Something to celebrate with a side of cake

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I love cake. I love it more than sunshine and puppies.

I love the way cake looks—perfectly round with strawberries arranged decoratively on the top or shaved chocolate on the sides. I love the surprise of a layer of custard, or fruit, or cream between the sponge. It’s like a present.

Cake is the least pretentious, non-everyday food ever. It’s also the most celebratory. Big events like birthdays, weddings, retirements, all require cake.

Tucking in. The other cake judges didn’t stand a chance. (Photo: Carol Hamilton).

I went through a really lonely, cakeless period in my thirties. I was living in a crummy basement apartment with floor tiles so old they had begun to disintegrate. I was in a relatively new community, my relationship had imploded, and I spent my weekends creating errands for myself so I wouldn’t be home.

What I missed the most during that time was having a birthday cake and people to eat it with. Cake is the manifestation of joy shared with the people you love.

That’s why I was ridiculously excited to be a judge in a gourmet chocolate cake contest this past weekend. I wish with all my heart and soul that Cake Judge was a real job title and that it was my real job.

The event was a fundraiser for Change Her World—a small NGO based in Stratford, Ontario that works out of northern Malawi.

It was started by two go-getters, Linda Willis, a retired teacher, and Carol Hamilton, a nurse, after a mission trip to the region.

They were stunned by what they saw, particularly in the north of Malawi. It’s physically challenging to get there due to a lack of infrastructure and, unremarkably, government funds don’t seem to make it there either.

On that trip the pair passed the remains of big NGOs—the ones that can afford heart-wrenching commercials on TV—that had packed up and left. The buildings were abandoned along with the hopes of the community.

Linda and Carol decided to consult with community members and build an infrastructure for girls’ education themselves. No waiting, no dithering, no asking if it would be worth it. Their organization, Change Her World, is a roll-up-your-sleeves, dining-room-table operation. They mean business.

This gutsy duo stepped out from their comfortable lives and took a risk. They put their reputations on the line. It could have failed quickly and it could have failed publicly but they pushed on anyway because they believed their passion would be contagious.

As Linda and Carol sold their idea to other women in Canada, they asked the families of girls in Malawi to take a chance on them. Linda and Carol gave these girls an opportunity to reach for a future their mothers couldn’t have dreamed of and they took it. The girls show up first thing in the morning and they study by candlelight well into the night.

Linda and Carol have learned how to negotiate with politicians and pack a shipping container. They’ve bought uniforms and paid school fees. They’ve renovated schools that were too dilapidated for boys, but considered adequate for girls. They’ve gone further than anyone else with fewer resources.

Linda and Carol have put girls through elementary, high school and in some cases university. The first young woman to graduate university started as just another girl with nothing, and in danger of marrying too soon and raising more girls with nothing. She’s coming back to her community with something—a degree and choices—and she’s coming back a somebody.

She will be the Haley Wickenheiser or Roberta Bondar of her community. She is a walking billboard; it can be done.

And Linda and Carol are our beacon to forge boldly ahead, to speak up and speak out. And to take action at our own dining room tables.

That’s a whole lot to celebrate. Bring on the cake.

To read about the amazing achievements of Linda and Carol go to

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  1. Penny Gladwish

    Awesome article! Cake & good deeds… doesn’t get better than that!!!
    I’m sure there will be many more life adventures ahead to entertain all your followers!

  2. Leigh Youse

    I was laughing out loud reading your latest blogs…

    Cake tasting would be an amazing job to have 🙂
    Don’t forget that cake or cupcakes MUST have buttercream icing

  3. Kate Reilly

    At first photo glance, I thought you were doing the coveted Church Bizarre Cake Walk of yonder years. Then I actually READ the helpful inscription provided to learn that you had topped that, to become a taste-testing cake judge! (sounded like it was going to read ‘junkie’, didn’t it?).

    It was heartening to read that your cakeless dry-spell had many happy cake celebrations to look forward to over the rainbow, including this one: of selfless, determined, and generous women who have worked hard to provide opportunities for under-celebrated young women, to be empowered. That takes the cake!

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