NORTH PERTH – Members of the Multicultural Association of Perth-Huron (MAPH) dropped by Trinity United Church in Listowel on May 7 to say thanks for the “We Value Diversity” signs they have been seeing on lawns when they are out helping people.
“The people from the (Trinity United) Church group, we are looking for them to give hugs – because of COVID we can’t hug – but we want to say thank-you to the church members,” said MAPH Founder Gezahgn Wordofa. “It’s very positive and (we’re) very interested in how our voice is being listened to by the community.”
He said seeing the signs appearing is empowering and makes newcomers feel that their voices have value.
“We are not ashamed as newcomers, People of Colour or Indigenous people,” he said. “Church groups and the community stand with us. We are very blessed.”
When he is out doing support work in communities across Huron, Perth and Wellington counties, Wordofa is encountering more welcoming attitudes now.
“I’ve seen a lot of change,” he said.
He has been approached by many citizens who have apologized for Perth County council’s rejection of a diversity, inclusion and anti-racism committee in fall 2020.
“The community has said sorry,” he said. “This is very good. Now we are very happy.”
Wordofa said this does not mean the work of the MAPH is done but he said these signs are a positive step. He said the MAPH is very busy giving rides for vaccines, giving telephones and other support to homeless people and people in need. He emphasized that people with disabilities need to be part of the inclusion.
“A lot of people need help,” he said. “Some people don’t feel supported.”
Wordofa said that anyone who feels they need support can call the MAPH helpline at 1-888-910-1583.
MAPH volunteer Hira Dhariwal said he is happy to see the “We Value Diversity” signs because they help show “we are the same – we have the same blood.”
He said when the MAPH sets out to help people it does not matter whether people are Black or white.
“It’s the same thing – multicultural,” said Dhariwal. “We want to make people happy in this hard time because the COVID time is very hard but we need to stay positive, stay blessed and stay together. Anyone who needs a ride for a vaccine or COVID test, we can help 24 hours.”
According to Wordofa, another important role the signs have been playing for newcomers is that when people are walking around, they have photographed them and shared them with friends.
“It’s more welcoming,” he said. “Now elected council they have to see this – we are not against them. We are very happy. We want to be included… If you are not included and not supported you are not integrated and you will leave this area if you feel you are nothing.”
MAPH Area Manager Christian Shingiro said he loves that he is seeing the signs but he’d love to see them more often, in more places.
“Seeing they have popped up is a very good and very encouraging thing because it shows that society is moving in a positive direction and it’s going to help our organizations be more entrenched in the community and the community more active,” he said. “So that’s why I think it’s a very good thing to see that small show of support and I’d love to see that grow – every church, every community organization, every community centre. I would love to see it in different schools. I’d love to see it downtown more but where it has popped up is a good thing.”
Shingiro said he feels there has been a positive change in people’s attitudes and he feels that people might be getting used to diversity in the region.
“We all have the same social needs and it’s good that people are responding to that in a good way because the key to changing a society is to have that ground support from the regular people,” he said.
Trinity United Church member Sandy Earl said she is quite happy with the results of the sign campaign.
“We don’t have many left actually,” she said. “So, if anyone wants one they need to email me very soon. We’re down to less than 15 signs which is great because we ordered 200.”
Earl said they while they can be found on lawns within North Perth, they were designed without specifying a location so they have reached other communities in southwestern Ontario.
“We’ve had them go to London, Kitchener, New Hamburg, Goderich – so they have gone further than just North Perth which is great because it is what we intended,” she said.
The signs were a small fundraiser for future related projects.
“Obviously when restrictions and gathering limits allow we have some ideas about some guest speakers and things we were going to bring into the church but there is the possibility we could open it up for a whole community event,” said Earl.
When she spoke to the Listowel Banner on May 10, Earl was in the middle of filling an order for signs from some people in Exeter, and a church in Brantford had just sent an email requesting about five signs.
“My stock is definitely depleting but that is great,” she said.
She encouraged people who still want to order signs to email her at firstname.lastname@example.org and she asked people to mention “lawn sign” in the subject line of the email.
Colin Burrowes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Listowel Banner