HURON-PERTH – As the beginning of school approaches, the Multicultural Association of Perth-Huron (MAPH) has been busy making sure students are prepared to return to class.
“The backpack program is a wonderful opportunity for us, for newcomers, for people in need especially after COVID,” said Gezahgn Wordofa, founder of MAPH. “Most of our newcomers, they lost connections, they were stuck home. Now is the first time they are going out after one year to go to school.”
He said some people are apprehensive and don’t want to go back to school.
“Families do not have enough money,” said Wordofa. “Some people are living cheque to cheque, both newcomers and people who have lived in the community for many years. They do not have enough money.”
In response to these concerns, MAPH created the backpack program.
“We’re excited for people to go out to school,” said Wordofa. “We are collecting underwear and feminine hygiene products – these are necessities. We are also collecting books, pens, computers, iPads – most programs are going through computers now. Most of our newcomers don’t have not enough computers or iPads.”
The backpacks also include clothing and sports equipment.
“We are asking anyone who wants to help us fill the backpacks to get in touch,” he said. “We are asking for high school material, computers and iPads, new or used, or any type of gift cards.”
Anyone who needs support, whether they are a newcomer or have always lived in the area, Wordofa encouraged them to phone the MAPH helpline at 1-888-910-1583.
“We are covering Perth-Wellington-Huron,” he said. “We are very excited and we are working hard. All our volunteers have experience with COVID and we are working door-to-door giving out masks.”
Wordofa pointed out that for students there will be masks included in the backpacks.
“Nobody will be left out,” he said. “An important reason for this program is to help students who want to drop out of school because of these obstacles. Many people want to quit to find a job – no, that’s not a reason. We are in Canada. Whether you are a newcomer or a person in need. Anything needed, we can provide it. We are doing this so people can continue learning.”
Wordofa said he is very happy about the support the community and local church groups have been giving MAPH.
“We are very lucky – especially the students who can graduate from high school,” he said. “Already we have given out 459 backpacks. Now we have more than 700 bags good to go. It’s very successful. Our volunteers are available 24 hours even on weekends. We don’t need your name. We don’t write down your identity – we don’t ask… Whether you are rich or not, with COVID, everywhere business is down. Sometimes unexpected people are calling – we’re happy to meet with these people.”
Wordofa said people do not need to be ashamed to ask for help because so much of this happened because of COVID – people have lost their jobs or lost business.
“This helps to cover some stuff,” he said “Today we made deliveries around Milverton and Atwood. They are local and anybody local, it doesn’t matter who they are, if you are in need, we will help.”
Colin Burrowes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Listowel Banner