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Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Kingdom of Swaziland no longer exists

Thursday was a big day here in Swaziland. It was His Majesty King Mswati III’s 50th birthday and it was the 50th anniversary of Swaziland becoming an independent nation after being a British protectorate. During the celebrations His Majesty announced that the country will no longer be called Swaziland, it will henceforth be called The Kingdom of eSwatini (translated from siSwati meaning land of the Swazis).

We too celebrated the day with our children eating traditional Swazi food, coloring the Swazi flag and practicing our Swazi handshakes, dances and songs. It is important to us to maintain and teach our children about their own culture – these are Swazi children. 

It saddens me to think of this rich culture being lost in the rural communities where so many orphans and vulnerable children live.  As the aging Grandparents/caregivers die, who will teach them about their country’s history? Who will teach them a proper Swazi handshake or how to search for and cook traditional ligusha, as our amazing staff did this week?

In other news, our numbers are changing, and not in a good way.  We have received 11 new children in 2018, which is a child every 9.9 days. If that trend continues, we will receive 37 children this year, for a total of 215.  Last year we received 32 children and the 11th child arrived on May 12th, whereas this year she arrived on April 19th.  In addition to an escalation of children being placed with us there is also an increase in the level of starvation or malnutrition that these little ones are coming with.  Seven of the eleven have arrived severely malnourished (and three are products of teenage rape). 

Information is important and for us to plan for the future for the children.  We don’t ever want to have to say to say  no to a child inneed.

Effectively, we are full.  We have a total sleeping capacity of 204 children and have 189 children now. If social welfare continues to place children with us at this rate we will be FULL by the end of August. 

The good news is that because we track our stats so closely, we have started construction on a 4th Emseni building (dorm for 40 children). We are praying that the funding will come in to complete it quickly as we need it built by September.  

If you want to help us finish building Emseni, please contact today. 

Live from eSwatini ... it's Saturday morning.


Saturday, April 14, 2018

A visit with Baby Shirley's mom in the mens prison

Earlier this week three of us went to visit Baby Shirley's mother in prison. I will call her "T" for this post.   Baby Shirley is the child who was dumped in a pit latrine as a newborn and then had hot coals dumped in on top of her to make sure she would die. She did not.  You can read her story at

T was in the Mawelawela Woman's prison for two years and was then moved to a Men's prison 1.5 years ago where there is one room for 10 women within the prison. This is like a “holding” room for women ready to go to trial because the prison is closer to the courts than the Woman’s prison.  For 18-months she has been waiting for her case to get to get called.

A few months ago she started calling me every week to say hello, ask how Shirley was doing and generally have some contact with the outside world.  She asked repeatedly for me to visit, and I finally did.  I feel such empathy for this young woman because not only is she living with the guilt of trying to kill her own child, AND she has a severely disabled child (her second born, born with Cerebral Palsy) in prison with her. The child, whom she calls Rebecca, is now 5.5-years-old, can’t sit, walk, speak or communicate in any way, but she is living in the men’s prison with her mother and nine other women. Her firstborn child died from malnutrition. 

We arrived at the prison and were told to take off our jewelry and watches and to leave our cell phones and all other things in the car. We went in with only our ID cards and a note from the front guard saying that we could visit for ten minutes. We went through the big steel doors, with no windows and were greeted by a social worker and a guard who took us to a private office to meet with T. They were very kind and empathetic, and I think wondered who might be these first visitors for this sad inmate.

T was so happy to see us and she sat with Rebecca on her lap and asked us how Shirley was doing and told us how much she missed her baby. I struggled with that a bit since she was the very person who was responsible for the permanent scaring on Shirley’s face and her not having a big toe on one foot or an index finger on one hand.

We asked when she thought she would go to trial and she had no idea. It was a waiting game. My friend Janice asked her if she had a lawyer or if the court would appoint one?  They all shook their heads, no. The court only appoints a lawyer if it’s a serious crime. 

Wait, what?

This young girl is charged with attempted murder, and that’s not a serious crime?

Nope, if she had actually committed the murder, she would have a lawyer.

We asked if there was a time she might have been given bail, rather than keeping her in prison for so long with a disabled child.  T told us that when she first went to prison Baby Shirley’s biological father's family gave E3000 ($300 US) to T’s sister so that she could be bailed out of jail (3.5 years ago).  The sister spent the money on herself, and T stayed in prison.

The family is broken and her parents are so angry at her. She knows that when she is released from prison that she will return to a home filled with conflict, anger and shame. What will she do for food? It’s very hard to find a job and she is the only who can manage and care for Rebecca, who is growing every day. She is afraid and she is hopeless.

Where does T find hope?  I reminded her that God’s plans are not our plans and that maybe He has them both in prison as a place of safety? Seems strange to say, but she is provided with food, shelter and a clean place to sleep.  But that's easy for me to say when I get to walk back out through the gates and get in my car to drive home.

I am conflicted because I feel such empathy for the young woman, but then I am responsible for the child who was hurt, and whose heart and mind are still healing.  T is desperate to come and visit Shirley when she gets out, but I don’t know how that will work or what will be said. I am thankful to have our wonderful social worker, Margie Brewer, here to help us navigate that when the time comes.

A photo of T and Baby Shirley the day we first met in prison.
Some days are easier than others here.  Some days I can solve other people's problems, but that day was not one of them.

Live from Swaziland … going to play with Shirley today.


Saturday, April 7, 2018

Just tears

These two girls are the same age (20-months).

This week has been filled with tears.  Tears for starving children, tears for children who are being hunted so that can be cut apart and sacrificed by a Traditional healer (witch doctor) to allegedly give people power, tears for helpless and hopeless teenagers who are being raped and impregnated by an enemy, tears of hopelessness.

Yesterday we received two children, a girl and a boy. I was told that two girls were coming, because that is what the mentally disabled/drunkard/abusive father told social welfare.  When social welfare picked up the children and found the eldest to be a boy, he asked the father about it and his response was, “I didn't know I had a boy”.  The child is THREE YEARS OLD and has been living with his father since last August … and he didn’t know he was a boy.

The youngest child is a girl. She is 20-months-old and weighs 13.4 pounds (6.1 KG). 
Each day that father would lock the two children outside his mud hut and go drinking. When he arrived home at night, drunk, they would move inside. Neighbors alerted social welfare and when they arrived at the home the little girl was almost dead from starvation. They were both rushed to hospital and have been treated there. Yesterday they came home to Project Canaan. She is the size of a 4-month-old and the 3-year-old does not walk well, and doesn’t speak. We have a policy of not accepting children over the age of two, but the father told social welfare that the children were ages one and two.  He didn’t know he had a boy and had no idea of their ages.  We made an exception.  I wept.

We always pray over the children as soon as they arrive, but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t speak.  How can this happen in 2018?  How can this happen where we live?

We have received nine children in 2018.  Six of them arrived severely malnourished, two were newborns (product of teenage rape) and the last one is a child who was called an “animal” and was being hunted.  I can’t go in to any more detail on that story for privacy and security reasons, but it is THE MOST EVIL story I have heard to date.

I know that Jesus is our only hope, and I cling to that each and every day. Some days are just harder than others.

Please pray for our staff. We have a lot of children who are in desperate need of healing, love and hope.  We are also in need of more funds for the new children who have arrived and have a steep hill of healing to climb.  Please consider making a one time gift today, or become a monthly donor.  

We can’t do this alone.

Live in Swaziland … come Lord Jesus come.


Saturday, March 31, 2018

If we didn’t take the baby, his death would be on our shoulders?

This little 14-month-old boy is a very sick child.

She was 43-years-old and had given birth to nine children.  The health card said that only four were still alive and that the last three died of malnutrition.  A cry for help was sent to the local social welfare office to try to save the 14-month-old boy who was dying from starvation in front of the family.  The neighbors couldn't stand to watch another child die in that family, but had nothing themselves to give.

We left Project Canaan at 7:00AM and drove for 70 minutes to the social welfare office.  From there we started the journey up mountains paths, down valleys, through the bush and stopped at four different homesteads trying to find the child in need.  9.5 hours later we would arrive back home.

At the last homestead we heard a crying baby inside the house and learned that the mother had just left to go find local home brew (marula) to drink away her pain. 

The whole situation was tragic.  We were told by family members that the mentally challenged mother was “feasted on” by her own father and her father’s brother (uncle) and that several of the nine children were fathered by them.  When we finally had all the family members together under a large tree, each of them begged us to take the baby, whom they recently discovered to be HIV positive (but not yet on treatment).    They each shared that if we did not intervene, then the child’s death would be on our shoulders, not theirs (a bit of twisted logic, but that is what they said).  Once the social worker had her report information to get affidavits and a court order, it was time for the Mother and Grandfather to sign the papers that we had allowing us to take the child at that moment.
This was the food that mom and baby shared.

The baby was given black tea to drink.
Neither the mother nor her father could read or write so the document was read to them in siSwati. Then we took an ink pen and scribbled it on their right thumb so that they could make their “mark” with their thumbprint – handing us the baby.  While I have seen that many times, it always jars me back to the reality that we are living in here and what a lack of education can do for the whole family.

Putting ink on mom's thumb so she can "sign" her signature with a mark of ink.
The baby boy is sick, has a bad ear infection and just cries all the time. He is miserable and in pain (possibly going through alcohol withdrawl as he was being breast fed).  But with medication, proper nutrition, proper rest, lots of love and prayer, he will heal, both physically and emotionally.

We arrived back home just before 5:00 PM and 15-minutes later another social worker arrived with a 10-day old baby girl. Her teenage mother had been raped by a neighbor and she didn’t want anything to do with the baby. To make things worse the neighbors were threatening the life of the mother and her baby if she pursued justice against the rapist. The baby was placed with us and they are finding a place of safety for the teenage girl.

Rachelle Ferguson, holding baby Norma (named in memory of Rachelle's mother).
We have 184 tiny souls living at Project Canaan now and at times it is overwhelming to think about our roles in their lives. And why us??  We knew very little about Tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS or malnutrition before we moved here.  We had never done land planning or development, had never raised chickens or dairy cattle or worked in the field of aquaponics.  One of the many things that we have learned is that HE equips those whom He calls, He rarely calls the equipped.  Why? Because this way He gets ALL the glory.

As you celebrate Easter with your family this weekend I ask that you take some quiet time and pray for our children, pray for our staff, and pray for our family. I miss being with Spencer and Chloe on the most important weekend of they Christian calendar, but will enjoy watching our small children act out the Easter play at church tomorrow. Be sure to check out the Heart for Africa Facebook page tomorrow for Easter photo cuteness!

Live from Swaziland … He is risen indeed!

This was the tiny door that we squeezed through to eventually get the baby boy.

Saturday, March 24, 2018


Shopping for 182 children is not always easy in Swaziland (or perhaps, anywhere). We don’t have a Wal-Mart, Target, Costco or really any stores that we can purchase a large quantity of anything.  A trip to town to buy children’s socks could take all day requiring going to three different towns and 4 different shops.

Last week I was told by one of my wonderful Sr. Supervisors that our toddlers really need new underwear. We have 40 two-year-olds at the toddler home (stop and think about that one for a minute), and every one of them is being toilet trained.  I asked how many pairs were needed and she humbly just asked for as many as I could get. I asked if seven would be enough (thinking one per day), and she said yes, that would be good because they go through several pairs a day with accidents etc. 

So seven pairs per child would last 2-3 days.  Our laundry team washes 600 articles of clothing every day, in cold  water washing machines, hanging each piece on the clothesline to dry.  Our clothes line is always brings joy to my heart.

This was our laundry line this morning. Photo credit:  Lori Marschall
I hesitated in sharing this with you today because last year I was strongly criticized for asking people to help us collect seven pairs of pajamas for each of our children to go in a shipping container coming from the US. Those seven pairs would last through summer and winter and hopefully get us through one full year for each child through growth, nighttime accidents and general wear-and-tear. My critic suggested that I was being extravagant in asking for so many pajamas and implied poor stewardship of donor funds.  I disagreed then and I disagree now.

Today Ian and I are shopping in South Africa and our list includes: 280 pairs of underwear, 100 bowls for staff, 150 food bowls for our children, three x 33 Lt cooking pots, boys belts for school, girls tights for school, prescriptions for bed wetting that we can’t get in Swaziland and a short list of other odds and ends.  It will be a full day of searching and shopping, rewarded with authentic Dim Sum for lunch.

One of the fun things about shopping in Johannesburg is finding hidden treats that our volunteers might like. Yesterday I found Reece’s peanut butter cups AND Kellogg’s Pop Tarts (never seen before in South Africa/Swaziland). I quickly sent a photo to a few volunteers and within one minute had orders in hand.  (Pop Tarts cost $8 USD per box here! But they sure will be a nice treat).

Live from South Africa … I love shopping for all my kids.


PS.  If you would like to help fund the things that our children need each month, please give today. 

Saturday, March 17, 2018

18-month-old baby girl is the size of a 5-month-old


This week we welcomed a baby we are calling Dinah.  She is 18-months-old, weighs 7KG (15 pounds) and that is her weight after spending two full months in the hospital being treated for malnutrition. The dietician at the hospital literally brought her back from the brink of death and now it’s our turn to help her begin to grow and develop.

I have learned a LOT about malnutrition over the years, and it’s a complicated condition with long-term effects including physical stunting, direct structural development of the brain, impairment of infant motor development and often results in death, even after being on “food treatment” for weeks or months.

If you look at the chart below, you will see that her length and weight don’t come close to hitting the low end of the child growth chart.  Her length is that of an average 9-month-old, and her weight is that of an average 5-month-old child.  


Malnutrition also weakens the immune system resulting in complicated skin conditions that often leave permanent scaring (see photo below).

Malnutrition often results in anemia (low iron in the blood), and where this little one should have a Hemoglobin count of 12+, yesterday it was a mere 6.4.  In the western world she would be given a transfusion with an HB level as low as 7-8, but here we give iron daily, along with a high iron diet filled with spinach and liver if we can get it. 

If her malnutrition wasn’t enough, she also has arrived with severe pneumonia, with labored breathing and has a fever of 103F as I type this blog.  She is hungry and sick and scared and miserable.

Two weeks ago we got another little girl whom we call Cynthia. She is also malnourished and is the same age as Dinah (18-months), but in the photo below you can see the significant difference in the length of their legs and size of their feet and heads. Dinah is clearly much smaller and more underdeveloped.

We have amazing, trained staff who are caring for Dinah, Cynthia and all of our other malnourished children, and we are forever thankful for our nurses Hannah and Anthony. But it takes money, medicine, good food, a lot of tender loving care and a lot of prayer to love these children back to life. Thank you to each and every one of you who supports us on a monthly basis – you are truly ANGELS to us.

If you are not currently supporting our children, but feel moved to do so today, please click on the link below and get started. EVERY dollar helps and we need help today.

Live from Swaziland … please pray for Dinah.


Saturday, March 10, 2018

A baby with a HIV viral load of 10 million?

I have to be VERY careful about sharing confidential health and history information about our children so that their privacy and dignity is maintained.  There are so many things that I want to share in my blogs about individual children’s stories, but I can’t. I am including several super cute photos of super cute children so as to not identify this child in this blog.

Today I have such a HUGE good news report that I will share it subversively, without putting a name or face to the story.  For those of you who know our children well, you may be able to put two and two together.

We received a little boy nine months ago who was severely malnourished, had tuberculosis and full-blown AIDS.  He was just 2-years-old and couldn’t crawl or stand and only made grunting animal noises.

A short HIV/AIDS lesson:  there are two important measures to watch carefully when someone is HIV positive - the CD4 count and the viral load count.  The HIGHER the CD4 count is, the better.  The LOWER the viral load count is, the better.  (A viral load is the term used to describe the amount of HIV in your blood. The more HIV there is in your blood (and therefore the higher your viral load), then the faster your CD4 cell count will fall, and the greater your risk of becoming ill because of HIV. – Source

I remember when this little guy was finally discharged from the hospital to come home to us.  I was so happy with his progress (always the optimist) and just knew that he had turned a corner, and would surely live.  Our wonderful Pediatrician (always the realist) quickly reminded me that he was FAR from being out of the woods, and also reminded me that his CD4 count was so low that it hardly registered, and his viral load count was at TEN MILLION.

In eight short months he has been given love, nutritious food, anti-retro-virals, TB medication (which he is now finished!), more love, more medical care, physical/physio therapy, lots of antibiotics for never-ending ear infections and skin conditions and never-ending prayer with the expectation of total healing.

He now walks, plays, sings in the choir, dances to music, prays at meal time with the other children, and even says “mama” :). 

On Thursday I was told that this little guy was at the Baylor Pediatric AIDS clinic for a check up and while we didn’t get a CD4 count, his viral load was 179.   Not 179,000. Not 179 million.  Simply 179 … down from 10 MILLION!!

I love the scripture that says, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”  John 21:25

We are living and seeing those miracles every day at Project Canaan. We have seen the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk and the very nearly dead rise up and jump for joy. 

Thank you to everyone who reads this blog, shares it, prays for us and supports us financially.  HE is our provider and I am thankful to everyone who hears His voice and is called to be a part of His story.

Live from Swaziland … I just can’t contain my excitement today.