat for the upcoming year, praying that the rains aren’t so strong that their hut washes away & they have to start anew.

When will someone yell “cut?”

This can’t be real, it has to be a movie – a fictional place made up in the mind of a master writer. Please yell “cut.”

Ohhh, my friends, it is all so real & their is no “cut.”  It is all real, the days are long, the reality is heartbreaking.  But there is HOPE…..it is happening at Project Canaan.  I get to see it & live it everyday.  The HOPE lies in the future of all the little ones that come through that front gate …. For their lives will be the ones that will make the difference. So, Lucy, keep shaking your finger. Leah & Rachel, keep being sassy.  John, keep saying “you be nice” and Deborah, you keep on being our Princess.  Let the songs ring out in the morning, the laughter echo down the hall, dancing in the yard & hugs throughout the day. The HOPE of Swaziland lives at Project Canaan!

This journey continues….


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Peter – Weekly Update from Volunteer Chris Cheek

What a busy, non-stop week I have had here at Project Canaan!  There is so much to share just not enough patience on my part to write it all on my phone.  I really want to tell you all about Peter so this week I will give you a couple of updates from the week but will write mostly about my boy, Peter.

The most exciting news is we got a new baby boy this week & I got fabric softener for my laundry. Ok, so I know the baby is the most important but the fabric softener is awesome since I have to hang my clothes outside. He is the 89th baby living here & the fourth arrival since I got here in Jan. I believe we are getting a new baby every 12.2 days. I may be slightly off on that number but not far off.

The best quote of the week came from one of the aunties when she saw one of the toddlers chewing on a flip-flop…”don’t eat the shoe, it has no flavor.”  I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing out loud. Not at her but at how we would have reacted in the US if we were to see a toddler chewing on a shoe. We would have spent a great deal of time explaining about dirt & germs. Not about the flavor.

I tried sour porridge this week. It is what the aunties eat a lot of mornings for breakfast. I really liked it so I decided it was best to not ask how it is made. They love soured milk so I just don’t want to know. It tasted great & it didn’t make me sick so I’m just going with it.  I will tell you more about the sour milk in weeks to come.

Now to tell you about my Peter. A little background, he came to us when he was about 8 months old. He had been abandoned & was malnourished. At one point before he came to us was placed in Mbabane Government Hospital & left for a month before they realized no one was coming back for him. The hospital is as bad as it sounds. Janine is going to take me there so I can see the conditions he was living in. Basically he was placed in a closet at the end of a hallway…the place for abandoned babies.

When I arrived at Project Canaan, the first few weeks I spent trying to keep him from biting me. He nailed me hard three times before I learned to pay attention to his mood. He was extremely aggressive not only toward me but also the aunties & other children.

One night the power was out & I didn’t see him coming up to me. He sunk his teeth into my leg. I picked him up & took him to his bedroom & put him in bed. Timeout in a room of 43 other toddlers is just not effective. I’ve learned it is necessary to separate the child going into time out from the others. I talked to him about how he hurt me & that he could not keeping biting people. As I was talking to him I place my hand on the top of his head & he screamed a scream like I’ve only heard in a horror movie. I quickly scooped him up in my arms & cuddled him. He nestled in my arms & stopped screaming.

The next day I started watching him & writing down his behavior & some of the things that seemed to cause him to become aggressive & attacking anyone around him.

There are many times that he seems to be overstimulated when all the kids are loud & playing. There are also as many times when the kids are loud & playing that he is oblivious to anything going on around him, it is like he has no idea that there are 43 other kids around him.

As I watched him I found that when he would start to become aggressive I could pick him up & rock him with my arms wrapped around him & my head resting on the top of his. He will many times sit in my lap for about 20-30 minutes, calm down & then be able to go back to playing.

He doesn’t like anything to change. As an example the kids all eat out of thick hard plastic type bowls. The kind that you get your veggies in at K&W. One night he threw the one he was eating out of & broke it. The next meal his food was placed in a light plastic bowl that won’t break. When it was put in front of him he had a total meltdown.  After one of the aunties sat with him & talked to him he finally began to eat out of it.

Over the past few weeks as I’ve held him more & more each day, rocking him we have started to see some slight changes. In the beginning when I would hold him he would take my hand & place it on his cheek. Then he would move it to the other side of his face & place it on his cheek. It seemed to sooth him. Sometimes he would do that & wave in between sides of his face. Now he places his cheek on mine & then turns his head & places the cheek on the other side against mine while wrapping his arms around my neck hugging me. I have to be totally honest the first few times he did this I was nervous to have his teeth so close to my face. But so far so good.

We now have it set up that if he is struggling in school they will come & get me. I take him outside & rock him for about 30 minutes & he will be able to go back into class.

He is starting to make eye contact with me. When he sees me walk into a room he runs to me & crawls into my arms with a huge smile & hug. His teacher said she saw him smile for the first time after him being in school for 6 weeks when he was in my lap with me rocking him.

He will sit for long periods of time doing the same thing over & over. And one afternoon he spent time just moving three toys all over the living room placing them in the same order in line each time he moved them.

As I look around the project there are many things that I could be doing that would fit perfectly with my strengths. At the end of a long day I’m typically question God on if there is a lesson I’m suppose to be learning living with 44 toddlers or why am I here because I can assure you living with this many little ones is not what I would have ever chosen to do. What purpose am I serving – then I see Peter’s smile & maybe the plan was for me to be here & just love him.

Don’t get me wrong you can’t help but to love all of these kids and each & everyone of them have smiles that will melt your heart. We aren’t supposed to have favorites but Peter has found a very special place in my heart.

I can manage a heck of a P&L for a business. I can develop all kinds of strategic plans for a business. My strengths may be working in some aspects of the business side of Project Canaan, but there seems to be a much bigger purpose to my being here & living in a home with 44 beautiful children that all have a story like Peter of being abandoned in places like pit latrines, along the side of the road, in the forest or in a government hospital.

They come to us sick & malnourished, many only hours or minutes away from death when they were found & brought to the land of milk & honey – Project Canaan. They are thriving & growing. Their days are filled with learning & wonderment at the world around them. I may question why am I here at the end of a long hard day, but all it takes is hearing GoGo over & over to know there is a reason.

Thanks for letting me share the beginnings of my story with Peter.  I believe he & I will have an amazing journey ahead of us.

Have an awesome week!





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