- Cuca’s long life came to an end on March 29 at the Aga Khan University hospital, Nairobi, where she had been hospitalised for four days before passing on.
- She had suffered digestive problems and could not undergo operation due to her age.
Maria Angeles Canel, an outstanding woman for her times, came to Kenya in 1961 from Spain, her original homeland.
It is said during her time, women in Spain were not very independent and were more into homemaking and raising the family.
She was referred to as Cuca and she brought with her many talents to Kenya as she was great in sports and won many trophies in tennis and hockey competitions. Some of her trophies decorating Kianda School.
Her love for work was admired by many as she was always passionate in what she did, not forgetting that she drove a car, a feat not many women had achieved during her time.
She moved to Kenya in February to head the catering department of the about-to open Strathmore College of Arts & Sciences, with six African girls who were new to the job. Her affection for the girls and her dedication to this work laid the foundation of what is now Kibondeni College.
Cuca also worked for some time in Kianda College where she made good friends with the students, some of whom went on to join Opus Dei.
When Cuca landed in Kenya, Kianda school co-founder Marlin Olga was one of the first people who received her and worked with her for long until her demise.
She mainly travelled upcountry to help select students who got a chance to be sponsored by different companies and she took part in the first selection where the girls would come to Nairobi.
Olga says she has many memorable things she remembers about Cuca but one of the memories that stands out is one time when she was given sweets.
At the institution, they would have a supplier who supplied them with things like bread and milk, often giving Cuca gifts from time to time. One time Cuca was given sweets, filled with excitement, she called the young girls telling them she had a surprise for them.
“The girls came running, then Cuca opened the bag of sweets and threw them down. There was dead silence from the girls who then walked away leaving the sweets lying on the ground. Later on when she asked, she was told food was only thrown to animals,” Olga said.
Cuca was said to be eager to bond with the girls and even introduced them to start celebrating their birthdays, but none of them knew their birth dates and so they decided to use the saint's dates; St. Josephine’s day.
Those who knew her say her dressing was elegant and she would often be seen in skirts or dresses and some lipstick on the lips to highlight her ever smiling face.
During the rainy seasons, she wore a golden raincoat paired with wellington boots and rarely put on trousers to work except for when age took the better of her, and had to wear them to keep herself warm.
“Cuca was a great teacher, always ready to pass information. She would be punctual to work, reporting on time and leaving on time, but still had a listening ear for everyone,” said Cuca’s colleague, Susan Kinyua.
There was never a time when she was choosy about her food and would enjoy chapati. She would also get really excited when she ate ugali using her hands, Olgaadded.
During her stay in Kenya, she was instrumental in setting up Kianda foundation projects: Kianda College, Kianda School, Kibondeni College, Kimlea School and Tewa school.
When she moved to Kimlea where she started a conference centre, around her were tea estates and she was worried to see so many young girls and women work on the estates from morning till night.
“They need education and we have to bring education here,” were Cuca’s words and that is how Kimlea Girls’ college came to be.
Everything was perfectly done under her and the files well kept. She moved with them to the different centres she went to believing that the information in them would be of great help in the future.
Many around her would refer to her as a walking encyclopedia as she always had so much information.
The 95-year-old helped those who passed through her hands to bring out the best in them even though at times she would be impatient as she always wanted things done to perfection.
One thing that made her stay in Kenya enjoyable, was the people since they became her greatest friends and she enjoyed being part of everything that took place.
She however never forgot about her homeland as (she always talked about her country and growing up by the sea.
Cuca also spoke about her father whom she said they had a close relationship. She said leaving her father and brother behind when coming to Kenya was one of the hardest things she had to do and was so broken when she learnt about her brother's death.
She would associate herself with good things and always hung on to her handbag.
“I remember one time she was walking around and a thief tried to snatch it but she tightly hung on to it and the thief let it go,” Olga said.
Despite all that, she never forgot to spare some time to talk to God. Being a Catholic believer, She attended mass everyday.
“It depends on what period of her life we are talking about because at the end of her life it was more limited," was Olga’s response to what Cuca’s mornings were like.
Cuca was a lover of music and art and even though she was ever busy working, that never stopped her from having her classical music playing in the background as she worked.
In her 90s, she was still full of life and enjoyed some classical music recording that she loved and identified the instruments so well.
She had so much knowledge on all the things she was interested about and that made her an interesting person to be around. She was also open to learning new things.
One thing about her is that she never stopped reading the newspaper even in her old age. She read keenly following up on everything that happened in the country.
Cuca’s long life came to an end on March 29 at the Aga Khan University hospital, Nairobi, where she had been hospitalised for four days before passing on.
She had suffered digestive problems and could not undergo operation due to her age.
Olga has visited her a week before she got sick and passed on.
“What was so touching for me is how happy she was to see me and her face showed it all. When I was leaving, I thought to myself that I must come again soon because it makes her so happy and we had bonded since the beginning in 1961,” Olga said.
An overnight vigil was held at Kianda school chapel on April 3, and her funeral mass on April 4. There after she was laid to rest at Lang’ata cemetery.
During her burial her family sent a representative with a beautiful message and a bouquet of flowers.