top of page
Forum for African Women Educationalist S


H2O is a small group of dedicated, passionate people making a difference in kids' lives.  Get to know us a little better!

Benjamin John, Executive Director

Benjamin John.jpg

H2O founder Benjamin John, a plumbing and construction owner, originated from South Africa.  Benjamin grew up under the Apartheid regime of South Africa and was subjected to the abuses of an oppressive government.  Growing up in poverty in a small township in South Africa, owning a toilet and having access to potable water was a luxury few could afford. As Ben grew up, he decided to become a plumber so that he could provide his large family with their first flushing toilet.  The pride that this gave Ben, and the dignity it provided to his mother and sisters was a defining moment in his life. In 2013, Ben had the opportunity to go to Sierra Leone with an aim of making a difference to the children of that country.  Moved by the appalling conditions in schools in Sierra Leone, Ben returned to Canada and founded H20. Ben combines a passion for social entrepreneurship and a unique hands on skill set enabling him to make a tangible, practical difference in the lives of people.

John MacRae, Board Chair

John MacRae.jpg

John grew up and was educated in Westville, Nova Scotia.  He graduated from college in 1976, majoring in Business.  John’s career started in the commercial mortgage industry where he worked for several financial institutions.  Eventually, along with partners, he started his own commercial mortgage brokerage and real estate development company.  Since 2001 John has been active with church organizations in both fund development and real estate development/management.

John is married to Cheryl and has three grown children and two beautiful grandchildren.  He currently provides consulting services to Avison Young (Maritimes) Inc. Brokerage in Halifax.

Curtis Scaplen, Board Member

Curtis Scaplen.jpg

Curtis is a proud father, husband, entrepreneur, and President of Action Consulting Group Ltd.  He lives to challenge the status quo and is obsessed with solving customers’ problems. He was born in Saint John, NB and is a graduate of the University of New Brunswick.   

As a Business Development Specialist, Curtis is a customer-first, relationship-driven leader who has over 20 years of experience across many industries including the global Fortune 500 company Philip Morris and the legendary Canadian company, Stanfield’s Limited.  His curiosity and need for continuous improvement have led him all over the globe working on unique projects in every major city in Canada and over 30 countries globally, building iconic brands and partnering with some of the world’s largest suppliers. He is passionate about the "why" and, since moving back to Atlantic Canada from Toronto in 2015, he has dedicated himself to the growth and sustainability of the Atlantic Region. 


In his spare time, Curtis volunteers for St. Ignatius Church as a connector with the Halifax Partnership and with Universities and their students to help develop our future leaders.   

Iyona Francis, Board Member

Iyona Tumiati.jpg

Iyona Francis was born and raised in Mumbai, India. After graduating in Business Accounting and Commerce, Iyona moved to Dubai to pursue her career and then immigrated to Canada in 2008. Her experiences have taught her to appreciate the comforts of a hot shower and good sanitation.


Iyona worked for The Pension Office of the Anglican Church of Canada, a not-for-profit organization for 10 years before she moved to Halifax in 2019. She has also served as Board member for CEBS – Toronto Area Chapter and The Compass Peel Region Board.


Growing up she witnessed the lack of proper sanitation and seeing homeless, poverty stricken and destitute families with a high rate of water-borne diseases and infections day in and day out, Iyona decided to join H2O in their worthy cause of building washrooms, with proper water and sanitation facilities, training and educating children in developing nations. Her passion is about making a difference in the lives of underprivileged children and seniors.

Ray Mattholie, Board Member

Ray Mattholie.jpg

Ray’s professional career covered 50 years in risk consultancy in Europe, North America and Asia.

He was Group Risk Manager at BT plc in the UK (1992 - 2003) and at Jardine Matheson Ltd, Hong Kong (2003 - 2009).  In both companies, he led the introduction of Enterprise Risk Management and chaired Audit and Risk committees as part of Corporate Governance.

Now resident in Nova Scotia and mostly retired from business he is increasingly devoting his time to volunteer, not for profit and charitable enterprises. He is particularly keen to support environmental and developing world causes.

Ram VenkitarayanI, Board Member

Ram VenkitarayanI.jpg

Ram is a trained accountant which 14 years of work experience as an auditor and an investment accountant. He started his career as an auditor in PricewaterhouseCoopers ( PWC) in Oman in 2006.


He is currently a Vice President in SS&C Technologies in the fund accounting department.  Prior to this Ram worked with MUFJ Investor Service in Halifax and Citi hedge Fund Services in Bermuda.


Ram is passionate about social justice issues and the vision of Help 2 Overcome.

Tom Puthiakunnel, Board Member

Tom Puthiakunnel.jpg

Tom is a dedicated family man to his two children and his wife.  He was born and raised in India and moved to Montreal, Canada in 1983.  He then moved to Halifax in 1989 and opened United Travels.  After 32 years, the business is still going strong. His work ethic and business sense have earned him thousands of loyal customers.

Tom is passionate on Social justice issues and serves on several not for profit  boards including Indo Canadian Chamber of Business a Chairman, Indo Candian Association of Nova Scotia as president, South Indian Cultural Association of the Maritimes as President and Holy Family Syro Malabar Catholic Church as General Coordinator.


Tom joined the board of Help 2 Overcome because he believes that children are the future, and to achieve their dreams and aspirations, children need to be in school.

Patricia Arab, Director

Patricia Arab.jpg

Patricia Arab graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from University of Kings College/Dalhousie University, and went on to complete her Bachelor of Education and a Masters of Education in Counselling at Mount Saint Vincent University and Acadia University respectively.
Arab was hired by the South Shore Regional School Board shortly after completing her Masters of Education in Counselling. Arab was a Guidance Counsellor and Teacher at Forest Heights Community School, in Chester Grant, where she had the opportunity to work with Dr. Stan Kutcher, in piloting his Mental Health Curriculum, which has since been released nationally.
During her time at the South Shore Regional School Board, Arab facilitated the implementation of a preventative mental health program called PATHS (promoting alternate thinking strategies), which supported children in identifying, naming, and understanding their feelings as a tool to better handle and overcome moments of crisis in their lives. This program was piloted in three elementary schools just outside of Bridgewater.

Arab was first elected to the Nova Scotia House of Assembly, representing the riding of Fairview-Clayton Park, in 2013. She has the distinction of being one of the youngest female MLAs ever elected in the province of Nova Scotia. Arab was the Chair of the Community Services Committee, and a member of both the Law Amendments and Veterans Affairs Committees.

In 2014, Arab introduced Bill 44 — the Victoria Hall Continuation Act — an act supporting one of the oldest charitable organizations in the province of Nova Scotia, which for over 150 years has provided shelter, care and community to elderly women. This act received Royal Assent on November 20, 2014.

Arab is an active member of the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians (Canada Region), which works for better representation of women in politics. Created in 2005, the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians (Canada Region) is composed of women parliamentarians of the provincial and territorial legislatures, as well as the federal parliament. The objectives of the organization are to provide opportunities for strategic discussion and development for future and current parliamentarians, act on gender-related issues in Canada and internationally, and increase female representation in Canadian parliaments.

Arab was asked to represent Canada at the International Conference on Women in Politics, held in Amman, Jordan in May 2016. The conference was the first of its kind to be held in a Middle East North African country and united female Parliamentarians from across the world to engage in discussion about the importance of female decision-makers in today’s global society.


In 2017, Arab was actively involved in supporting the Equal Voice Initiative-Daughters of the Vote, which invites one young woman between the ages of 18-23 from every federal riding in Canada to represent their community and communicate their vision for Canada.

Arab was re-elected in the 2017 election.

On June 15, 2017, Patricia Arab was sworn in as the Minister of Internal Services and Minister of Communications Nova Scotia, making her the youngest female cabinet minister in the history of the province at the time.

In July 2019, shortly after being asked to take on the added portfolio of Service Nova Scotia, Arab introduced changes allowing Nova Scotians the option of “X” or no gender on all government-issued IDs.

Bart Konings, Director

Bart Konings.jpg

Bart Konings was born in the Netherlands and emigrated to Canada in the 1950s.  He was a Senior Officer in the Royal Canadian Airforce. After retirement from the Air Force, he held a number of Senior Management positions with the Defence industry related to Contracts, Program Development and Program Management.


Bart holds an MBA from Auburn University. He is married to Patricia and has three children and seven grandchildren.


Ron Smith

Ron Smith.jpg

Ron Smith is a founding patron of H2O, assisting with development of the concept and early funding. Ron is a former CFO of MTT (now Bell Aliant) and Emera Inc. He served as Interim CEO of Nova Scotia Business Inc. from 2013 to early 2015 and has been involved in local and national not-for-profit governance for many years. Ron’s experience includes a current term as National Chair of The Arthritis Society, five years as Chair of the Acadia University Board of Governors (2004-2009) and a term as Chair of the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council in the 1990’s.

Jack Flemming

Jack Flemming.jpg

Jack Flemming grew up in a house which is now The Trail Shop on Quinpool Road in Halifax.  Flemming clearly recalls those early years and the impact they had on his later life.


This care for others spills over into all aspects of Flemming’s life. He is widely recognized for his philanthropic activities, having been the recipient of numerous community and professional awards.  He received an honorary Doctorate in Science from St. Mary's University, which he followed up with the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award. In 2003 he was awarded the prestigious Order of Canada.


Flemming has received the DalTech Alumni Achievement Award for outstanding contribution to the community and profession and was similarly recognized by Mount Saint Vincent University with its Anniversary Award for exceptional volunteer contribution.  Dalhousie also recognized him with an Honourary Doctorate in Engineering.


Professionally he has received the Association of Professional Engineers Gold Award, which recognizes exceptional achievement in the practice of professional engineering. He is also an honorary life member of the Canadian Construction Association (CCA); past-president of the CCA, Nova Scotia Road Builders Association, the Construction Association of Nova Scotia (CANS) and the Association of Professional Engineers of Nova Scotia; and has served as a member of the Board of Governors for Mount Saint Vincent University, DalTech, Dalhousie University, the IWK Health Center and Maritime Medical Care.


After establishing a successful construction business, Oceans Contractors Limited, Jack and Marion Flemming had the desire to “give back” to their community.


The Flemming Charitable Foundation was created in 1999.  


Jack and Marion’s sense of caring and genuine concern for others has provided the base for the mission of the Foundation, to assist the less fortunate on a local basis.  This spirit of care has been cultivated in the next generation.  The board membership includes Jack, Marion, and their four children, Karen, Colleen, John, and Scott.  Annually,  The Flemming Charitable Foundation supports over twenty organizations in the Halifax Regional Municipality.


Jack Flemming believes and supports the work of Help 2 Overcome.

Cynthia Spraggs

Cynthia Spraggs.jpg

Growing up in a small village on Vancouver Island, Cynthia was acutely aware of the lack of opportunity in rural communities in Canada.  She also felt constrained by the typical corporate office setting and took broad swaths of time off to see the world.  After a long career spanning sales, management and consulting for IT firms like IBM, Telus, CGI Group and Cisco, Cynthia accepted an opportunity in 2011 to take over a small virtual project management company in Nova Scotia.  

Combining her passion for keeping families in their communities with helping bright, talented individuals escape under-employment, Cynthia has grown Sales Beacon, based in Chester, Nova Scotia, into a completely virtual, fast growing consulting company. Serving clients like Dell, Cisco, CDW and other Fortune 500 companies across North America, Sales Beacon increases productivity and accelerates revenues by completely rewriting how large global teams are managed.  Everyone at Sales Beacon, after an intense training and mentoring program, can work anywhere in the world while enjoying earnings and lifestyle unheard of in rural Canada.  Sales Beacon is a strong supporter of numerous non-profits and small businesses in Nova Scotia.

As an ardent 3rd world adventure hiker and trekker, Cynthia has seen first-hand the appalling conditions that children endure – and she’s happy to support the important work done by Help 2 Overcome.

Marianne Arab

Marianne Arab.jpg

Outstanding Lebanese Professional of the Year

Marianne graduated with her Bachelor of Social Work from McGill University and her Masters in Social Work from Dalhousie University. She worked as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Oncology and Palliative Care at the QEII Health Sciences Centre from 1996 to 2009.  She also developed the Grief and Bereavement Program for the Capital Health Palliative Care Program.  She is presently in the role of Manager of Supportive Care and Psychological Oncology at Cancer Care Nova Scotia.

Marianne has been a strong advocate and champion for persons with cancer and hospice palliative care, serving on the Nova Scotia Hospice Palliative Care Association Board for many years and co-chairing numerous initiatives to improve services.  She is co-lead of numerous initiatives including training paramedics to provide palliative care at home for patients in crises who do not wish to be transported to their local emergency department.

Marianne has also used her professional skills to help give back to her Lebanese community. Whether it is helping children at the IWK crisis centre or helping families cope during times of serious illness, Marianne is one person that the Lebanese community can count on.

Marianne has volunteered over the last 30 years with Diman Association Canada, where she was the first female president from 1996-1998. With her leadership and strong work ethic, the very first Lebanese Festival in Halifax was started in collaboration with The Canadian Lebanon Society. Also, for the last 20 years, Marianne has played an integral role for the Lebanese Consulate. She has written many articles for the Lebanese Consulate Magazine and has been the emcee for many official Lebanese Consulate events.

bottom of page