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Media coverage

Suitcases for Africa featured in the media over the years


The following articles were printed in various local newspapers in 2005 -2006

Suburban: March 29th, 2006
by Irene Chwalkowski,
“So Many Needy Children”

Wherever the eight women went, children would be lining the side of sigmaessays.com the road calling: “The nzungus are here!” Wendy Hamel said nzungus is the Kenyan term for white people, and she said that the reason for all the excitement was that many of these children had never before seen a white person.

But for 23 days, Hamel, Darlene Anderson, Maya Byers, Susan Cruickshank, Eta Markowicz, Doris Morgan, Debbie Pearson and Linda Toivanen became a familiar sight in Itigero, a village in an isolated region of Kenya, and its surroundings, delivering medical and school supplies to impoverished children.

The women, who returned March 17, were inspired by their friend, Dr. Ebi Kimanani, a native of Itigero, who died of malaria she contracted in Uganda.

Suburban: Feb 2006
by Irene Chwalkowski,
“The ‘Kenyan Girls’ pack”

Linda Toivanen, Susan Cruickshank, Darlene Anderson, Doris Morgan, Debbie Pearson, Eta Markowicz and Wendy Hamel will continue a friend’s work.

They call themselves the Kenyan Girls.

Last Saturday, seven women met in the basement of Susan Cruickshank’s home in Beaconsfield and talked about their upcoming trip to Africa. They’re not off to Kenya on safari; they’re going to carry on the work of a dear friend whose life was cut short, at the age of 47, by the very disease she was working to eradicate.

Dr. Ebi Kimanani, a native of the Itegero area of Kenya, was the founder of the International Biomedical Research Institute for Africa (IBRIA). She researched protocols for new drugs to combat malaria, among other diseases. Kimanani write my essay contracted malaria in Kenya, and by the time she was diagnosed, it was too late.

Kimanani, who was a member of the Beaurepaire United Church with some of these women, made such an impact that they decided to carry on part of her work; to bring medical and school supplies and gifts from Montreal school children to Kenya. They leave Thursday for 23 days.

Health Partners International of Canada, a medical aid agency based in Montreal, provided the medical supplies for the trip, donated by Canada’s health-care industry.

Each woman will carry a Physician’s Travel Pack, which contains an assortment of medical supplies that can treat up to 1,000 children and adults. It consists of two boxes, containing about $5,500 worth of medical supplies and eye/ear drops and ointments.

“The more I talk about it, the more excited I get,”Cruickshank said. “I almost didn’t go. I had health concerns, concerns about overland transport.”

The group is renting Kimanani’s sister’s home, where they will be sleeping on the floor under mosquito nets. There will be running water, but no electricity.

“When Ebi died, I was heartbroken,” preschool teacher Darlene Anderson said. She collected enough books and school supplies to fill three suitcases and sent them to Itegero last year. This year, by recruiting other schools to participate, 27 suitcases were filled with 1,300 pounds of school supplies, books, educational games, soccer balls and a big colorful parachute. “The suitcases flew off yesterday,” said Anderson. “They’ll be waiting for us in London.”

Linda Toivanen, Darlene Anderson, Debbie Pearson, Doris Morgan, Eta Markowicz, WendyHamel, Maya Byers and Susan Cruickshank will fly with British Airways at 7:40 p.m. on Thursday.

The Chronicle, Feb 2006
by Peter Varga
“Suitcases Packed to Help Kenyan Village”

A year after her tragic death, Dr. Ebi Kimanani’s hopes to create a link between her native African village and her adopted Beaconsfield community continues & shy; thanks to the efforts of eight West Island women.

Kimanani succumbed to malaria last year on Jan. 29, contracted while supervising HIV/AIDS drug trials in Uganda. Her loss could have signaled the end of an inter-community program she established between the churches of both communities. Instead, Kimanani’s work has inspired Suitcases for Africa, a whole new project that promises to tie the two communities together even closer.

This month, the group of eight will be taking their expertise as teachers, librarians and nurses directly to Itegero, a crowded Kenyan village of over 65,000. Among them is preschool teacher Darlene Anderson, who, as founder of the Suitcases for Africa project, is heading up efforts to provide aid for Itegero Primary School and its students.

The project grew out of a brief meeting Anderson had with Kimanani just before her illness struck. Anderson, who had taught the doctor’s three sons at her preschool, learned about Kimanani’s project to build a co-operative corn mill in Itegero. Share the Bread, as the project is known, continues to this day despite Kimanani’s absence. Anderson’s hopes to discuss the project with Kiminani were cut short when the doctor died a few days later. “It was very heartbreaking to all of us who knew her,” recalled Anderson. “We started looking for ways to see her dreams fulfilled.”

Anderson, who has run a preschool out of her Ste. Anne de Bellevue home for 25 years, focused on Itegero Primary School. With the help of her students, the 55-year-old teacher packed and sent three suitcases of books to Kimanani’s brother Tom in Itegero, who forwarded them to the school.

“Ebi’s brother took a video of the celebration of school when they received the books,” recalled Anderson. “It was huge.”

The video Tom sent back also revealed an overcrowded school of over 650 students, without a library. “I saw how difficult life was there,” said Anderson. “There are many orphans in the school, and they have no supplies, no books.”

From a delivery of three suitcases gathered at her preschool, Anderson’s project has grown into a full-blown community effort that will see the delivery of no fewer than 20 suitcases of books, clothes, shoes, and supplies to the Itegero school this month, as well as physician travel packs to provide medical supplies for thousands in the community.

Key players in the effort include the students and parent volunteers of Christmas
Park and Saint Edmund elementary schools in Beaconsfield, who raised money for the effort through various events over the school year. Christmas Park’s Debbie Pearson, one of three teachers on the trip, said she looks forward to showing students that their efforts can make a difference. “They’ve been amazingly positive, very keen,very much wanting to help out,”she said.

On Feb. 23, Pearson, Anderson and fellow members of the group will travel to Kenya to make contact with the school and deliver the supplies.

“When we go over there we’ll see what needs to be done,” Anderson said. “Our hope is that we will continue to assist the school and we’ll see if the community is behind us.”

Kimanani’s widower, Tim Johns, has provided valuable advice to guide the women on their journey to Kenya, particularly about the realities of aid work. “Even though they have a sympathy on the one hand to the situation of people in Africa, I’ve always had a sense people were too removed to understand the realities of Africa,” commented Johns, a McGill University professor who regularly travels to Kenya to do research. “Ultimately I think what’s important here, is that what Ebi did was made it (development aid) real. What people really want is a link at the level of community. They want a human, personal element in that link, and Ebi was that.”

Montreal Gazette
Sunday, February 13, 2005
Section: Insight: Global Village
Byline: Alan Hustak

Role model who enriched two continents: self-confident research Consultant ‘represented what Africans can accomplish’

Ebi Kalahi Kimanani was a determined idealist who enriched two continents.

A biomedical research consultant, Kimanani was active in the fight against HIV/AIDS and malaria in the Third World. In Montreal, she was an engaging West Island community organizer responsible for starting the Share the Bread campaign to raise money to build corn mills in her native Kenya.

She contracted malaria early in January during a visit to Uganda and died from the disease on Jan. 29 at the Jewish General Hospital. She was 46.

“She was involved in clinical work. She was in East Africa building theinfrastructure and organizing people. She was essentially a self-confident role model who knew key people on both sides, here and in Africa,”her husband,Timothy Johns, told the Gazette.

Kimanani flew to South Africa on New Year’s Day as a delegate to the New Partnership for Africa (NEPAD) convention in Durban. From there she went to Uganda to supervise a malaria drug clinical trial.

“She was aware of the risk of malaria, but didn’t take any medication. Before she went she had partial immunity, and her attitude was because she was a native, she couldn’t catch it,” Johns explained.

“When she came home she thought she caught the flu. The symptoms are similar. She was treated in hospital for influenza. We can’t blame anyone.”

Ebi Kalahi Kimanani was born Sept 16, 1958, in Kakamega, in west central Kenya near Lake Victoria. She was one of 11 children in a resourceful family who lived off the land. Her mother, Erika Amalia, was said to be the first woman to own a truck in her own name after the country gained independence in 1963.

Ebi went to a rural country school, where she excelled at mathematics and won a scholarship to the Alliance Girls’ High School in Kikuyu.

She continued her studies at the University of Nairobi, and graduated in 1981. Awarded a Rockefeller Foundation Scholarship, she studied at the University of California in Berkley, where she obtained her doctorate
In philosophy of statistics.

There, she met Timothy Johns, a biologist from Ontario whom she married in 1988.

In 1989, she joined her husband in Montreal and went to work at the Jewish General Hospital before joining Phoenix International Life, Science, a pharmaceutical firm.

She was active in Beaurepaire United Church in Beaconsfield and was instrumental in initiating the Share the Bread Campaign.

In recent years, she and her husband divided time between Africa and Canada.

“She represented what Africans can accomplish if they are given the opportunity. The sophistication she gained within the environment of North American pharmaceutical companies served her well over there,” Johns said. “In her heart she always wanted to do something to benefit her homeland. We had planned to live there one day.”

Following her funeral last Saturday, tributes from around the world recognized her courage and her can-do attitude.

“Her initial goal was to establish a small organization in Africa that could take on clinical-trial related work instead of having to rely on External contract research organizations,” said Dr. Robert Ridley, the World Health Organizations director of Tropical Disease Research in Geneva. “Once engaged, she helped bring together a group of individuals and organizations and infected them with her commitment and her ability to galvanize people at every level, whether they be scientist, bureaucrat or politician.”

An elegant, striking woman, Kimanani sang with a number of groups on the West Island.

“She had a wonderful, deep voice, with a tremendous range, she could sing alto, tenor or soprano,” Johns said. “When she spoke on the telephone, some people who didn’t know her assumed because of her name, her voice and her accent that they were talking to a man.”

She is survived in Canada by her husband and their three sons, Amiani, Mise, and Mwanzi, and in Africa by her mother and seven siblings.