Deborah Cowley was born in India, grew up in Toronto, Canada, graduated in English from the University of Western Ontario and moved to Ottawa for a job with the Unitarian Service Committee. She then spent two years with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Beirut, Lebanon before moving back to Ottawa to join the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).
Her broadcasting career began when she was posted to Washington with her diplomat husband. Working as a freelance reporter for CBC radio, she was an on-air contributor of more than 50 interviews and documentaries. When she and her husband were posted to Cairo, Egypt, she worked on five television documentaries for CBC’s Man Alive including a one-hour special on Egypt’s Coptic Easter celebration for which she also wrote the script. It was while she was in Egypt that she began writing for the Christian Science Monitor and secured the first interview given to a foreign journalist by Jihan Sadat, wife of President Anwar Sadat. She was also commissioned to write the first official guidebook to Cairo since Baedeker’s guide in the late 1940s. Hers was published as Cairo: A Practical Guide and is currently in its 17th edition.
Subsequent postings to London and Brussels gave Deborah the opportunity to write articles for the British and International editions of Reader’s Digest. Research for these has taken her inside the Walled City of Hong Kong, into the Mathare Valley slums of Kenya and on an 800 kilometre pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. To write about AMREF and the Flying Doctors, she flew with a team of doctors on a rescue mission across Kenya and in Bangalore, India, she witnessed dozens of eye operations performed by eye surgeons with ORBIS, the team of eye doctors working out of a DC-10. She drove in a Red Cross ambulance to northern Uganda to meet Dr. Lucille Teasdale.
She took a two-day boat journey to the shores of Lake Tanganyika to meet and write about chimpanzee guru Jane Goodall. Other articles have included profiles of Sweden’s Queen Sylvia, IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad, British composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, actress Dame Judi Dench, and the late Anita Roddick, founder of the Body Shop.
On returning to Canada, she wrote One Woman’s Journey: A Portrait of Pauline Vanier and followed this with Georges Vanier: Soldier, a collection of the late Governor Generals wartime letters. For both books, she made promotional trips across Canada speaking to Canadian Clubs in a dozen cities. Her book Lucille Teasdale: Doctor of Courage, short-listed for the Ottawa Book Award, was based on her visit with the French Canadian doctor who founded Lacor Hospital in northern Uganda. Dr. Teasdale died of AIDS in 1996.
In 2000, Deborah travelled to Ghana to write an article about Kathy Knowles, the founder and director of the Osu Children’s Library Fund (OCLF: www.osuchildrenslibraryfund.ca), a small Canada-based NGO building libraries for children in that country. She has since remained in close touch with Kathy, works with her in Canada as a volunteer raising funds for the project and has returned to Ghana on seventeen of Kathy’s twice-yearly visits to oversee the project. In 2015, she assumed the role of Chair of the OCLF Canadian Board of Directors.
In October 2013, Deborah launched her book The Library Tree: How a Canadian woman brought the joy of reading to a generation of African children published by Great Plains Publications. The book is based largely on her long association with Kathy Knowles. See My Books.
In November 2014, Deborah and Kathy attended the opening of OCLF’s newest community library in the Accra suburb of Korle Gonno, Ghana. This brings to eight the number of children’s community libraries OCLF has built in Ghana since 1991. It has also helped more than 200 smaller initiatives around Ghana and in other African countries.