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Showing posts with label Ethiopia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ethiopia. Show all posts

Monday, March 20, 2017

Volunteer Recognition in Canada

How an Ethiopian Immigrant became Canada's most Esteemed Volunteer and Goodwill Ambassador

When Geza Wordofa, the founder of the Multicultural Association of Perth-Huron (MAPH), received a letter last year from Governor General David Johnston informing him he had won a 2016 Sovereign Medal for Volunteers, he had a hard time believing the news.

Even when he called Johnston’s office to confirm the letter had indeed been sent to the correct Geza Wordofa, the honour still didn’t seem real.

In fact, since Wordofa was unable to attend the Governor General’s Award ceremony last year to receive his medal in person, it wasn’t until this year’s ceremony on March 9 in London when the reality of this prestigious honour truly set in (see photo).

“I’m very blessed and I’m enjoying the recognition,” Wordofa said. “To be a volunteer is not easy, and sometimes very difficult. I’ve been involved, day-to-day, with newcomers (to Canada). What does it mean to be a refugee, what does it mean to be a newcomer or an immigrant? It can be good, but sometimes for them it’s very difficult.”

After Wordofa, an Ethiopian by birth and a former United Nations goodwill ambassador, emigrated from Russia to Canada to settle down with his wife Nicole in 2011, he quickly learned first-hand the hardships immigrants and refugees must go through to start a new life in a completely foreign country.

Whether it’s finding a job, shopping for groceries, obtaining a driver’s license or passport, navigating Canadian law, applying for citizenship, learning to recycle, or even something as seemingly simple as learning to use various kitchen appliances, adjusting to life in Canada can take a while. For some new immigrants, that process can be very confusing and often frustrating.

“When I came here from Russia, from Geneva, there was nothing for me. I had no job… there was not any service that gave me my paperwork,” Wordofa said.

Luckily, he had Nicole and the Canadians he met through his work with the UN to help him settle into his new country and his new home in Stratford, but for many immigrants and refugees, it’s not that simple. In September, 2011, only five months after he settled in Stratford, Wordofa founded MAPH, an organization that helps guide new immigrants through the resettlement process.

“We have money for them, we have a house, we have a couch, live. It’s not as simple as that. You give them money, they don’t know how to spend that money. So we give them guidance (for example) on how to eat properly, or to give them some advice (for whatever they need),” Wordofa said.

But without the support and effort put forth by Wordofa’s fellow volunteers in Stratford and the surrounding community, MAPH would have never been able to assist the immigrants and refugees in both Perth and Huron Counties who need that help and guidance most.

Wordofa also had a chance to meet and have his picture taken with
Ontario Lieutenant General Elizabeth Dowdeswell. (Contributed Photo)

“I share this medal with my community and all of the newcomers. When I met the Governor General, I had no words. I said thank you for my community in Stratford who gave me this opportunity,” Wordofa said. “…I want to give back to my community through volunteerism. I want to give back for the community who helps newcomers. They run around for them, they give them rides, they take them to the hospital – I have a long list of people to call who are willing to help out. I love to serve for my community. I don’t expect anything in return.”

For more than five years, Wordofa has worked five days a week for MAPH without pay to better the lives of new immigrants and refugees. An immigrant himself and now a Canadian citizen, Wordofa and other volunteers like him share a unique perspective with those they help, allowing them to better understand the issues, both large and small, that prevent newcomers from living a full life in their new country.

When Wordofa first established MAPH, he was meeting with new immigrants in a coffee shop in downtown Stratford, but since then, thanks to a generous donation of space and resources by Loreena McKennit, MAPH now occupies several rooms in the basement of the Falstaff Family Centre on Waterloo Street, where volunteers have the ability to meet with families, provide them a safe and quiet space to discuss the problems they are dealing with, and determine the next steps in both solving those problems and making their lives in Canada as fulfilling as they possibly can be.

On a more personal note, after living for 15 years as an immigrant in Russia, where people of different skin colours and ethnic backgrounds are often viewed with suspicion and treated with outright hostility, Wordofa is thrilled to be living in a country where the government recognizes his efforts on equal footing with people of all backgrounds, races and religions. That notion was made abundantly clear to him at the awards ceremony in London last Thursday, where he had the chance to meet and speak with both Johnston and Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor, Elizabeth Dowdeswell, as well as many other dignitaries, politicians and service medal recipients.

“I’m equal as anybody. When you go in the coffee shop, you are also the same as anybody – everybody says hi even if they don’t know you,” Wordofa said. “… I am so lucky. We have to respect this country, we have to love Canada.”

Even before moving to Canada, Wordofa spent much of his life helping others, be that working to establish a soup kitchen in Moscow, securing clean drinking water for the people of Ethiopia, or donating toothpaste to new immigrants and refugees in Utah. In Canada, along with founding and working tirelessly for MAPH, Wordofa has also volunteered his time with non-profit groups such as the Salvation Army and The United Way.

For his lifetime of volunteer work, in the past Wordofa has been honoured with the Ontario Government’s Newcomer Champion Award, the Governor General’s Caring Canadian Award and the Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Award. Now, he can add the 2016 Sovereign Medal for Volunteers to that list, a medal which he plans on wearing proudly at this year’s 150th Canada Day celebration. (Source: Stratford Beacon Herald)

Friday, April 17, 2015

Interview with UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Mark Levengood

The Work of a Goodwill Ambassador

We must stop thinking nation states. We must stop mixing religion with politics.

There are today around 30 international UNICEF Goodwill Ambassadors and 200 national UNICEF Goodwill Ambassadors from different countries in the world.

Sweden has six UNICEF Goodwill Ambassadors: Lill Lindfors, Liza Marklund, Kajsa Bergqvist, David Hellenius, Eva Röse and Mark Levengood. Their job as Goodwill Ambassadors is to speak for the children in various contexts and to spread awareness of UNICEF's work for the world's children.

UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, Photo: Stellan Herner

Mark Levengood, born 1964 in a military base in North Carolina, USA, is a Swedish-speaking Finn who grew up in Helsinki, Finland. He is a journalist, writer and very popular TV personality. He is married to Jonas Gardell and they have two children. Mark Levengood is every year a host of the Victoria Day (the Birthday celebration of the Swedish Crown Princess Victoria) in Öland, Sweden.

I recently had the great honor to interview Mark Levengood, one of Sweden's six UNICEF Goodwill Ambassadors. Here is that interview.

Interview with Mark Levengood, UNICEF Sweden

Why did you become a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and how did it happen?
It was a very long process that started when I went to school in Finland and sold Christmas cards for UNICEF. Then I was 8-9 years old. Since then I have always been involved in various ways. Eventually, when I became a journalist, I began to travel. I went to El Salvador in 1995, for example, and began making reports. I became a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 2008.
What is the best thing about being a goodwill ambassador?
The best part is that we get so much done. We are very effective. In crisis situations we are very quickly on the spot. But also to be involved in building the future for the children of the Earth. You never need to ask yourself ”why” regarding that kind of thing, because you know it will be a good thing.

On Children in Gaza

You visited Gaza in 2013, is that correct? Yes.

What is your strongest memory from there?
It's the kids. I remember we visited a youth center in Gaza City with the help of UNICEF. They showed us around there and there were a lot of activities. Then I heard a small tape recorder. I asked what it was, but they said it was ”not important”. Then I saw a tiny, tiny backyard where there was a ballet lesson for girls between five and eight years. The teacher was wearing a completely covering burqa. And that is not so good when you are a ballet teacher. But this showed that also in Gaza girls can dance ballet. All the kids are dreaming of a future there as well as in other places. Those were some of my thoughts.

This is of course an extremely difficult question, but how do you think we can best help Palestinian children today?
Today we can best help them by going through major recognized organizations such as UNICEF or Save the Children or the Red Cross. I think the established channels have the knowledge and contacts to help on the spot. If you start to collect stuff that you send yourself, it does not reach the children. Many people underestimate the difficulty of reaching crisis areas. But if you really want to help, so go ahead to raise money. We promise it will help.
What do you think are the most important prerequisites for peace?
We must stop thinking nation states. We must stop mixing religion with politics. There I think we have two very good prerequisites for peace.

A Blind boy in Ethiopia

What has Astrid Lindgren's children's books meant for you?
A lot, of course. I grew up with Astrid Lindgren. I work a lot now with Ilon Wikland, who was also Astrid's illustrator. We came out with a book in October 2014, called "Peter and the Wolf". I'm very proud to work with Ilon, who many people associate with Astrid. Astrid was somehow a "pillar" throughout my childhood.
Do you have any favorite book by Astrid Lindgren? The Brothers Lionheart.

You have been in Ethiopia with UNICEF? Yes, I have been in Ethiopia twice.
Ethiopia was magical. It is an absolutely amazing country despite having much trouble. Also problems with the government. And human rights is a difficult thing in Ethiopia. 
But it is an amazing country. I remember I met a boy who was blind. He lived in northern Ethiopia and he was abandoned by his family when he was four years old.
I asked him about his thoughts about the future, which of course is really tough.
I asked: ”What do you want to be?” He said: ”I'll become a lawyer.” Then I asked: ”But, are you able to become a lawyer?” Then he said: ”I am able to do all things because I am smart.”

Horrible, but terribly instructive

I read that you have been in Paraguay and met street children and children in prison. Can you tell anything about that?
We can conclude that children do not belong neither in orphanages nor in prisons. Both are evil places to educate future generations on.
Which was your first trip as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador?
The trip that was perhaps my life's most important trip was to El Salvador, but then I was not yet an Ambassador. But it was a terrible trip. It was the first time that I seriously got in touch with the reality that many children today live in, i.e. the total poverty. It was a very, very educational journey. As a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador my first trip was to Paraguay.
Did you have a mission as a journalist when you went to El Salvador?
The war had just ended, and UNICEF was working at high pressure, so I went there to document the work that UNICEF was doing. It was an incredibly torn country and it was an extremely violent country. I remember that everything was very dangerous. The worst that could happen was that the police stopped a person. For ”ordinary” people it was enough to rob a person. But police officers robbed a person and then shot the person. Everything was just horrible, but terribly instructive. I think that El Salvador is better today, when 20 years have passed. There always become very deep wounds in a nation where the war is raging.

Children want to play

What is your happiest memory so far, as a Goodwill Ambassador?
I have so many happy memories. Despite being exposed to a lot of poverty and misery, you become so incredibly happy when you see how much that is actually happening. Children who are almost dying of starvation get liquid because they need fluid in the body and then they can start to eat something. Often they already the second day start to play. It is so obvious that children want to play and with the help of playing explore the world and become great and good. You see how everyone wants to survive and everyone wants to live. It makes me so incredibly happy.
Do you have any special project going on right now with UNICEF?
We are working hard with children's rights principles, where we try to get the big organizations to get into their organization that they are prohibited to have operations which exploits children or put vulnerable children into danger. This is very important.

by Maria Veneke Ylikomi, Globcal International Goodwill Ambassador
Ambassador Maria Veneke is a global advocate for human rights and the environment. She specializes in scheduling International Observances and promotes global citizenship. Maria has been a Globcal International Goodwill Ambassador since 2013 in Sweden, in 2015 she has begun traveling to third-world and underdeveloped states as a global citizen.