October 3, 2022

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The family of a 24-year-old personal support worker is trying to raise thousands of dollars to bring her body home to Kenya after she drowned last week while live streaming herself swimming in a pool in southwestern Ontario.

“You can see what happened in the video,” said Alfonce Nyamwaya, a close friend of the victim, Hellen Wendy.

“That leaves you traumatized.” 

Wendy had worked an early-morning shift at a long-term care home in Owen Sound, Ont., last Thursday. It was 2 p.m. when she arrived back at the motel where she was staying. 

Shortly after, Wendy went for a swim in the motel’s pool while recording herself through a Facebook Live. 

She had been in the water for about 10 minutes when tragedy struck. A video shows her screaming for help, unable to swim in the deep end with nobody around to rescue her. Less than a minute later, there is silence.

A screenshot from a video recording shows Wendy Hellen moments before she started swimming. (Facebook )

“I’m not able to say how I feel because it’s really hard,” Nyamwaya told CBC Toronto. 

“All I can say is that we’ve lost a really lovely, hard-working, passionate girl.” 

According to the video, it wasn’t until around 5 p.m. that another hotel guest found Wendy in the pool and stopped the live stream.  Ontario Provincial Police say they were called to the scene just before 5:45 p.m. — almost four hours after Wendy died. 

Wendy’s family describes her as ‘full of life … with a warm smile and a charming heart.’ (Hellen Wendy/Facebook)

“An individual was removed from the water and pronounced deceased after life saving measures were unsuccessful,” according to an OPP release issued last Friday. 

Police say they were aware that a video of the incident had surfaced on social media, adding that “appropriate steps are being taken to have it removed.” 

Family needs $50K to repatriate her body

Wendy came to Canada from her native Kenya in 2019 and immediately enrolled in college to become a certified PSW. 

Wendy had been working at various long-term care homes during the COVID-19 pandemic, while also studying to become a nurse. 

“She was someone who really wanted to serve people and help people,” said Enock Nyabuto, one of her five younger siblings.

Wendy arrived to Canada in 2019 from Kenya. She immediately enrolled in college to become a certified personal support worker. (Hellen Wendy/Facebook)

Nyabuto said his sister urged him to come to Canada after arriving there herself. It was through her guidance that he also became a certified PSW.

“Hellen was like a role model to us,” he said. “The rest of the siblings, we looked up to her” 

While still struggling to cope with their loss, Wendy’s family has shifted their efforts to bringing her body home to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, which comes with a hefty price tag of $50,000.

That’s why Nyabuto helped start a GoFundMe in the hopes of giving Wendy “a good send-off.” 

“Your generous contributions towards this cause are highly appreciated as we go through this extreme circumstance of losing a loved one,” the GoFundMe reads. 

Wendy, right, worked in Ontario long-term care homes during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Submitted by Enock Nyabuto)

As of Wednesday morning, more than $50,000 had been raised by donors, many of whom also shared condolences. 

“Wishing you and your family peace and comfort in your grief,” one person wrote. 

Though the family is “devastated,” Nyabuto hopes bringing her body home will bring some sort of closure. 

Never swim alone 

Wendy’s family says she knew the basic skills of swimming, but wasn’t experienced in the water. 

One organization says this tragedy is a stark reminder to always swim with someone else. 

“Even incredibly strong swimmers should never swim alone because something can happen unexpectedly,” said Barbara Byers, a senior research officer with the Lifesaving Society. 

She also urges inexperienced swimmers to always wear a life jacket, adding that drowning can happen very quickly once someone’s head goes underwater. 

“Often the response is to have a shock, have a gasp. When you gasp you open your mouth, and when you open your mouth you take on water,” Byers said. 

“All of the sudden you’re in a very frightening situation.” 

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