Forced by desperation, an ailing mother puts her sleeping baby in the river hoping the downward current will take him to a better, safer home. It was not rainy season in Swaziland – the landlocked nation in southern Africa – so rivers lay stagnant, filled with flesh-biting animals. Riddled with crab bites, Baby River (as he was later named by workers) was found lying in a river bed close to Heart of Africa’s complex called Project Canaan. Roswell-based Heart of Africa is a nonprofit that provides care and hope to the orphaned and vulnerable children of Swaziland. They partner with many organizations but one of their more generous supporters is the Rotary Club of North Fulton.
“When I arrived in Swaziland, it was not feeling the heat or adjusting to seeing when electricity was not available but hearing the sweet sound of the babies and toddlers playing and singing because they were fed and being taken care of, that I remember most,” says Natalie Matthews, president-elect, Rotary Club of North Fulton. It’s estimated that more than half of the Swazi 1.25 million population (about the size of Dallas) are orphaned and vulnerable children. Heart of Africa bought Project Canaan – 2,500 acres of private land to eventually become a self-sustainable community – to house the orphans including a baby home, toddler home and young children home with schools, hospitals and farming/dairy production.
Heart of Africa, started by Ian and Janine Maxwell, is a faith-based, charitable foundation that works with local churches to care for Swaziland’s orphans (HeartOfAfrica.org). After visiting Africa and seeing the thousands of homeless children, often abandoned by teenage mothers infected with AIDS, Janine Maxwell knew she had to do more. She chose Swaziland due to its ignominious title of being the No. 1 AIDS-infected country in the world for the past 10 years. She closed the doors on her lucrative marketing agency and she and her family moved to Swaziland in 2012 to expand the orphanage for children. Heart of Africa’s Project Canaan now provides 104 orphans with shelter, food, clothing and education.
Rotary Club of North Fulton has worked with Heart of Africa on several projects. John Bach, Rotarian for 25 years and past president of Rotary Club of North Fulton, says, “The joy on the staff faces when we arrived for our first trip to Swaziland in 2010 is unforgettable.” The staff received extra help because of the Club’s gift of a new John Deere tractor to help with the project’s farmland. “We got to see the staff planting vegetables that will feed the beautiful children living and growing in Project Canaan.”
The Club’s return to Swaziland in 2014 made an impact on the club. “It was a humbling and eye-opening experience because you get to see how small things mean so much,” says James Marosek, president, Rotary Club of North Fulton. “Shoes and batteries are some of the biggest asks from the locals. So we opted to pack personal suitcases and take extra luggage just for new clothing, shoes and stuff that’s locally expensive.” A large grant made possible by Rotary Club of North Fulton was gifted for the construction of the Living Water Dam. “Watching the look of relief on the workers faces was remarkable because they explained that the dam, which allows water to be stored during the dry season, would allow farming to be done year-round.”
Four members (plus one member’s spouse) of the Rotary Club of North Fulton visited Swaziland earlier this year to commemorate the construction and installation of the Club’s current gift: a 132k liter water tank in Project Canaan. The tank will provide sustainable clean water for drinking, farm irrigation for growing food and increase dairy production. The Canaan project employs over 240 locals affecting positive economic ripples through the area.
Past President of the North Fulton Club, Kristi Crockett, says, “It is heartwarming to see how Project Canaan is giving hope to Swaziland’s children. With so many orphans because of the country’s AIDS pandemic, the Rotary project grants are causing a wave of good not only for the children but also the whole community.”