The Story


“Are you living the life you want to live? Is your life a success in every way but you are feeling unfulfilled and all the material things you have are not making you happy?”

Well that is the way I was feeling.  There was something missing. I went over what my dreams had been throughout my life and there was one childhood dream that escaped me. It was a dream to help the orphans in Africa. That dream had never left me and every time I thought about it I would feel a level of excitement and energy that I hadn’t experienced with any of the projects I had done through my work, through my business endeavors and not even through volunteer work.

I decided that it was time to fulfill that dream.

I booked a flight to Africa with my daughter Karen in October 2006. My husband Jerry and I had been sponsoring 2 children for several years through World Vision in two different villages in Malawi. I decided it was time to meet them. Unfortunately, the logistics of arranging visits and the time it took for the preparation through World Vision Canada and World Vision Malawi did not allow us to visit the children that year. Fortunately I had made contact with other organizations and we were able to visit Open Arms Infant Home in Blantyre, Tiyamike Mulungu Children’s Center in Bangula, St. Leonard’s  Parish in Machinjili, a village outside of Blantyre and to speak with a Doctor who was living and working in Malawi.

Karen with Father Raphael and one of the family goats

Our trip to the Tiyamike Mulungu Children’s Centre was particularly memorable. Pam and Will Phillips who operate the children’s home were visiting in Calgary when we were in Malawi so Kristen who was caring for the home picked us up in Blantyre along with 2 babies from the hospital plus staff who needed a ride and loads of supplies. Isabel was one of the babies we picked up at the hospital. She was ready to come home. During the 2 1/2 hour ride to Tiyamike, Isabel slept and drank her bottle. She was 13 months old but was the size of an average  three month old.                                   



Helen with Isabel on our way to Tiyamike Children’s Center

When we arrived at the home we met children of all ages who had lost either their mother or both parents, usually to HIV/AIDS. There were several staff members caring for the children and the older children were helping to care for the younger children and the babies. Just like in any family!

We were treated to songs by the school children and we helped out by making dinner and cleaning up. We slept under mosquito nets in Pam and Will’s home and were awakened several times by a crying infant. The next afternoon we said goodbye to the children and staff and went back to Blantyre. Two days later we received an email from Kristen telling us that Isabel had been rushed to hospital with severe diarrhea. She had been the infant we heard crying in the night and she had passed away in hospital. She was suffering from HIV/AIDS, diphtheria, typhoid and dysentery.  She didn’t have a chance yet in her young life she touched our hearts and has become the inspiration for me to help other children and families in Malawi.

We traveled again to Malawi in October 2007. This time World Vision was able to arrange visits with our sponsored children Esau and Estery and their families. What a celebration! We felt like royalty. Both villages came out to welcome us with singing, dancing, speeches and gifts. In Esau’s village we were honored with the presentation of a goat! Now, you may wonder what our reaction was to the goat. We weren’t sure how to react. We soon realized that we were expected to take the goat with us when we left. We were asked if we needed help filling out the paperwork to get the goat on the plane!  After some deliberation to ensure we wouldn’t offend anyone, we asked if the village could keep the goat for us and share the proceeds of it with the people who were most destitute in the village.

                                                  Our gift     

At Estery’s village we were given 2 pigeons. By this time we were prepared for the gift!

During both visits to Malawi, after our initial shock at the level of poverty we were witnessing, we began to feel comfortable and came to love the quiet, Malawian people who remain cheerful amidst heart wrenching stories of hunger, disease and loss.

We also met with Father Raphael Mponda who was an Anglican priest working in a parish just outside of Blantyre. Father Raphael had been to Canada and had been trained in the construction of the bio sand water filter. This technology was developed in Calgary and uses materials that can be found in developing countries. In discussions with Father Raphael, we began talking about the needs he saw and the many things that we have in Canada. We began talking about sending a container of humanitarian supplies to him so that he could distribute the items to families in need. I approached Deer Park United Church and as a congregation we organized a 40 ft. sea container that left Calgary in Dec. 2009 and arrived at Father Raphael’s parish in March 2010.  We sent medical supplies, educational books, hand tools, wheelchairs, crutches and canes as well as bicycles, sewing machines and automotive tools. We also sent 2 steel molds that could be used to make the bio sand water filters. The molds that Father Raphael had tried to make in Malawi did not work well because they were unable to get the steel properly aligned and the cement would crack when the filter was removed from the mold.

                                           Father Raphael making diffusers for the filters.

Father Raphael’s first successful filter!

I traveled to Malawi again in April 2010 with Jerry Hamilton to follow up on the distribution of the items from the container but also to set up a pilot program for the construction and distribution of the bio sand water filter.  I set up a meeting with the Director of the Central Church African Presbyterian (CCAP) in Blantyre and with Father Raphael from the Anglican Diocese of Southern Malawi.  The CCAP has several field workers in villages working on food security, access to clean water and proper sanitation. We agreed to fund the CCAP who would then purchase 50 bio sand water filters from Raphael, their field workers would be trained about the maintenance of the filters and they would in turn teach the villagers. They would distribute the filters and monitor the maintenance of them.

                                                        Arrival of the container

We also purchased 6 filters from Raphael to take to remote villages in the Mfera District of southern Malawi. Rex Bwanausi who is the Medical Services Officer for the area was anxious to bring filters to two villages that had several cases of cholera a contaminated stream they were using for their water supply.

Nancy, Karen and I went to Malawi again in November of 2010 to follow up on both projects. Rex was very grateful for the filters as he did not have anyone with cholera since the filters were installed. The pilot project was working although we determined that we would need to charge a nominal amount for the filters and they needed to be kept inside the huts rather than out in the open area of the village and there also needed to be more monitoring and training of the villagers built into any future agreement.

Carrying sand for the filters

Our intent was to increase the number of filters getting into the villages and set up a training program to train local people on the construction of the filters and employ them to make the filters for the target areas.

We held a training session in the north in December 2011 to teach villagers how to make the biosand filter and how to implement proper sanitation and hygiene practices in their villages.

As of 2018, we have two areas of operation, one in the North and one in the South. Filters are being constructed and installed. Beneficiaries are being trained on the operation of their filter. The filters are being followed-up. Visits to the home to monitor the filters happen 4 times over a six month period.

Our long range plans would be to have the filters made in several locations to increase employment in rural areas and reduce the cost of transporting the filters from one central location.

If you have any questions on the Malawi Water Project please contact Helen Timoffee at 403-271-5924 or by email at


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