Community Papers

From Port Coquitlam to Malawi, with love

Canadian Katherine Ducharme of Benny’s Hope at Big John’s School, which the Canadian charity with a Port Coquitlam connection built in Njewa, Malawi. - SUBMITTED PHOTO
Canadian Katherine Ducharme of Benny’s Hope at Big John’s School, which the Canadian charity with a Port Coquitlam connection built in Njewa, Malawi.
— image credit: SUBMITTED PHOTO

The Port Coquitlam link behind an African charity wants Tri-City donors to know their generosity is being put to good use.

“I just wanted to let people know that you did a good thing, and it worked,” said Marilyn Summersgill.

She’s the sister of Charmaine Paliwoda, who started the Benny’s Hope charity in a small village in Malawi in 2003 with her friend, Tambra Britner.

From the first two shipping containers brimming with food and supplies — collected in PoCo and shipped to Malawi in 2004 — to the seventh, full of medical supplies and shipped in 2008, Benny’s Hope has built a school, dug water wells and provided homes.

With Paliwoda and Britner on the ground in Njewa, Malawi, Summersgill helped from her PoCo home by searching for grant opportunities and soliciting donations.

But in the spring of 2009, health troubles forced Paliwoda to leave Njewa for the last time and return to her home in Edmonton. Before she left, Paliwoda found an organization that would continue the work she and Britner had started.

The Benny’s Hope charity was dismantled and the U.S.-based Children of the Nations (COTN) was selected to keep Big John’s School alive. Since then, it has added a high school as well as a community centre nearby that will offer job skills training for local women.

Another member of the organization, Katherine Ducharme, travelled back to Njewa in 2011 to visit old friends and see how things were going. The eight refurbished wells are still providing clean drinking water for Njewa’s 8,000 residents; the school library, full of donated books, continues to be a popular gathering place; and of the 60 desks built in 2007, 57 are still in use.

Big John’s School, however, had been somewhat neglected. Ducharme later discovered the village chief and many villagers were still hoping that Gogo (grandmother) Charmaine would be coming back and didn’t want another organization taking over what Benny’s Hope had started.

Ducharme brought COTN and the chief together for a meeting and “they now understand that COTN will ensure that the marginalized and orphaned children in the area will continue to be educated,” she wrote in an email.

She noted that COTN’s education director arranged for Big John’s to open for the September 2012 school year with all certified teachers for the first time since its opening.

The next project is developing a food program of five meals a week for the students, three with a high protein content and all five with a mix of fruits and vegetables.

Said Summersgill: “We just need money to get it off the ground.”




• Money can be donated through COTN’s Canadian branch so that income tax receipts can be issued and donations can be directed specifically to Big John’s School and for the food program. Email Katherine Ducharme at for details.



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