Marshall native starts Hosea’s Heart to help women and children in Swaziland Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by Kevin Wondrash, Catholic Herald Staff   
Thursday, Aug. 27, 2015 -- 12:00 AM

Mary-Kate Martin (front row, center), member of Holy Family Parish in Marshall, stands with several of the girls she helps take care of at a home in Swaziland. Martin founded Hosea’s Heart, the organization that supports the girls. (Contributed photo/Mary-Kate Martin)

MARSHALL -- There aren’t many women in their mid-20s who would give up a teaching career and move to a southern African country to help young women in need -- but sometimes all it takes is one person to make a difference.

Twenty-eight year old Marshall native Mary-Kate Martin is one of those women.

The member of Holy Family Parish in Marshall and Waterloo is the founder and executive director of Hosea’s Heart.

Hosea’s Heart exists to empower the girls of Swaziland in Africa to achieve freedom from sexual abuse and hope for a better future by serving their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.

The organization was named for Hosea -- a prophet in the Old Testament whom God commanded to pursue and marry a prostitute as a reflection of God’s passionate love for His beloved children.

The prostitute, Gomer, keeps going back to a life on the streets and Hosea keeps pursuing her.

“That’s like God’s love,” said Martin.

Answering a call

Martin’s journey to Swaziland began when she was a junior at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and “could not focus” on her schoolwork anymore.

Feeling inspired by the work of Blessed Mother Teresa, “All I could think about was Africa and it was something God kept putting on my heart again and again” until she put all her schoolwork aside one evening and did Internet searches for mission trips in Africa.

She found one that would be her first trip to Swaziland -- a country roughly twice the size of the Diocese of Madison and with a population of a little more than Milwaukee, Madison, and Green Bay combined.

For two months during the summer of 2008, Martin tutored children at a school there.

During that time, she met a 12-year-old girl named Tenele who would change her life forever.

Tenele was being physically abused by her stepmother during the day and sold for the use of men at night.

“That’s when God put his heart in my heart for her and she started calling me ‘mother’ and I called her my child,” said Martin.

Tenele was just one example of many girls in Swaziland who are sexually abused or forced into prostitution.

After that summer, Martin knew she’d go back, but wasn’t sure when.

“My burdened heart for Tenele and kids I met and left just grew and my life completely changed after that,” she said.

She returned to Swaziland the following summer and started looking for longer-term work there, nearing her graduation from college.

After she finished college in 2010, she moved to Swaziland for the next year to help more girls in trouble.

“That was one of the most difficult years of my life,” Martin said as she’d see the girls pregnant, kicked out of school, “and not being able to help.”

After she returned to the United States to teach at a school in La Crescent, Minn., Martin said she was “living with broken dreams” wanting to open a home for the troubled girls in Swaziland, but with no definite plans.

“Life takes a while to change and I kind of hoped that things could happen right away,” she said.

Martin turned to prayer, feeling frustrated. She felt a calling to help the girls, but no way to carry out that mission.

Answered prayers

Her prayers were answered after meeting a friend from high school for coffee. Hearing her story, he suggested she start a nonprofit to help build the girls home -- this became Hosea’s Heart.

For the next couple of years, while balancing her teaching job and trips to Swaziland in the summer, Hosea’s Heart renovated a building and opened the girls home.

“Almost all of them [the girls who live in the home] have been raped or sexually abused or completely orphaned,” said Martin.

“Our [goal] is to feed them spiritually, physically, and emotionally,” she added.

The girls get counseling, which Martin said is usually overlooked in Swaziland, as well as food and clothing through donations.

There are also nightly Bible studies, prayer, or worship which the girls take turns leading.

In addition to the girls home, Hosea’s Heart has a workshop for girls currently forced into prostitution in Swaziland. Martin and other volunteers teach the girls skills, such as making jewelry or scarves, which they can use to hopefully get out of prostitution.

“They can get out of selling their body and sell something else,” said Martin.

After quitting her teaching job in 2013, Martin has been living in Swaziland “indefinitely.” She does come home once or twice a year for fundraising and time with family.

Help from family, volunteers

Martin has the help of many of her family members in the U.S. doing their part for Hosea’s Heart.

Her mother Peg, serves as director of product development and training and her brother Garret is director of media relations. They are both now helping to get the word out about Hosea’s Heart and get the support of area parishes.

Her family and Hosea’s Heart are currently working on fundraising to build a new girls home. They need to raise $120,000 by December to buy the land and build the home, large enough for all the girls and the staff and volunteers that help out.

Hosea’s Heart also wants to start a third program for women in Swaziland, this one for young mothers who have left prostitution and have young children and need help taking care of them.

In Swaziland, Martin has the help of two staff members as well as a volunteer team that comes every summer.

After a brief stay at home this spring, Martin returned to Swaziland in June.

She said she was most excited to be with two of the youngest residents at the home -- Tenele’s children, ages two and three, who are unfortunately without their mother who returned to the streets unable to handle the emotional pain of her past. Martin said she may legally adopt the children.

Living with the challenges of taking care of all the girls, Martin feels like she is the “single mother of 15 girls.”

“I knew I would be the guardian, but I didn’t know I would be the mother and deal with so much of the discipline,” she added.

It’s all for the girls and women though, and many of their lives are getting better.

“They’ve been living so long without dreams,” said Martin.

Now they have them.

For more information on Hosea’s Heart, including how to support the mission, go to

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