Jeff Heuchert, Gazette staff
Former United Nations goodwill ambassador for peace and Stratford resident Gezahgn Wordofa has been recognized for his work in helping newcomers to Canada integrate into their communities.
Wordofa, who works with numerous community organizations, was presented with a Newcomer Champion award from minister of Citizenship and Immigration Michael Chan at a ceremony in Toronto last week. He also received a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal for his humanitarian work.
“My passion is working for the community; it’s very important,” Wordofa told the Gazette during a recent interview. “But this award is not my award. It is the community of Stratford’s.”
He was nominated for the award, which honours people and groups who have made a difference in their community and the province through active citizenship and engagement, by the City of Stratford, and mayor Dan Mathieson attended the award ceremony along with Wordofa’s family.
Since coming to Canada in 2011, the Ethiopian-born Wordofa has been helping immigrants and asylum seekers grow accustom to their new surroundings.
He founded the Huron Perth Multicultural Association, which recently set up an office in the United Centre on Erie Street. The group holds regular community meals where newcomers can meet new people and build meaningful relationships that will help them as they begin their journey in a new country.
Wordofa’s goal is to provide newcomers with the tools and skills they need to become self sufficient. That could include enrolling them in the Stratford at the Centre for Employment and Learning, setting them up with a bank account or email address, or something as simple as teaching them about recycling.
He encourages every individual to give back to their community by volunteering. The more they give, the more they will get back in return, he said.
“Sometimes they come here and they don’t know where to go,” added Wordofa, noting many immigrants will arrive in their new city afraid to venture out, meet new people and begin to carve out a new identify for themselves.
“I make life changes for them. I prepare them for what’s expected of them, what happens next.”
As an UN ambassador, Wordofa spent time living in Moscow, Geneva and in the Middle East. He says he wants young people here to appreciate what they have in Canada by educating them about the atrocities going on around the world.
He recently gave a presentation at Western University about human trafficking and upon his arrival in Stratford last year started a local advocacy group dedicated to raising funds for the Red Cross.
Also, in the new year Wordofa will lead a group of youth from Stratford who are going to Ethiopia to help establish sources of clean drinking water.
He is the general director of OPORA, an organization assisting refugees living in Russia, and has also worked for UNICEF.
Wordofa lives in Stratford with his wife Nicole and their young son Aaron.
“I am privileged to be a part of the community,” he said. “It’s a lovely city; a great city we have.”