Queen's University

Providing a Lifeline in Africa

[photo of Heather Brooks]Heather (Johnston) Brooks, Arts’73, never imagined living in Africa would change her so much. The co-founder of Lifeline Malawi thought she had much to teach the African people, but it turned out the other way around. “I’m humbled by their generosity towards us, that they want to give us something because we’re helping them, yet they have nothing. Tears just fill your eyes when you see the joy that they have, and how they look after their families.”

Lifeline Malawi, based in Surrey, BC, is a Canadian humanitarian medical relief and development organization, dedicated to providing medical aid to Malawi (a southern Africa country of 15.5 million people, east of Zambia and north of Mozambique).

In 1998, Heather’s husband, Chris Brooks, a medical doctor from Calgary, sold his practice and moved to Malawi with his wife and daughter Chloe, the only one of their three children still at home. “It had been on our hearts awhile. We had everything we needed or wanted.

We felt like we should give something back to the world,” recalls Heather. The couple sold everything they owned before their move to Africa. Once there, they quickly saw the need for a medical presence in the community of Ngodzi, so Chris began working in the rural district, approximately 100 km. southeast of Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe. The Ngodzi community donated some land for a facility and Lifeline Malawi was registered  as a Canadian charity in April 2003.

Small miracles happened at every turn. Heather remembers drilling for a well, but not knowing how to afford cement for the framework. “Some random person phoned us and said he had money from Samaritan’s Purse (a Billy Graham global ministry) that he wanted to give to us! We had one great partnership after another,” she says.

In November 2005, with grants from the National AIDS Commission, Lifeline Malawi ­became an approved Voluntary Counseling and Testing Centre, facilitating the provision of anti-retroviral medicine to HIV-positive individuals. Samaritan’s Purse has also enabled the building of clinic space for HIV/AIDS counseling, testing and treatment.

In early 2007, Lifeline’s medical services were expanded with the construction of a second clinic. In 2009, generous donations from a few individuals and foundations made possible the opening of two maternity wards. Now, numbers of Canadian medical residents do their international electives at these clinics and maternity wards.

Heather’s excited about two new initiatives: working with the Canadian company Transformation Textiles to help Malawi women manage their periods and bleeding after childbirth, and a youth services program with a volleyball court and soccer pitch.

Chris and Heather returned to Canada in 2010 and live in Surrey six months each year to give daughter Chloe a “Canadian experience.” No doubt, thanks to growing up in Malawi with parents like hers, Chloe has plans to become a doctor.

To find out more about Lifeline Malawi, visit lifelinemalawi.com.

Queen's Alumni Review, 2014 Issue #1Queen's Alumni Review
2014 Issue #1
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Last updated at 4:19 pm EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
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