Who We Are

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 helen@malawiwaterproject.com



Who We Are:

The following biographies are of a core group of volunteers who have a passion for helping the people of Africa. They have an intimate knowledge of “The Malawi Water Project” and are involved in monitoring and make decisions about the direction of the Project.

Helen Timoffee

I have always felt the need to go to Africa. It probably began as a young child growing up and my mother telling me “eat your vegetables, there are starving children in Africa” I couldn’t figure out why I was born here with lots of food and children were born there without anything to eat.

I grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan so I could relate to the lives of the villagers in Africa. As a young child, I recall my grandfather talking about using oxen to plow the fields and doing much of the work by hand. We did not have electricity or running water when we were growing up so we used pit toilets and had to pump water from the well. Life was very similar to that of the villagers in Africa. The difference was that we had medical care and education for everyone. We also, did not suffer from food shortages and even through very difficult times we were able to have enough food.

I went to the University of Saskatchewan and took my BA. My husband, Jerry and I then moved to Calgary and we raised two children, a son and a daughter. I continued with my education through the University of Calgary and received my Masters of Social Work Degree. My career path was mainly through the Social Service Department with the Government of Alberta. I worked as a Contract Manager for facilities caring for disturbed children and adolescents, I became Supervisor of Day Care Licensing and eventually I became an Executive Manager Covering Child Care, Resources for Children with Disabilities and Child Welfare.

My education continued and I achieved my designation as a mediator and negotiator through the Alberta Mediation and Arbitration Society.

For several years my husband and I had been sponsoring children in Malawi through World Vision. I decided it was time to go and visit them. I met a little girl who has changed my life. You can read about her at the beginning of this article.

My passion is helping create advantages for people in villages who are living on $1 per day. The Malawi Project holds the promise of providing clean, safe drinking water while offering employment opportunities for locals.

Karen Belanger

My childhood was filled with love, food, water, and a roof over my head. I (like many of my peers) took these basic needs for granted for a very long time. It wasn’t until I went to Malawi in 2006 that I truly came to appreciate the world around me. All of a sudden, the “little things” started to look a lot bigger. My travels to Malawi over the past several years have been life changing and I am fortunate to have shared these experiences with my mom, Helen.

I am passionate about helping both people and animals. I have worked in the pet and         veterinary industry since the age of 16. While studying Biology at University, I worked part time at various veterinary hospitals. I earned a BSc in Biology from the University of Victoria in 2000 and also have my Diploma in Animal Health Sciences. My husband Chris and I are Territory Partners with Trupanion (pet insurance) and find our work very rewarding.

I recently completed a workshop titled “Project Implementation For The Biosand Water Filter” through CAWST (Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology). It was very informative, fun and exhausting. I look forward to taking my new found knowledge to Malawi on our next adventure! Chris and I are active in fundraising duties in Calgary for the Malawi Project and we are always looking forward to the next event! We hope to see you all there, because together we can make a difference.

Nancy Swerhun

When I was six months old my father was killed in a workplace accident and my mother, herself an orphan was left with five children to raise. We lived in a house with a wood stove for heat, without a toilet and running water until I was seven years old. While life was a struggle, it was filled with a lot of love and there were many kind Samaritans who helped us along the way. No matter how poor we were, my mother always seemed to be able to find a way to help others, and helping others was an expectation that she had of me.  She often reminded me that I should be thankful for what I had since there were children in Africa that didn’t have what I did. This was also a message that I heard from the United Church that I attended as a child.  I often tried to picture what life was like for children in Africa and what I would do if I could help them.

After graduating from the University of Calgary I had an opportunity to visit China in the 1980’s (this was China long before it became an economic powerhouse). I was shocked at the suffering, the poverty and the general living conditions. China opened my eyes to the living conditions that half the world lived in. For months I couldn’t get the images of what I saw out of my head.  I made a promise to myself that when I returned to Canada I would do something. For awhile I sponsored children in different third world countries and donated to third world causes but that somehow never seemed enough and those early child hood discussions of Africa I had were always in the back of my head.

When I met Helen at one the Social Justice Committee meetings at Deer Park Untied Church and she told me she wanted to send a container to Africa, the idea immediately resonated with me. It was a way to help first hand, a kind of roll-up your sleeves and dig in kind of help, and a way to see firsthand how giving people a hand –up can impact their lives. I felt that I had finally found a way to answer those childhood dreams of helping children in Africa.

I feel incredibly fortunate to work with such a wonderful leader as Helen, she is a true inspiration. I’m also very grateful for the many volunteers and supporters who have worked tirelessly to support the Malawi Project and look forward to their continuing assistance.

If you want happiness for an hour — take a nap.

If you want happiness for a day — go fishing.
If you want happiness for a year — inherit a fortune.
If you want happiness for a lifetime — help someone else.
Chinese Proverb

Gerry Simon is a director and current Secretary of Heathy Lives International Society/ Malawi Water Project. A Calgary-based retired lawyer and teacher, his involvement with Biosand water filter projects began in Zimbabwe in 1999, working with the filter’s inventor, Dr. David Manz.

Jerry Timoffee is Treasurer for Healthy Lives International Society/Malawi Water Project. He has 40 years of business and financial management experience. Jerry holds a Chartered Professional Accountant (CMA) professional designation. In the past Jerry has travelled with not-for-profit organizations on projects to Kosovo and Nicaragua.

Tom Smillie has 35 years of financial management experience with more than 15 years as the senior finance executive for several companies. He has also managed non-financial areas including IT, human resources and supply chain management. Tom holds a Chartered Professional Accountant (CMA) professional designation and graduated from the University of Alberta with degrees in electrical engineering and business. He has a particular interest in international development and, in addition to his involvement with Healthy Lives International, he volunteers with other not-for-profits and is a board member with the Fig Tree Foundation.

Peggy Beswick is a member of Healthy Lives International Society/Malawi Water Project. In recent years, she has travelled to Malawi with her sister, Helen Timoffee, chairperson of Healthy Lives International to help and support. She strongly believes that clean water and proper sanitation are crucial in the development of strong productive communities.
Peggy is a retired Social Worker having worked in the fields of childcare and eldercare. She lives in Victoria, BC with her husband, Neil. She is fortunate to have her children and grandchildren living nearby.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s