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….

Gogo

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“Pray for My child” – by volunteer Emily Jones

Several months ago I was blessed to be able to go to Swaziland for a second time.  I have been on the “group trip” once before, about 2 years ago, and was called to go again, this time for a longer duration.  Janine asked me to write a blog post about my time there, but I have struggled with what God wanted me to say.  Following Janine’s blog posts recently, I was introduced to Shirley, a little baby who was thrown in a pit latrine.   When she survived this, she was lit on fire by her own mother.  I, like many of you, had a visceral response when reading this.  Though not a mother, I could not imagine what would possess a woman to do this to any child, much less her own.

God asked me to pray for His child, and like many of you I prayed hard for baby Shirley and all of the children that are staying on Project Canaan.  Then He said, “No, pray for My child.”  I didn’t get it.  I thought I was.  Then he pointed me to a story I was told by a young woman while I was in Swaziland this last time and I finally understood what “pray for My child” meant.

While in Africa, I had the pleasure of meeting daily with a phenomenal young woman.  She was touched by poverty and illness like so many, if not all, women in Swaziland.  As we got better acquainted, she began to tell me stories of her life in Swaziland.  One such story was about the birth of her daughters.  While she was in the final stages of pregnancy with her twin girls, she was hospitalized for pregnancy complications.  She was told that her babies were too small and that they would be lucky to survive until birth, much less through the process of childbirth.   This was when she looked at me and said, “I prayed to God that my babies were dead.  I cried with them when first one, then the other cried right after birth.  I wished my babies had been dead.”

I could not imagine feeling this way.  She clearly loved her children, and was quick to say that she loved them from first laying eyes on them, but I could not reconcile in my own mind how someone who loved her children could also pray that they would be born dead.  Then my mind replayed the conversations I had with her throughout my visit.  How she and her daughters were starving.  For the first couple weeks of life she was forced to feed them, but did not have food to eat herself in order to produce milk for one, much less two children.  I cannot imagine wishing my children were dead, but I also cannot imagine how horrible it would be to watch my children slowly starve to death.  In listening to her struggles, I see the struggles of all the young women in Swaziland who have to decide what to do when their child is born.  Women who cannot feed themselves, who are sick and hungry with no family to support them, they often see two choices:  keep the child and watch him/her starve, slowly and in agony, or they could make it quick for their child.  While you and I see another way, many of these women don’t.  These are the children that God wants us to pray for, these women in Swaziland who see no other way.

When Janine asked me to write a blog post about my time in Swaziland, I couldn’t do it.  She suggested I tell the world about Gcebile (Nomsa) from a different perspective than the one everyone heard repeatedly from Janine.  Why couldn’t I do it?   Well, because Janine said it all.  Gcebile (Nomsa) was a true child of God.  She loved God and she loved every person who came into her life.  She prayed with them, laughed with them, and discipled them.  She had a heart ornament hanging in her room, one for each of her 5 children, and she prayed for God’s blessing on them every single day.  She was an amazing woman whose life was too short, and someone I was lucky enough to know and call my sister.  But she also represented a population that I think we sometimes overlook due to the horror of their actions, the parents of our children who live on Project Canaan.

We are full already.  No room for more children.  While I am not saying that we should not be praying for Janine and all of the children and workers vital to the success of Project Canaan, I am saying, wouldn’t it be great if we did not need to.  What if we did not need a Project Canaan?  The only way for that to happen is to shift our focus a bit and pray for His children.  I do it in memory of Gcebile, my friend and my sister.

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The Small Things – by Brooke Sleeper, Long-Term Volunteer

When we think about the ways our perspective has changed since moving to Project Canaan, there are a lot of things we could mention, but one thought stands out. We’re learning to value the small things, knowing that in God’s economy, they are the big things. “‘The kingdom of Heaven is like a tiny mustard seed planted in a field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but becomes the largest of plants.’” Matthew 13:31-32

It was a big move coming to Africa. The sheer logistics of it were big- the paperwork, the fundraising, what to sell, what to keep, what to store. But it was big in more significant ways too… leaving the place we’d called home for the last 6 years. Selfishly, leaving the lifestyle of a beach town was hard. Leaving the friends who’d become our San Diego family. Leaving the family who would now be a whopping15-hour flight away instead of a 4-hour flight away (seems like a day-trip now!). Leaving a church we loved and had grown so much in. Leaving jobs, and the sense of security and validation that a regular paycheck brings. Everyone has their own experience in moving here, and many were probably able to let go of these things more easily than we did, but for us it was a big step of faith.

Although “big” may have been the recurring theme as we left life in the U.S., “small” seemed to resound once we arrived in Swaziland. We were small people in the midst of a small country that most people don’t even know exists. Even our 12” Christmas tree reminded us that life was a little smaller now. And we’ve been continuously reminded that, although God works in big ways, He prefers to use small things on His way there. After all, of all the things He could’ve used to illustrate His kingdom in the Bible, he chose to use the picture of a mustard seed- a minute little speck that becomes something big in His hands.

We’ve seen the same idea on a daily basis working with the children of Project Canaan. Under His hand, we’ve watched many tiny, sickly babies as they blossom into vibrant toddlers with big personalities. They’re small lives that no one wanted: the uncared for, the abused, the neglected, the orphaned, the abandoned. They’re thrown in the bushes, left in toilets, tossed in the garbage, and deserted at the bus stop. And yet it’s these small, seemingly insignificant lives that Jesus uses time and time again to illustrate importance, “‘The kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.’ Then He took the children in his arms…” (Mark 10:13-14).

In its most visible form, we see the concept in action at the farm; each season the small seeds go into the ground and erupt into hundreds of pounds of vegetables. These go on to feed hungry mouths both at Project Canaan and throughout Swaziland. Some get packaged up nicely and shipped all over southern Africa and Europe. But they all began as humble little seeds.

But perhaps our favorite lesson in “small is big” that God’s shown us here is the body of Christ. Project Canaan is made up of so many, many people coming together from various parts of the globe- some for a few days, others for a few years. But as we each contribute our small piece of knowledge, money, love, and effort, it’s incredible to see God weaving it together to accomplish more than any one of us could do on our own. One person is gifted at raising the funds to buy cows, another knows how to run a dairy to produce milk, someone else knows how to turn that milk into yogurt for the kids to eat, and another is gifted with the patience to be the hand that feeds those tiny mouths. And that’s just the yogurt! I could go on and on about how beautiful it is to see the body of Christ working together in so many other ways at Project Canaan- education, childcare, healthcare, employment, and administration- it’s 1Corinthians 12 in action, and we are so blessed to get to be a small part of the big work that God is doing here.

“There are many ways in which God works in our lives,

But it is the same God who does the work in and through all of us who are His

Each of us is a part of the one body of Christ.”

1 Cor 12:6,13

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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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