My story began with an unexpected phone call… My petite, every ounce southern belle, mother was going to Swaziland, in Africa. She had heard a man speak at her church about children who sell themselves to feed their brothers and sisters and she was going to plant gardens.
That was in 2005. And in 2007, I found the second most unlikely person I know on a plane to Africa… ME! I was perfectly content in my nice comfortable life and I didn’t like the idea of living without those comforts, for even 2 weeks. But after reading “It’s Not Okay With Me,” by Janine Maxwell, director of Heart For Africa, I knew that I couldn’t read a book about a nation that is dying and not reconsider my priorities. And so I began a journey that is still changing my life!
Swaziland is a small country on the eastern side of South Africa. It is about the size of New Jersey. It has the highest incidence of HIV/AIDS in the world at 42.6%. The average life expectancy is 29 years old and some studies estimate that by the year 2020, there will be no adults left living in the country, over the age of 18.
What I’ve seen makes that a very believable projection. Thousands of children and older people, but the middle generation is strikingly absent. Children are raising children… they are hungry and malnourished… they are without shoes, proper clothing and sometimes their mud huts melt around them in the rainy season… many are abused because there is no one to protect them.
To go to Swaziland is to have your heart broken into a million pieces and yet, it is to fall in love with the most special people. My heart is often conflicted with the utter sadness of what I see and yet filled with hope as I witness the strength and determination that faith and love inspire… their joy in the midst of suffering… their selfless generosity in spite of desperate need.
Swaziland now holds a piece of my heart. I can’t fix anything, I’ll probably never do anything to dramatically change their circumstances, but for a few days each year I can step into their lives and let them know they matter. Our Swazi friend once told my mother and me, “I know you love us because you keep coming back.”
It was my love for Swaziland that inspired me to turn my passion for jewelry into a business... Designing For Hope, my little corner of the world where creativity and passion meet purpose. I am now donating 10% of gross sales directly to Heart For Africa and then I use the profits from my business to return each summer. I have been 8 times and been blessed to serve with my mother, 3 of our 4 children and my husband on the different trips.
I always travel with the same organization, Heart For Africa. We garden with them, help with construction projects, distribute TOMS shoes and we laugh and dance a lot! I even get to work with their artisans who make jewelry to sell in the US. And Heart For Africa, on their development called Project Canaan, is now home to 107 children, age 6 and under! Children who had no hope, who most likely would have died.
If you would like to read more about this amazing organization, visit them at www.HeartForAfrica.org