Written by Janine Maxwell Tuesday, May 08 2012
Janine Maxwell is a suburban mom, a successful marketer by profession and a woman set on changing the world. In a matter of days, this 2012 POW! Award-winner will leave the life she knows in Alpharetta, Ga., to move to the other side of the world – where there is “no electricity and too many snakes” -- to do the work she believes she is called to do – to take care of abandoned babies and to create “family” where it is so desperately needed.
Maxwell will continue to write to us about her work from her new home in Swaziland.
My name is Janine Maxwell. My husband’s name is Ian, our 17-year-old son is Spencer and our 15-year-old daughter is Chloe. And in 30 days our family will move to Swaziland, Africa, by choice.
Ian and I grew up in Canada and owned a successful marketing agency there for 16 years, boasting clients like Buena Vista (Disney), Labatt, Kellogg, Gillette and Kraft. On September 11, 2001 our lives changed. I was in NYC that day, and Ian was on a plane to Chicago from Canada. All hell broke loose; our lives came unraveled. This led to us to close our marketing agency and to look for a deeper meaning, purpose. We found it on a trip to Africa.
It was on Easter morning in 2003 that I first witnessed the rescue of a child who lived on the streets of Lusaka, Zambia. It was an earth-shattering event that changed the entire trajectory of my life. I saw hope in the face of a 6-year-old boy named Kantwa as he said goodbye to the filth, the terror and the hopelessness of life as a “street kid.”
This experience and many others like it motivated Ian and me to start an organization called Heart for Africa in 2006. Since then, we have been working alongside the Swazi political, church and community leaders to try to help the people of Swaziland, but it often feels like we are swimming upstream. We have had many challenges and some success, including our 2,500-acre sustainable farm that we call Project Canaan, where we have built a home for abandoned babies called the El Roi Baby Home.
Swaziland is a tiny country within the boundaries of South Africa and Mozambique. It is the last absolute monarchy on the continent of Africa, which is three times the size of the U.S., and Swaziland is approximately the size of New Jersey or Hawaii.
Statistics are greatly debated and can be read in many ways, but to the best of my statistical and practical (feet on the ground) knowledge, Swaziland has:
- The highest HIV rate in the world (42-46 percent)
- A life expectancy of 29 years
- A decreasing population of 950,000
- 200,000 orphans
- 500,000+ orphans and very vulnerable children
- 70 percent unemployment rate
- 65 percent of the population relying on international food aid for a daily meal
Working in Africa is really hard. A very famous un-named friend said to us many times, “You have to really, really want to help in Africa to help.” He was right. And his warning served as a red flag to this bull (me). I really, really want to help and so does my family and our organization. So, we are moving and what awaits us there?
In late February 2012, when we opened our doors to El Roi Baby Home, we wondered when, how or even IF any babies would be brought to us. On March 1 our first newborn baby arrived. Others soon followed, and here are five of the most powerful reasons for our move.
Baby #1: Joshua was a 3-day-old baby boy was brought to us because his mother couldn’t care for him and had planned to “dump” him as soon as he was born. The child’s father had been murdered months prior to the baby’s birth and a caring social worker convinced the mother to bring the child to life safely, and she would help find him a home. El Roi is his new home.
Baby #2: Esther was a 14-day-old baby girl who arrived a couple of days after Joshua. Esther’s mother was young and planned to commit suicide in her eighth month of pregnancy. Again, a caring (and life-saving) social worker convinced her to save her own life and the life of the baby. The baby was abandoned at the door of a man who delivered the child to a local hospital. The mother is HIV-positive, and Esther was treated as soon as she was born. We will know in a few weeks whether she is HIV-positive as well and what her future care needs will be. El Roi is now the home for this little girl.
Baby #3: Caleb is a baby boy and is 8 months old and only weighs 12.3 pounds. Caleb was delivered to a local hospital in a cardboard box by his father who is in the final stages of HIV/AIDS. His mother had already succumbed to the disease, and the father was no longer able to care for him. Fortune is HIV-positive and is being treated with ARVs. He has active tuberculosis and is covered in terrible sores and lesions. If that wasn’t enough for this little guy, he is severely malnourished and is struggling to survive. El Roi is now his home.
Baby #4: Levi arrived March 29 and is 8 weeks old. His mother was raped in South Africa and, as a result, is HIV-positive. While she does not want to have anything to do with the child, the social worker encouraged the mother to care for the baby for a time to see if she would change her mind. She brought the baby to the hospital and left him there and now El Roi is his home.
Baby #5: Anna is a baby girl, is a month old and has been living in a government hospital since she was found in a pit latrine (outhouse/toilet) just after she was born. She has been struggling with a chest infection since then and but was recently released to us and now El Roi is her home.
These five are now part of our family. I am truly overwhelmed as I reflect on all at all that has happened in the past nine years. I have experienced intense pain at the death of children I love in Africa, and I have cried a thousand tears and wondered if they would ever end. But I have also see miracles with my own eyes – these children are among them. I’ve also seen buildings built, funding appear from the most unexpected places and felt the hand of God on my life in a palpable way.
People ask, “Why would you ever move there?” Or they say, “Oh, God bless you for going to help the poor people. What a huge sacrifice you are making!” Please let me say that I believe that everyone reading this (on a computer, with intellectual gifts, electricity, an income and most importantly, a heart for women and change) can, should and must pause, reflect and ask, “What can I do to make a difference to a woman or child in the world?” It could be in your own home, family, neighborhood, state or country.
For us, the change we will make will be in Africa. And so we move in 30 days. I invite you to join us in conversation, thought, prayer and meditation. If you have really read this far I thank you. Thanks for listening. And as Mahatma Ghandi said, let me encourage you to “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
Read more about Janine Maxwell on her blog.
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