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Saving Babies One By One In Africa

“If it’s loud enough and you keep making it loud enough, at the very least people will know about it, and you can’t say we didn’t know. That’s the first step.” -George Clooney in an AP story after his arrest at Sudan’s embassy in Washington, D.C., protesting Sudan’s government-backed genocide.

My last column surprised readers. The recent attempt by a Georgetown University law student to garner sympathy over the lack of birth control pill coverage in Georgetown’s health insurance prompted me to sardonically contrast this with a “real” issue faced by girls and women across the world, FMG, female genital mutilation. I included a very graphic quote about this horrifying situation. Reaction was mixed, but one woman indignantly stated that she refused to read the passage.

As George Clooney understands, some don’t want to know.

Since 2005, I’ve written often about my personal experiences in Sub-Saharan Africa with a humanitarian organization, Heart for Africa (HFA): of children living on the streets of teeming slums, abandoned toddlers brought into care homes, women dying of AIDS; of children in a Kenyan orphanage so grim that the feces from the pit latrines oozed down to their “playground” when it rained (often); of no electricity, urine-soaked mattresses, if lucky, two bowls of corn “porridge” a day, 360 degrees of slum-infested danger and of so many child rapes.

Janine Maxwell, HFA’s vice president and co-founder, is in Honolulu to speak at the Hawaiian Island Ministries (HIM) conference. Her acclaimed books It’s Not Okay with Me and Is it Okay with You? recount her emotional journey from Canadian marketing guru to full-time mission work in Africa and the tragedies and triumphs along the way. Yesterday she spoke at our Hawaii HFA fundraiser hoping to establish a coffee farm on HFA’s Project Canaan, a 2,500-acre donated property smack in the heart of the world’s No. 1 HIV/AIDS-infected country, the Kingdom of Swaziland (low estimate, 42 percent infection rate).

“Swaziland’s a dying country,” Janine says. “By the year 2020, if people continue to die at the present rate, there will only be children in Swaziland.” The population of this country the size of New Jersey has decreased by more than 150,000 since 2005. She explains that the agricultural initiative on Canaan will not only provide jobs and food to the vulnerable communities, but, through a full-scale farm-to-market export business, will generate funds to support Janine’s real passion: abandoned babies.

El Roi Baby Home -

El Roi Hebrew for “the God that sees me” – officially opened for “business” on Canaan Feb. 1, 2012. After Swaziland’s Social Welfare approved, it was just a matter of time before babies (the nation’s future leaders?) would arrive, at which point Janine and husband Ian, HFA’s CEO, parents of two teenagers, would be dauntingly responsible for these little people for 18 years.

Then, this email, subject: The most important announcement Heart for Africa has ever made:

“On Thursday, March 1, 2012 at 11AM Swazi time, the El Roi Baby Home team got a call from the Social Welfare Department saying they had a newborn baby. They asked if they could drop him off to us and, of course, the answer was yes! They arrived five hours later with a three-day-old baby boy. His mother was 30 years old and had four children already. The father of the three oldest children died and the children are in the care of their grandfather, who reportedly is raping them all regularly.” The mother would’ve “dumped” the baby, but Social Welfare promised if she wouldn’t there was a place it could live: El Roi on Canaan.

Just six days later, another – an 11-day-old baby girl – arrived. And today as I write, HFA Swaziland staff member, Shirley Ward reports: “Hallelujah, another baby. This one is 8 months old but very malnourished and been under treatment for a week (for the second time). The mother died (HIV positive) and the baby is being treated.”

I believe, like George Clooney and Janine Maxwell, it’s our duty to “know.” Seeing the plight of the world’s children is frightening because when we know we must, in some way, act. Maybe we can’t all fly to the Sudan like Clooney or start a Baby Home in Swaziland, but as Janine would ask, “Is it OK with you?”

We must each find our own answer.

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