So why are we so committed to Heart for Africa? Why Swaziland? Oh, I'm so glad you asked! :)
We have been involved with Heart for Africa since 2008 when my husband first traveled with them. He also just rotated off of their Board of Directors this past fall. I'm hoping when church-plant stuff slows down a bit, he'll be able to serve on their board again one day. Rob has been on five Heart for Africa trips and I just returned from my second. In the years we've been involved, we've really gotten to see how Heart for Africa operates. We've gotten to know Janine and Ian Maxwell, who moved to Swaziland about a year ago to be able to serve there full-time. And I am thrilled that I've gotten to know Jimmy and Chrisy Wilferth. Jimmy is now the President of Heart for Africa US since the Maxwells moved to Swaziland. You'll just have to take my word for it, but these folks are fabulous.
There are two main reasons why we will continue to serve with Heart for Africa:
1. They are doing it right.
This is not an organization full of Westerners who are coming into a third-world country to "fix" things. Heart for Africa partners with local churches who are already working hard to improve conditions in their country. Heart for Africa staff and teams listen to them, partner with them, and assist with the things they they have identified as helpful. It's about empowering Swazis, encouraging them. The Project Canaan Farm exists to provide food and employment to local Swazis and for the orphanages with which HfA partners. Let me tell you, as a social worker, all this is REALLY really important to me. It isn't a bunch of Christians who are trying to bring Western Christianity into a country. Don't get me wrong, it is very much a Christian organization. Everything Heart for Africa does is to bring glory to God, it's to be the hands and feet of Jesus in Swaziland. I see Jesus in everything they do. I have to admit, sometimes I hear how some organizations are trying to serve God around the world and it makes me cringe. Heart for Africa works within Swazi culture, not trying to change it. Loving the Swazi people as they are, the way Jesus does for us.
And they're really listening. To God and to the Swazi people. In Swaziland, there are no orphanages that will take children under three. So Heart for Africa has opened a Baby Home. It's been open less than a year and they already have about 35 babies. They've built a Toddler Home and many of the babies will transition there in September. Those children need education so now there is a brand-new Preschool and there are plans to have a Primary School and a High School as the kids grow up. The Swazi government knows about Heart for Africa and social workers now call Janine first when they learn of a situation involving a baby.
|Friends who donated Pre-School |
musical instruments - here they are!!
They're helping the community. Some mothers who have chosen to place their babies with Heart for Africa have older children still with them. Heart for Africa is (a little frantically) building a special home for some of those mothers so they can have a safe place to live with their children when they truly had nowhere else to go. As a mother and as an adoptive mama, this is really dear to my heart. I can't emphasize enough how important it is to empower mothers to be able to keep their children. What an incredible gift that is to a family and to a community!
|Housing going up!|
HfA is currently paying rent for two women & their children
until they can move in here!
Heart for Africa provides opportunities for job training and employment. They have a carpentry center, Kufundza Learning Center, where men can come and learn the skill. They are getting accredited so that participants can have official Swazi certificates of training when they complete the program. They have just started a jewelry project, Khutsala Artisans, where women can come and learn to make jewelry and Heart for Africa will sell it so that the women can earn an income. On the farm, there are job opportunities as well.
|Khutsala Artisans Jewelry|
|Kufundza Learning Center - Carpentry Apprenticeship|
2. The Swazis are worth it.
If I lived there, I would hope and pray that someone would be willing to come even though it's hard and even though it's far. And they do pray that. It is so humbling to hear someone tell you that you are the answer to their prayer. When I was in Swaziland in 2010, we were visiting homesteads in our community and when we told a man how far we had come, he stood up and hugged us! He said he'd been praying to God that someone would come and that we were the answer to that prayer. We brought him so much joy and all we did was walk up to his homestead and offer to pray with him. This is hard to explain, but relationships are really important to the Swazi people, just going and being there to encourage them does so much.
Swazis are relational. I've been told this many times. Until this trip, I thought that meant that although we did have tasks to accomplish each day (planting seedlings, watering gardens, distributing TOMS, food, and clothing), the most important thing was spending time with the people we came to visit. And that is true, the time we spent with the children of Ebholi Primary School and with the families on the homesteads was so meaningful to them. But this year, I experienced this in a whole new way. I visited Ebholi for the first time this year, but my husband has been there twice. They knew who I was within five minutes of my arrival there. The kids saw my name tag with my last name and said "You are Rob's wife! He has told us about you!" And then they asked me about my kids! I brought a photo album with pictures from the previous year's trip and they remembered everyone by name. They recognized Rob's guitar case. Just being there means so so much to them. You don't need to bring them anything; the fact that you have come is the greatest gift. This is incredible.
|This is Rob in 2010 at Ebholi School... three years before I ever got to go!|
He was also there in 2012, but I don't know where he saved his pictures from that trip!
I recognize so many of those sweet faces!
This year, I got to serve as Team Leader for my team. Honestly, I was hesitant about it, but I am so glad I did. And one of the best moments for me was getting to complete the Heart for Africa survey with Ms. Similane, the deputy-principal at Ebholi Primary School. When I asked her what Heart for Africa does well, I was overjoyed and humbled by her answer. She said Heart for Africa is really good at helping them provide for the kids' basic needs. Then she said, "it's the encouragement. Knowing that they are here for us emotionally, that they are supporting us and that they stand beside us." What!?!? That is amazing! In this country where people are starving, where children and adults are dying of HIV/AIDS, the #2 thing that was so important to Ms. Similane was knowing she's not alone, knowing that Heart for Africa stands with her as she struggles to help the children in her care. That, my friends, is truly amazing.
I still can't figure out why I get the honor of serving in Swaziland. I can't begin to explain the joy it brings, I can't explain how my heartbreak brings me closer to God. I can only show you and hope you'll come with me to Swaziland one day. God is working there and getting to be a part of what he's doing is an honor. I am so grateful.