What kind of volunteer work have you done for Together Project? I volunteer with Together Project’s Welcome Group Program and am part of a match with a newcomer family in Mississauga. I decided to volunteer because I was looking for a program that specifically deals with newcomers to Canada for the purpose of sharing some of my experiences and challenges as a newcomer. I have been here for 31 years and I know firsthand what those challenges are.
Why did you decide to help out? Throughout my adult life, I have been volunteering. I have been in two Welcome Group matches in Mississauga. Prior to that, I helped three Syrian families to settle into their community and now we have become friends.
I came from the eastern region of Ethiopia; Ethiopia has 9 regions and close to 72 ethnic groups. When I and fellow Ethiopians arrived in Canada, we did not have any mentors or guides and we did not have an Ethiopian community ahead of us except for a few people whom we did not know. We learned everything the hard way. That made us stronger in facing the challenges of settling in Canada, but to say the least, it was very difficult.
In the coming years, we established a community association and later acquired our first Harari Heritage Center (HHC) in 1999. The HHC represents the largest Harari community outside of Ethiopia. I was one of the executive members who contributed towards the fundraiser for the center.
I have also been volunteering for our Annual Sports and Cultural Festivals that we hold across North American cities. In July 2020, the Harari Heritage Center will host our 25th year and a lot of people will be coming from Ethiopia, Europe, Australia and from many US cities to help us celebrate.
More than anything else, I believe that helping people is a rewarding endeavor. Personally, I like to help people in every way I can. The moment I see a smile on someone’s face, I get self-satisfaction. Sharing my own personal experience and learning about other cultures is an exciting experience and a wonderful opportunity.
What do you hope to accomplish through your efforts? My greatest hope for newcomers is to see them achieve success in their new life in Canada. I think it is important to begin by asking questions; “What is your dream?” What do you want to accomplish?” These questions also help me share the challenges I have faced as part of my own journey. Overall, Canada has been very good for me and for my family. When I came to Canada, I was a single young man. I met my wife here and together have raised four beautiful children, two boys and two girls, and they all are proud Canadian citizens. I want newcomers to know that this is a country where they can build a full life; it’s a country they can call home.
How are you helping to build more welcoming communities in Canada? Within my community and at work, I encourage people to volunteer to help newcomers’ settle and integrate. I talk about how rewarding my volunteer work has been and I try to inspire others to welcome newcomers to Canada.
Is there anything you would like to share with people who are thinking about getting involved? My advice is to see the whole experience as a learning opportunity. When people come from another part of the world, they have something to share with you. You can learn a lot from them. You will need to be patient, learn to be a good listener and a problem solver. There is nothing to lose by making this effort to welcome someone to Canada but there is a lot to gain.