1212 sleepers in swaziland
Brooke and Ben Sleeper on Project Canaan grounds in Swaziland, where they have moved to provide and train Swazi nationals in medical care and business development. Photos courtesy of Brooke and Ben Sleeper.
When they first visited Swaziland in 2011, Brooke and Ben Sleeper were struck as much by what they didn’t see as what they did.
They said they witnessed almost no one between the ages of 20 and 40, and those who were in that age range were sickly and unable to do much. They estimated there are 200,000 orphans in a country of just under 1 million; this means that one-fifth of the population has lost its parents.
In addition, they said Swaziland suffers the highest HIV/AIDS rate in the world: 42 percent of the population. And the evidence of its death toll was more than evident to the Sleepers.
“There is so much need there,” Ben said. “It may not be a country in 20-30 years.”
A few years ago the Sleepers had never heard of Swaziland, which is located to the north of South Africa’s eastern coast, but as of last month, they have moved there to serve up to three years with Heart of Africa, an organization that has been in the country for 10 years.
Brooke grew up in Shelby County seeing medicine up close. In high school, she shadowed her dad, Pason Daughterty, who owns Narrows Health and Wellness and Chelsea Urgent Care clinics on Highway 280, in the emergency room. While in college at Samford University, she spent a summer in Peru and Belize in college working in mobile medical clinics and later spent a week at an orphanage in Honduras while in nursing school at Auburn University, where Ben also attended for business school.
The Sleepers have strong roots in Birmingham, but now they feel called to spread seeds with organizations working for change in Swaziland.
After working for several years to support orphanages in the country, Heart for Africa bought 2500 acres for Project Canaan, designed to be a holistic solution to the complex set of issues in the area. They built a farm, then the El Roi home for abandoned babies to be cared for by Swazi nationals. A clinic will open next followed by more homes and schools for the now-babies as they grow up and are educated to become the leaders of their generation
Brooke, a nurse practitioner, will work at a new clinic at Project Canaan, scheduled to open in early 2013. It will serve 4,000 people within walking distance who do not have access to health care. One of the focuses of the clinic will be on AIDS education for women and children.
“There are so many misunderstandings about how AIDS is spread, and there is a lot of stigma and bad information about how medicines make you feel,” Brooke said.
Ben will work with business development for Project Canaan’s commercial farm that supports its baby home and clinic. Right now Project Canaan depends on fundraising, but the goal is for it to be self-sustaining one day.
The farm currently employs Kenyan-trained farmers fulltime and, during harvest, about 100 people who live in the area around Project Canaan. The Sleepers said the organization hopes to eventually employ around 600 people who live in the area.
Project Canaan is now partnering with largest egg distributor in Swaziland to buy eggs from their new chicken coops and plans to have three coops of 10,000 chickens each, which will be able to lay about 20,000 eggs a day.
They also have future plans for fisheries and a dairy. Now Swaziland imports 100 percent of its dairy from South Africa, so they anticipate providing a more local source.
Project Canaan partners with local churches in Swaziland and has a Swazi pastor on staff who can communicate with those who live there in a culturally relevant way.
But still, the Sleepers see their mission as not purely humanitarian.
“They recently reunited a dad sick with HIV with his baby in the clinic and were able to share that the baby was still alive because God saw his son and cares about him,” Ben said. “As we are for physical needs, we make it clear that we are there because of our faith and because God cares about them and is using all of us to do so.”
Although the Sleepers have been living in San Diego for a few years, they returned to Birmingham, where they met and where their families live, to make final preparations to leave for Swaziland. Both of their parents go to Shades Mountain Independent Church, where the couple has many friends and supporters.
“Project Canaan knows the problems there are complex and they cannot solve them all, but we can make small changes where we can,” Ben said. “We will watch these kids grow up and see things beginning to change in a country with little hope.”
To keep up with the Sleepers or to support their work, visit sleepersinswazi.com and heartforafrica.org find them on Facebook.