Calgary Heroes: Local spa supports women and orphans in Africa

Dawn Schaller describes it as “kind of an accident.”
She first travelled to Africa when she was 24 to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and go white water rafting – but, eight years later, she was still living in Tanzania volunteering at an orphanage she built.
Schaller returned to Canada in 2013, but opened Moyo Spa in August to continue supporting people in Tanzania in Africa and across the world.
“None of this was a plan,” she said. “It’s like having a little baby: you start off with one project and it’s crawling, and then it starts walking and then it starts running. All of the sudden it wasn’t even a conscious decision to stay. You just keep going and don’t think about it.”
Schaller first arrived at a Tanzanian orphanage after political unrest broke out while she was in Zimbabwe. She thought she’d work with the children for a while before moving on, but was then offered $5,000 from her uncle to help out on the ground.
She used the money to transform the orphanage, which prompted their director to ask her if she’d like to build her own.
“I was like, ‘OK,’” she laughed. “I was 24, going to save the world and not knowing any different.”
Schaller returned to Canada in 2006 and fundraised $40,000 for the project before flying back, buying land, hiring contractors and building a brand new orphanage.
They began with 20 children, and the number soon grew to 40. Schaller has stayed a part of their lives ever since and is continuing to put them through college.
As the children grew and went off to school, she continued working with Global Peace Network, hosting health initiatives, building BioSand water filters, and helping to build a school and hospital.
“We noticed it wasn’t just the orphans who needed help,” she said. “It was the community around us.”
Two years ago she started The Round World project with four friends. Together, they travel the world supporting women’s groups and selling their handicrafts back in Canada.
All of the profits go back to the women who make them, including a group of women who will be making foot files and gift bags for sale at Schaller’s spa. Moyo Spa will also continue to use its profit to support the children’s educations back in Tanzania.
“For eight years we were fundraising to support these organizations,” she said. “So now I have my own place to fund them.”
Through the generous support of friends, family and strangers, Schaller has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for her projects – and she shows no sign of stopping after coming home.
“We’re so fortunate over here and we have so much to give” she said.
“It’s easy to keep giving when you’ve lived with people who have nothing and they still survive and laugh and play and come together as a community. You realize we have so much here, so it’s not even something you think about, it’s just a part of who you are.”