My bride and I traveled there in July for the 10th anniversary celebration of the children’s home and farm. It was 11 years ago in June 2008 that I stood on the plateau overlooking 2,500 acres of bush in the Swazi countryside. Heart for Africa co-founder and president, Ian Maxwell, had asked his Swazi representative Shirley Ward to find 100 acres for a farm. Instead, she found 2,500.
When I stood with board colleagues, Ian and others, the organization was teetering on the edge financially and we were looking at $1 million purchase. We moved ahead to check it out and God delivered a donor before the end of summer. A year later, the purchase was completed, and the land was dedicated.
In 2012, the first baby moved in with just two buildings—the baby home and the farm manager’s building on site.
Today, 239 children from infants to 8-year-olds live there. The children’s campus includes the baby home, preschool, toddlers’ home and four dorms for older children. A fifth dorm is under construction and two two-story classrooms will complete the elementary school.
Across the valley, the farm is again flourishing now that the project to bring spring water from the plateau down to storage tanks has been completed.
It includes drip-irrigated fields, a dairy with more than 120 head, 5,000 laying hens, and a one-acre greenhouse with both hydroponic areas (you should see the tomatoes and cucumbers) and an aquaponics area with tilapia and planting trays. It takes six weeks for lettuce to grow from seed to harvest. I learned that a one-acre of greenhouse will produce as much crops as 30 acres of open fields.
Both the hen houses and the dairy are producing surplus products that are being sold and greenhouse cucumbers are sold daily. Significantly, in the last 18 months, the process of hard-boiling the eggs has been refined with lime that restores the natural preservative in the egg shell. That means a shelf life of weeks not a couple of days, a gamechanger for the 30 rural churches that operate feeding programs for children with eggs and manna packs from Heart for Africa.
During our six days of service, we worked on the farm (my bride worked with Camp Canaan for the children) and then did height and weight checks at a rural church to determine if the nine-year-old feeding program was having the expected impact. Just looking at the kids, compared to children I have seen on my other eight trips, they showed no sign of malnourishment.
The celebration highlights were the 10th anniversary celebration where I was privileged to speak as the first chairman and the Music on the Mountain worship service for three hours on Sunday. The 10th anniversary took place in the newly constructed amphitheater overlooking the large reservoir that was built with funds from Rotary International. Performances by the children, including a play that told the story of how Project Canaan came to be, brought down the house.
What’s been notable over the last nine years is how much favor Heart for Africa has built with the social welfare leaders in the country. It’s now the preferred home for infants who are abandoned or cannot be cared for by their mothers. More than 600,000 children in Swaziland are identified as orphaned or vulnerable out of a population of 1.37 million (without one or both parents). AIDS has wiped out a generation and more than 25 percent of the population carry the virus.
Heart for Africa, on average, receives a new child every 11 days.
In addition to the farm and the children’s home, Heart for Africa also operates an expansive artisan manufacturing program with Swazi beads and jewelry. It’s woodshop, established by long-term volunteer Jere Scott (an 86-year-old retired church builder) makes all of the furniture for the children’s homes and also made chairs for a nearby golf clubhouse.
More than 300 people, who support an average of 13 people each, work at Project Canaan.
One telling moment came at a board celebration dinner at the Maxwell’s home overlooks the farm. Janine Maxwell pointed out that when they moved in 2012, there were only cooking fires visible on the ridge beyond the farm. Now electric lights can be seen in many homes thanks to employment offered at the farm.
One more note: The 36 hours after the 10th anniversary celebration were very challenging for the leadership and staff. Wildfires, fanned by Santa Ana-type winds, raged around the farm. There’s no fire engines or fire hydrants (it’s in a very rural area about 40 minutes from the nearest big city) so it was fought by hand and with backfires. The older children were evacuated for a couple of hours and the baby home was twice evacuated before winds subsided and the fires burned out.
Fortunately, only one structure (the thatched roof chapel) was lost and there were no significant injuries. We all were praising God for his goodness.
To learn more, please see www.heartforafrica.org