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giving back

Kathy Knowles won $25,000 worth of computing equipment for her charity work in Ghana, and donated it to the Canadian Foodgrains Bank.

The Donor: Kathy Knowles

The Gifts: Creating the Osu Children's Library; donating $25,000 to Canadian Foodgrains Bank

The Reason: To promote literacy and food programs in Ghana

When Kathy Knowles was living in Ghana 20 years ago with her family, she started a household tradition that soon became a life calling.

Every day, she would sit under a tree in the family's backyard in Accra and read to her four children. She didn't think much of it at first since she had been reading to her children at home in Winnipeg, before the family moved to Africa because of her husband's work with a mining company. Soon local children started showing up as well and Ms. Knowles realized they didn't have access to books.

She started weekly reading sessions under the tree, loading books into a basket for children to share. When more children showed up she turned her garage into a library. Then she bought an old shipping container for $1,200 (U.S.) and transformed it into the Osu Library.

Ms. Knowles and her family returned to Canada in 1992 but she kept expanding the library program with help from volunteers. The Winnipeg resident now returns to Ghana about twice a year. There are now seven Osu Children's Libraries across the country and the group has helped 200 communities start a library. The charity also runs literacy classes, sports programs and theatre projects. Ms. Knowles raises about $400,000 annually to keep it all going.

A few months ago, she won an award for her non-profit work that included $25,000 worth of computer equipment from Toronto-based Cisco Systems Canada Co. She decided to donate it to another cause, Winnipeg-based Canadian Foodgrains Bank, which runs food programs around the world. "They do such great work," Ms. Knowles said. "And I wanted [the gift]to stay in Manitoba."

Ms. Knowles said she can't wait to return to Ghana to open more libraries. "To be able to do something you enjoy in life and make a difference, I couldn't be happier," she said. "And seeing positive change in Ghana is very exciting."