Who We Are

The following biographies are of a core group of volunteers who form the board of directors for Healthy Lives International. They have a passion for helping the people of Malawi, Africa and have 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.

Helen has completed the following certifications by the Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology (CAWST):

  • Construction, Installation, Operation and Maintenance of the Concrete Biosand Filter

 

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.

Karen has completed the following certifications by the Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology (CAWST):

  • Construction, Installation, Operation and Maintenance of the Concrete Biosand Filter

 

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

Ashif Bhura

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Ashif is a founding director of Healthy Lives International. Ashif is an IT professional and has been an integral part of the Malawi Water Project since its inception in 2011.  He earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Alberta, and a post-graduate diploma in Software Technology at the University of Calgary.  Ashif and his wife Reeshma are passionate about helping people to help themselves and have travelled extensively to developing countries, volunteering with various charitable organizations that help those less fortunate.  They spent 7 months in Malawi in 2013 setting up financial management structures and training the team members in various information systems and capacity building. Ashif implemented the Kobo Toolbox monitoring system for the teams in Malawi which is used to collect vital data on the overall operations of the project.

Ashif is passionate about exploring the planet, understanding cultures & places, and helping people to use technology in order to improve their quality of life.  He firmly believes that anyone can succeed if they have the tools and knowledge to do so and is eager to continue the important work of the Malawi Water Project.

Ashif has completed the following certifications by the Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology (CAWST):

  • Construction, Installation, Operation and Maintenance of the Concrete Biosand Filter
  • Monitoring & Evaluating the Implementation of Household Water Treatment projects in Developing Countries 

Gerry Simon 

Gerry is a director and current Secretary of Heathy Lives International Society and the 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.

Gerry has completed the following certifications by the Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology (CAWST):

  • Construction, Installation, Operation and Maintenance of the Concrete Biosand Filter

CORE VOLUNTEERS 

Jerry Timoffee

Meeting beneficiaries

Jerry is the 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.

Reeshma Bhura 

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Reeshma is a project volunteer who has been a part of the Malawi Water Project since its inception in 2011. Reeshma is an Occupational Therapist and earned her degree at the University of Alberta. After travelling around the world with her husband Ashif for 8 years – exploring, working, and volunteering with various charitable organizations, they decided to spend 7 months in Malawi in 2013 assisting the project, setting up financial management structures and training the team members in various information systems.  Reeshma, along with her husband Ashif implemented the Kobo Toolbox monitoring system for the teams in Malawi to collect vital data on the overall operations of the project.  While volunteering, she fell in love with the people of the “warm heart of Africa”, as Malawi is affectionately called.  Reeshma believes that if people are given skills and opportunities they can lift themselves out of poverty.

Reeshma has completed the following certifications by the Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology (CAWST):

  • Construction, Installation, Operation and Maintenance of the Concrete Biosand Filter
  • Monitoring & Evaluating the Implementation of Household Water Treatment projects in Developing Countries 

Tom Smillie 

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Tom 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

Dancing in celebration

Peggy 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.

MALAWI TEAM

Sarah Falconer

Sarah resides in Malawi and works full-time for the Malawi Water Project and has been working with the Malawi Water Project since 2015. Sarah has experience in International business and has a background in management and international relations. She is the project manager and head of operations in Malawi and was instrumental in the construction of the south region factory and the hiring of the south team.

Sarah has completed the following certifications by the Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology (CAWST):

  • Construction, Installation, Operation and Maintenance of the Concrete Biosand Filter