Building An African Oasis For Keiki

Swaziland is Africa’s only remaining kingdom.

Drifting like a tiny autonomous island in the northeastern corner of South Africa, it is a little less than an hour’s flight west across the border to Johannesburg, and an easy day’s drive to Durban and the Indian Ocean to the south.

It is also the AIDS capital of the Dark Continent, and the average life span is just 29 years. One of its most profitable professions is casket making, and its leading national product, orphans.

Yet, physically, Swaziland is a beautiful country, with green, rolling hills of bush and jungle, verdant pastures with cattle, goats and a few horses, and neatly tilled row crops in rich, dark soil. With a few breakthroughs in irrigation technology in the near future, Swazi-specific vineyards like those around Capetown, South Africa, will be producing world-class wines.

It is just such a vista I’m overlooking as I compose this column. My wife, Susan Page, and I are in Swaziland under the auspices of Heart for Africa, a faith-based nonprofit organization dedicated to the care of AIDS orphans and the prevention of more orphans by alleviating some of the conditions that lead to the desperation that fosters the promiscuity leading to unprotected sex and more AIDS, and more orphans, on and on.

Heart for Africa, with the help of its legions of financial supporters, founded Project Canaan on 2,500 acres in the gentle mountains of central Swaziland, providing employment and training opportunities for nearly 200 local Swazis, practical training in all aspects of agriculture, medical care, self-grown food, faith-based life counseling and an orphanage caring 24/7 for more than 50 babies under the age of 3.

At the heart of Project Canaan is a youngish Canadian couple, Janine and Ian Maxwell. After the 9/11 attack on New York City, Janine concluded there must be a deeper meaning to life. Over a period of a few years, with fits and starts and a convoluted process too complicated for this column, they closed their successful business and sold their personal assets in Canada, moved with their two talented children to Southeastern U.S. and founded Heart for Africa to facilitate short-term missionary trips to Africa (Malawi, Kenya and Swaziland).

But they never stopped searching for their ultimate calling in Africa.

As our anointed couple might put it, for their unwavering faith that their purpose would be revealed, God presented to them the opportunity to own this diamond-in-the-rough property to name it Canaan, the beautiful farm that I’m looking upon now. But rewind back through these past few years.

On Canaan there is now a medical clinic soon to be opened, serving the employees and their families as well as hundreds of locals in the immediate region; a distribution warehouse, from which clothing and 75,000 specially formulated nourishing meals are distributed monthly through nearly 30 Swazi church partners; an art and retail center, where year-round production of African jewelry and unique Christmas tree ornaments of beads and silver wire and other artisan crafts are prepared for sale in worldwide markets; a farm manager’s home, with farm equipment storage; a greenhouse, with seed refinement and production; a dairy barn still to be assembled, but with the first six cows grazing nearby; a crop-processing center with cold storage for preparing diverse freshly harvested vegetables for market; an orphanage with a “baby house,” “toddler house” and a preschool; two small villages for unmarried mothers and their children; quarters for more than two dozen volunteer workers and prospective investors on short-term missions; and a gem of a house with subtly blended African and Canadian motifs from which the Maxwells proactively and prayerfully manage the entire enterprise.