HURON-PERTH - The main goal of the Multicultural Association of Perth-Huron currently is helping new Canadians navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. Gezahgn Wordofa, founder of the association, said they are helping newcomers by getting them to testing centres, even if that means providing rides to Woodstock or London.
The association was recently given funding from the federal government through the Red Cross which is allowing them to provide transportation to people who need a ride.
“Go get tested… please, if you need us we are here,” said Wordofa. “We have to go get tested. This is very important.”
Some newcomers are afraid to get tested because they think COVID is like HIV and there will be a stigma attached to a positive test.
“It is not like HIV,” said Wordofa. “African fellows, I’m from Ethiopia, worry because friends might know about their sickness… If they are sick they think HIV is the worst but it’s not HIV. Anybody can get sick with COVID.”
For people who want to arrange a ride to get tested the Multicultural Association can be reached at 1-888-910-1583.
The association has also been providing masks and teaching people how to wear them.
“Some people complain because they don’t have enough masks,” said Wordofa. “They go to shops without masks. Wearing a mask is respectful. If I’m wearing a mask, I respect you. Masks are very important. It doesn’t matter if I am sick or not because it shows respect.”
Clinton Springer Sr., a Multicultural Association volunteer, said it’s not only important for newcomers to realize that testing and masking are important, but all Canadians.
“They just had a big march in Woodstock and St. Thomas – anti-maskers, that is something which is not just newcomers,” he said. “I think it’s very important to educate all people about the importance of wearing masks. The association supports wearing masks. We support the government mandate of masks. This association supports the restrictions the government put in and now it’s up to us to educate people on the importance of those things.”
Springer thinks what the association is doing helping newcomers become part of that Canadian fabric is very important.
“They may be newcomers today and Canadians tomorrow,” he said. “It is important we have them in this society. We mend them into this society.”
Part of the work the association is doing is helping people who are coming from a different culture with different ethics adapt to being part of Canada.
“This organization is about climatization, getting people used to Canadian culture, this is the new Canadian way, let us walk you in,” said Springer. “I call it introducing people to the new Canadian way of life.”
He said it’s important for newcomers to understand they have got to adjust to the customs here.
“A lot of people say, well back home I used to do this,” he said. “Our education (for newcomers) is like when you go to work for a new company. The company might be a little different than the last one you worked for so you have to adjust and become part of the new company… I’m very blunt when I tell people they are coming into new customs. Some nice people come in with false hopes, false expectations, false dreams… You have people coming to our association with a certain profession. We have doctors who are driving taxis. They have to understand they have to re-train and re-qualify. That is the process here.”
The Multicultural Association is starting a youth leadership program to help get the youth more engaged.
“The young kids who are coming as newcomers and immigrants who are living here, they are the doctors and lawyers and factory workers – all kinds of workers of tomorrow,” said Springer. “The soil is already here it’s up to us to help till it together.”
The association is also looking into doing some empowerment programs for women. “Sometimes you have people coming from countries where some of the females walk behind and in this country, they have got to learn to walk forward,” said Springer.
They also want to start a program for men to help males to understand their roles in the home, not as dominant figures but as partners.
“Sometimes people come from countries where the man is the dominant force and they have to understand – no, when you come here you are working in partnership with someone,” said Springer. “You aren’t the dominant male and you can’t say I’m from this country, I belong to this country – this woman walks this way. You have to understand the laws.”
They hope to get more support locally to help build a community which will be diverse and vibrant.
“The support we got from the Red Cross and the federal government is good – our association is very appreciative of that but it is temporary and we need more support,” said Springer. “The more support we get the more services we can provide because we are a growing association. We need the support of Listowel. We need the support of Stratford. We need the support of Woodstock. We need all these communities to come together. We’re Canadians. That’s what we do.”
Colin Burrowes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Listowel Banner