Into, On, Around and Under – by Jamie Klee, Long-Term Volunteer

Hello, we are the Klee family.  We are formerly from the Atlanta area where we lived for 22 years.   Mark and I have 3 kids:  Austin who is 20, Bailey who turns 18 at the end of this month, and our baby girl, Cameron, who is 14.  In June 2012, 4 of us (Mark, Jamie, Bailey and Cameron) moved to Swaziland with a 40ft storage container filled with all our worldly possessions.  We hoped that by moving here permanently, we could help Heart for Africa’s mission to save and serve abandoned and vulnerable children in Swaziland.

For any of you old enough to remember Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor….I honestly can’t even remember the name of the popular TV show he starred in… but Tim’s love for power tools and building things describes my husband, Mark, perfectly.  He has an amazing talent for and receives joy from constructing and creating – and is always up for an adventure.  His first project, Kuthula Place, involved putting a metal roof on a round concrete building.  This project was certainly an initiation into problem-solving building with materials (and shapes) not typically used or found in the US.

Mark is the construction manager on Project Canaan and has been responsible for finishing Kuthula Place and Moringa House and overseeing the construction of the Manna Distribution Center.  He has constructed (and in several cases designed as well) the Preschool, the Toddler Home, the Container Stores, a home for our Baby Home manager, goat birthing units, the Kibbutz (13 total units), and the Medical Clinic.  He is almost finished with the construction of staff housing and the Kindergarten and is beginning construction of the Emseni Children’s Campus.  Let’s just say he keeps a full plate and enjoys (almost) every minute of it.  Keep in mind there are no Lowes or Home Depots here.  Sourcing materials has been a full time job, and has forced him to be very “creative” and “resourceful” in coming up with alternative solutions to masonry, electrical, plumbing, and on it goes….

The girls and I spent our first few months here transitioning to life in Africa and spent many hours with our first few babies at the Baby Home on Project Canaan.  There were 8 babies when we first came – and now there are almost 60!  However, I know those first connections we made with these babies…helping to pick them up from Social Welfare or the hospital, spending sleepless nights bottle feeding, changing diapers, and celebrating birthday parties (Bailey was our cake baker) will connect us for a lifetime.  It is an amazing opportunity for me as a mom to see both of my girls blossom with love and responsibility for these children.  We’ve often talked with each other about how it is going to feel walking down the street with one of our boys…they are toddlers now, but as parents we know kids seem to shoot up over night.  It won’t be long until we are no longer looking down to see them, but up instead!

I am now working with several of our Kibbutz women making jewelry to raise money for our babies.  (Shameless plug…please look through the HFA website for gift ideas.)  God has blessed us with amazing designers from the States who take time out of their busy lives to offer designs and guidance.  So, when I find myself getting frustrated because we’ve run out of supplies (that are not available in this country or continent), or we have no power for a few days which means no internet either, or our designs don’t turn out quite as I’d hoped….I try to remind myself that the profits from our efforts are going directly (or indirectly) into the mouths, on the bottoms, around the bellies, and under the heads of our precious children.

It hasn’t always been easy…but it’s been fulfilling!

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Home – by Maria Koopmans, Long-Term Volunteer

Having spent the past few weeks staring at ticket prices on our computer screen in the hopes of joining the celebrations for my husband’s sister’s wedding back home, I’ve had time to sit and reflect on that small, four letter word “home”. There are now many places that I can label as “home”. My heart and my passport specify Ireland as my first home followed by Haiti, a little country in the Caribbean. Haiti was where I met my husband, Arlyn, a Canadian dairy farmer. While both of us lived and worked at an infant care facility there, I had the opportunity to witness some of Arlyn’s talents; it’s not every man who can spend his days busy fixing vehicles and repairing maintenance issues while evenings were spent caring for fragile and sick babies. Although I saw some of Arlyn’s many talents, I did not begin to comprehend his love for farming while we served there. There’s a little log cabin by a lake in Canada where we first began to learn how to be married that is also “home”.  We are still learning what God has for us in marriage.  Now we call a little part of the Kingdom of Swaziland “home”.

Working at Project Canaan my days are filled with 59 beautiful children that I get to watch grow, develop and prosper. Serving at the El Roi Baby home, I get to see first hand the transformation that occurs in the babies placed in our care. Watching and being a little part of the process that helps these little ones to grow and respond to love is such a privilege. I love seeing babies achieve their firsts- first smiles, rolling over, sitting up, standing, first steps and each of these milestones are rejoiced. It’s fun to watch little personalities develop, to see how they respond to love and to know that these babies have been chosen by El Roi, the God who sees, and regardless of what their back stories may be they now get to experience love and grow up in an environment where they will learn about their Saviour.

Many days are filled holding and loving on the little ones.  Other days I help at hospital appointments, help care for any of the sicker children and enjoy playing with the active toddlers. When the work day is over and it’s time to go home I wave goodbye to little hands that frantically wave back and blow kisses and I know that the following day will be filled with love again. I’m so thankful that I get to share God’s love with so many special little people and that I too experience His unconditional love through them.

Arlyn’s time is divided between the Lusito Mechanics shop helping to repair many of the farm’s vehicles and equipment while training others and the new dairy where he’s busy ensuring that the dairy cows are producing enough milk to meet the children’s needs and the local guys are developing some dairy farming skills too. Watching Arlyn work with something he is so passionate about, I get to experience the joy he has as he uses the skills he grew up with to serve others here in Swaziland. Often in the evenings when we’re sitting at home reflecting on our days’ activities Arlyn will be deep in thought.   While I dream of healthy, happy babies, his thoughts are usually about increasing milk production, improving the cow’s feed or how to fix a challenging repair job.

Home has been many places for both of us and I’ve begun to realize that home is wherever the other is, where God has called us both to be. I’m so thankful that we get to call Swaziland home; that we get to serve God in such a beautiful place with His beautiful people. Project Canaan is serving so many people in Swaziland- the babies in our care, the employees on the farm, the rural churches’ feeding programs among others and we’re grateful that we get to be a part of the team that attempts to be a reflection of God’s love here in this beautiful country that we call home.

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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 www.janinemaxwell.blogspot.com.)

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 heartforafrica.org.

susanpagecoffee@gmail.com

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Book Inspires Man to Provide Blankets to African Orphanage By: Elane Moonier, Staff Reporter

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone reading this article could do something simple that would touch the life of an orphan child in another country?  Well, we can, all of us can, and it is as easy as donating a blanket. A local effort is underway to collect 1,000 blankets in southeast Missouri for orphans in Swaziland, Africa.

Chris Edmonds, President of Element 74, LLC, is spearheading the drive to collect the blankets, and also helping organize a fundraising event, called Celebrate Hope, to be held Saturday, Feb. 27. Edmonds said he became interested in the Heart of Africa ministry after a friend gave him a book to read, titled, It’s Not Okay With Me.

The book was written by Janine Maxwell, who was once a high-powered marketing executive but became a full-time ministry worker after a trip to Africa. She co-founded the Heart of Africa organization, a faith-based, not-for profit charity, which works to provide self sustainable homes for orphans and vulnerable children; providing shelter, food, water, clothing, health care, education and love.

“The book challenged me to make a difference and take action against the situation in Africa,” Edmonds stated.  He pointed out that Swaziland has the highest HIV infection rate of any country in the world, at 43 percent, and has a population of just over 900,000. Of those, 200,000 are orphans, which is over 20 percent of the population. “The AIDS pandemic is decimating an entire generation of adults and is leaving children to literally raise children,” he said.

Edmonds and a team of others from Cape Girardeau will travel to Swaziland in July to deliver the blankets and to work alongside Heart for Africa volunteers. They will be working with the children and helping with an event called ‘Litsemba,’ which translates to mean ‘hope.’

‘Litsemba’ will consist of gathering 15,000 orphans and vulnerable street children into a soccer stadium for a day of  praise and worship. It is also designed to create international awareness to the orphan problem and hopefully get the United Nations and other nations to take action.

One of the goals of Heart For Africa is to build an orphanage in Swaziland. The local event called Celebrate Hope Cape is part of the mission to raise $100,000 for construction of that orphanage. Celebrate Hope will take place on Feb. 27 at The Venue in Cape Girardeau. Janine Maxwell, herself, will be at the event to speak about her first book, It’s Not Okay With Me, and her newest book, Is it Okay with You?

Former President Bill Clinton said this about Maxwell’s second  book: “Is it Okay With You? forces us to ask ourselves do we each have a responsibility to act upon vast inequality and suffering? It shouldn’t be okay with us, because we all have the ability to make a remarkable difference in the future of humanity.”

Also serving on the Celebrate Hope committee is Theresa Birk of Jackson. The orphanage that will be built in Swaziland will be dedicated in memory of her 20-month old son, Jared, who tragically passed away last year.

For anyone who would like to donate a blanket, new or gently used blankets are needed. Dark colors work best and fleece is a great fabric option for the climate. Size is not important, as most of the children sleep on the ground, so the blanket should be large enough for the children to wrap up in it. The blankets should also be clean.

Anyone wishing to learn more about Celebrate Hope Cape can visit the website at www.celebratehopecape.com. To learn more about Heart For Africa, see the website at www.heartforafrica.org.

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