This article was originally published September 2022. Updated January 2023.
Imagine if someone told you that in 10 years from now you would be living in Africa with 361 children calling you mom and dad. Most of us would probably laugh out loud and rethink our friend choices at that moment… but somehow, that became a reality for my parents.
Let me tell you how it happened...
My parents were pretty “normal”. They had two children (my brother and myself), a beautiful house, nice cars and my mom started her own Marketing Agency in Toronto that was very successful with my dad as the COO.
Life was good, and then 9/11 happened. My mom was in New York on 9/11 and it flipped her life upside down, as it did for so many. She ended up going on a service trip to Zambia, Africa to do some good in the world and that's when her whole perspective shifted. She came back with a new purpose and couldn’t market consumer goods anymore – she needed to do something more.
Fast forward to 2004.
Our family started working in South Africa, Malawi, Kenya and Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland) in partnership with different Children’s Homes (orphanages).
Three years later, my parents founded the charity, Heart for Africa (Canada), to help raise funds for these homes, but by 2009, they finally decided to start their own project in Eswatini, Africa (because it had the highest HIV/AIDS rate in the world, resulting in 50% of the population being orphans and vulnerable children).
After an incredibly generous donation of $1 MILLION USD, they purchased a 2,500-acre piece of land in Eswatini and called it, Project Canaan. The land had NOTHING. No roads, no running water, no electricity… it was just African bush. Crazy, right?
Some people thought so, but they had a plan. My dad envisioned the land being a place of HOPE in this impoverished country – caring for children, providing food and employment to the community and building it all to be self-sustainable one day.
In the first few years, roads were built, power lines were installed and the farming initiatives began.
Once this infrastructure was built, they opened the El Roi Baby Home and we moved to Project Canaan. The plan was to create a home for orphans and vulnerable children who had nowhere else to go. A place where they would be loved back to life from the traumatic situations they came from and cared for until the age of 18.
They also wanted to create employment and training opportunities on Project Canaan for the local people (Swazis). The country had a 70% unemployment rate in the rural communities and 50% of the population live below the poverty line, so this part was essential.
Not only would it provide a hand up for the adults in the community, but it would also help the project become more self-sustainable. The carpentry center, auto mechanics center and bead/handcraft center (called Khutsala Artisans) are the main vocational training centers that would enable them to reduce costs on property.
On the farming side, they built a greenhouse, 2 egg barns (in partnership with the Egg Farmers of Canada), a dairy barn, a goat barn and filled the fields with crops! Farming provides food, of course, but also provides employment for those in the community.
Fast forward again to this year, 2023.
Just 11 years after receiving the first baby, my parents (Ian and Janine) are now Make (mom in siswati) and Babe (dad in siswati) to 361 children, with the oldest being 12-years-old.
They’ve started building a school called, Project Canaan Academy, which goes from pre-school to Grade 6 thus far and will continue to build as the children grow. 262 of our school-aged children are enrolled for 2023!
They provide employment for almost 370 people from the community on the property and since each Swazi cares for 7 family members at home on average, over 2,500 people are impacted in surrounding communities.
Lastly, they started a feeding program to feed 4,500 children in the most rural communities in the country to fight malnutrition.
What seemed impossible to many became a reality, taking every day, every decision and every step, one at a time. I hope we all have the courage to take a leap of faith and make an impact like that in the world one day, in our local communities in Canada and around the world.
“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to creates many ripples.” - Mother Teresa
Sala kahle (stay well in Siswati),
Daughter of Ian & Janine Marketing & Communication Specialist at Heart for Africa (Canada)
Learn more about Heart for Africa (Canada) and Project Canaan, here.
Read my mom’s book, HOPE LIVES HERE, here.