In August of 2009, 21 students and young adults joined Bethany First Church in Oklahoma for the very first Canada Central Nazarene Youth International (NYI) mission trip to Swaziland, Africa. Our team was broken into four team categories that joined the Oklahoma group; one was an educational team, a construction team, a medical team and a compassionate ministries team. The majority of the Canada Central group was on the compassionate team. We worked with the HIV/AIDS Task Force in Swaziland. The compassionate team consisted of four to six people. We visited people suffering from HIV/AIDS in their homes, bringing food in buckets, praying with them and we laughed and cried with their families that have been impacted by their illness.
We worked at a city soup kitchen for street children called Gigi’s Place. But one of the major compassion outreaches we did was work at a rural village in northern Swaziland called Bhalekane. The entire Canadian team worked there at some point during our mission trip. The construction team was busy with a new roof and drainage system; the medical team did a clinic that saw over 360 patients in one day; the education team & compassion team organized a Vacation Bible School for over 800 students.
While we were there, Campbell Stahlbaum, the youngest student at 14 years old, saw a need that he wanted to see met. When he got back to Canada he insisted that you cannot go to a place like Swaziland and not do something. Campbell wanted to put in a well for clean water for the 760 students of Bhalekane. An email went out to the missionaries in Swaziland and a confirmation came back that the Church of the Nazarene was partnering with Coca Cola and Bhalekane was on a list of rural villages to get clean drinking water. What happened next is a test of faith and obedience to God.
A request from the Headmaster of the Bhalekane school was sent via the missionaries that we worked with. Babe Philip Lushaba remembered Campbell’s sincere enthusiasm with his students and asked if the boy from Canada would please help him build a library for the school. After a couple days of prayer, Campbell responded with a resounding YES! The biggest obstacle was Campbell and his family had no idea how to do that! Campbell’s response was, “We’ll just have to keep telling and asking people until someone comes along that knows what to do.” A small team consisting of Kavine Thangaraj, Marg, Stacey and Campbell Stahlbaum met to see if we could brainstorm ideas. We looked at potential partners. A Canadian non-profit organization, the I.Can Foundation, had done several little libraries in Swaziland. They were contacted to see if they had any insight. The African Library Project was consulted as well for ideas. Nazarene Compassionate Ministries was approached to see if they would partner with us as well. All three organizations were instrumental in seeing this project come to reality.
Book drives were held and many new and gently used children’s books were collected from Nazarene churches across Canada Central District. Other denominations also held book drives to assist the children in Swaziland. Children at Grand View Public School in Cambridge also brought in books. Fundraisers were held and private donations came in to help cover the cost of shipping. As the books were mounting in numbers it became very apparent that soon a storage place would become a necessity. Ravenscraig Holdings in Cambridge offered to donate their second floor office space. They had no affiliation with us but God directed someone to us and we asked and He provided an amazing 1,100 square foot heated and well lit working space through Tom and Rosalind Hart’s company. The books needed to be brought up a flight of stairs and we had a chain of young people eager, well OK, maybe not eager, but at least very willing to get them to the office space.
The I.Can Foundation met with us and charted out a plan and we started to work - sorting the mounds of books, cataloguing the books, and eventually sorting them into the various categories of Children’s picture books, novels and non-fiction books. We also collected Pastoral support books, medical books and teacher resource books.
Many of the rural villages in Swaziland didn’t have electricity so this meant that the books needed to be catalogued the old fashioned way. Each book would need to have a pocket and card system for tracking the books. A software package was purchased and that made this part of the project fairly easy. Cataloguers worked tireless hours and then another group of volunteers would affix the spine label, pocket and card to each book. Another group of volunteers would then sort the books into the different categories. Library supplies were donated by Brodart, Carr McLean and the I.Can Foundation. Boxes to pack the books in for shipping were donated by four local Staples stores.
During this process a request came from Cranmer Magagula, Nazarene Schools Manager. He asked that if there were any additional books could we please consider sending them for other schools? He listed six more additional schools that were able to house a library that did not have one as well as other schools that could use some supplementary books.
A team of 27 regular volunteers and several youth from across Canada Central District came to help at the Swaziland library warehouse over 5 months. On 19 March 2011, 24 people were present to see the first boxes loaded onto a 20 foot container. Tom Hart, owner of the office space, donated 5 desks and 11 office chairs as well. Additional items that were loaded were 3 filing cabinets, x-ray plates, medical supplies, back packs, blankets, bedding, dishes and stuffed animals.
At 9:38 on 21 March 2011, the 20 foot container was loaded and sealed, ready to go! Nazarene Compassionate Ministries guided us through the paperwork process for this inaugural container. God showed a need, a youth responded, and God’s people and those that don’t know Him yet, responded to a need, a practical need. A practical need, Rev. Cosmos Mutowa said in May 2010 that a book has the potential to change a child’s life.
As the container was tracked online as it travelled from Canada to Swaziland, we started on the second part of this adventure and began to fundraise for travelling to Swaziland. As the approximate date of the container to arrive was May 14th, we booked flights to arrive in Swaziland on May 24th.
Upon arrival in Swaziland, the container was held in dry dock for an additional 13 days and finally released for delivery to Bhalekane on Friday 27 May. As Cranmer Magagula and several teachers from Bhalekane anticipated the arrival of the truck, the emotions that ran over us when we saw the container rounding the bend in the road was something that we weren’t prepared for. Tears of joy and excitement flowed freely! Finally… this dream had become a reality.
Several students and teachers helped us unload the 20 foot container - and in record time - 27 minutes! As the boxes filled a new building that will house the library in Bhalekane, the teachers were becoming very eager to see what was in the boxes. The teachers would have to wait until the next day to get a glimpse of what was inside.
The following day, a seminar was held for the elementary Nazarene schools on how to organize and run a rural library. 24 teachers and 2 head masters attended this all day seminar. Each school received a copy of a document that outlined the entire workshop so they could reference it when they began to set up their own library. Also, each school received a set of flash cards to introduce some easy games to help children become at ease with using a library and using books.
While that seminar was going on, Stacey and Campbell sorted out the masses of books so that each of the 35 Nazarene elementary schools each received a variety of books. Bhalekane was going to be the prototype school library and the goal would be to oversee and review the progress of that school to indicate what changes would need to be made when a second container is shipped in 2012 to top up the 35 elementary schools to have sufficient books for students to exchange books regularly in the library.
Teachers that had transport on that Saturday collected their books as well as some classroom supplies. Also, each school received at least six books from the J.A.W.S. books that gave accurate and hopeful information on HIV/AIDS written for the elementary-aged student. We were asked by one of the teachers from Mafusini, a school in Swaziland on the Mozambique border, to come to her school to share this same workshop. A request was also made to bring the school’s boxes of books because this teacher travelled over 2 hours on public transit to attend the workshop and had no way to carry so many boxes back with her.
On the following Tuesday, another workshop was held for 14 teachers in Mafusini. The teachers were very eager to understand ways to engage students to begin to read since it really isn’t part of their educational culture. Even more, the teachers read the 6 books that were delivered on talking about HIV/AIDS with their students. Hearing the heartbreak in their voices as they asked how to give hope to a child who has HIV and then hearing that change to hope as they realized that they had a tool to explain it easier to a child was a blessing.
Upon returning to Canada in June, we have been informed by the missionaries that all 35 Nazarene schools have collected their books. I have phoned both Mafusini and Bhalekane to talk with the teachers that will be in charge of their libraries. While there are challenges ahead in using a library for the first time, there is also an expectation that these students will have a better chance to become a better person in their communities and have a chance at a better future.
Partnerships are developing in the community where we live as well as news of this Library initiative has spread. The Waterloo Region District School Board has already donated 20 feet of library shelving and there is a promise of an entire school’s hard goods when it is scheduled to be replaced in 2012. That means more shelving, student and teacher desks, bulletin boards and much more. Our group of original volunteers is eager to join in with this second shipment of books and educational supplies. Also, as news travelled through three local newspapers and a radio program, many community members want to donate as well. A grade 8 student read the article and was also inspired. She collected 2,214 books in a ten-day book drive held at her school and has donated them to the next shipment.
This has been a God directed plan from the very beginning. It has been a reminder of God’s love for the widowed, orphaned and vulnerable in our world and His commitment to them. It has also been a test of our obedience to His leading. There were several times when I, personally, just wanted to throw up my hands and surrender because the task seemed too big. Each time that emotion would sweep over me, I’d see Campbell and Stacey hard at work, or I’d hear one of the volunteers say how this project has inspired them to live differently. It has even began to work on the hearts of His children who have strayed from Him and to begin to seek Him out. Through this project, I have seen how much God loves us and how much He desires us to work with Him. I really don’t even have the words to express how I feel. I am humbled by the fact that someone like me can be part of this project and yet very proud of the teachers when they began to realize their potential for teaching with these additional resources. I feel like my own family has expanded to include each teacher and student in those 35 Nazarene schools. I celebrate with each one as they celebrate each success and my heart breaks for each one whose heart breaks as well.
Thank you for allowing me to be part of this. It has changed my life forever. I know that this is true for Campbell and Stacey as well.
By Marg Stahlbaum