Dr. Gezahegn Wordofa was born in Dukem in a small community known as Oda Nebe. He travelled to Russia with a scholarship to pursue post-secondary studies. Educated in law, world history, human rights, international relations, and diplomacy, Gezahegn promptly put his knowledge into practice by securing employment with a charitable organization partnered with The United Nations (UN) Refugee Agency, which managed the care and support of asylum seekers in Russia.
Gezahegn is a former UN Goodwill Ambassador for world peace and his journey of passionate commitment to provide viable solutions to the challenges faced by newcomers in Canada began shortly after graduation, and continues vibrantly to the present day. Selflessness is one of his many indispensable qualities which he carried to Canada in 2011.
Since relocating to Canada and settling in Stratford, Gezahegn has volunteered devotedly at churches and local non-profit agencies, becoming a valued member of his community. Embracing the connections and relationships he built through his active involvement in the community, Gezahegn has remain an active humanitarian in his residence, Canada.
After settling in Canada, Gezahegn became aware of domestic migrant workers and families travelling to Huron and Perth counties in search of a better life. Extremely sympathetic to the plight of refugees worldwide and the obstacles any newcomer can face when they are attempting to settle in a new country or region, the urgency for a local agency to oversee the smooth integration of newcomers to the area resonated with Gezahegn’s energetic visionary drive.
Huron-Perth counties are home to many different cultures comprising of individuals and families who have lived in these areas for a long time without recognition, sufficient representation, and have lacked the resources to integrate effectively into their local communities because of language barriers, fears associated with assimilation, loss of a sense of belonging, and limited knowledge of services available to newcomers.
Before the birth of the Multicultural Association Perth-Huron in October of 2013, which Gezahegn founded, he met with newcomers and their families in their homes and in coffee shops to offer support and understand their experiences. Recognizing that many of them were having difficulty assimilating well into their new communities, he put forth his best efforts to get them as much assistance as he could by accompanying them to local agencies where he volunteered including The Salvation Army, Stratford House of Blessing and Red Cross. He tapped into other community resources such as community meal programs and charities, assisting individuals and families network more effectively with local community members and build lasting relationships like himself.
The Stratford community quickly became attentive to Gezahegn’s pioneering leadership as well as the influx of culture to the area as a result of the spill-over effect from larger cities nearby and the emergent refugee crisis worldwide. On October 5, 2013, Dr. Gezahgn Wordofa’s dream of founding and directing a local agency responsible for the care and support of newcomers from domestic and international avenues, became a reality. The Multicultural Association of Perth-Huron (MAPH) is an official Stratford landmark, and has since graduated from the United Way to become its own non-profit organization, tackling more geographical areas including Bruce County and parts of Oxford County.
The association’s primary objectives are:
1. Help newcomers to the Perth, Huron, Bruce, and Oxford counties adjust to their new life.
2. Help and continue to support migrants and refugees access community networks, government
resources, education programs, housing, transportation, and financial and employment
3. Bring new and old residents together through the promotion of events and activities to inform
the general public of the thriving multiculturalism and diverse population in the area.
4. Continue to promote and cultivate a sense of multiculturalism within the operating boundaries,
advocating for the equal treatment and inclusion of all citizens.
5. Assist newcomers adapt to the Perth Wellington, Huron, Bruce Grey and Oxford Middlesex
The success of the MAPH continues to rely heavily on the values of its founder and his unwavering
determination to lead by example. When a devastating tornado hit the town of Goderich in August of 2011, only months after moving to Canada, Gezahegn immediately travelled to the town to work with the Red Cross and other volunteer organizations to lend his support. In 2012, with the guidance and direction of Wordofa, the Seaforth Public School held a penny drive selling water droplet ornaments at the Seaforth Craft Show to raise awareness along with money for a well in Ethiopia.
Keeping with the Christmas spirit of charity and compassion, the MAPH proudly welcomed Stratford’s first Syrian refugee family in December 2015, as they were the guests of honor at the annual Christmas dinner hosted by the MAPH. In March of 2016, Gezahegn organized and held multiple events in the Huron-Perth counties to uphold and celebrate the achievements of women all over the world in honour of International Women’s Day.
Gezahegn has repeatedly won the respect and admiration of his peers as he has been nominated and awarded for his excellence as a role model in the community. His unflustered and enthusiastic
performance, deeply rooted in his humanitarian work abroad, has earned him the Newcomer Champion Award and the Governor General’s Caring Canadian Award. He is one of RBC’s 2015 Top 25 Canadian Immigrants, and in one publication he is described as being a “community trailblazer,” for his conscientious active citizenship and engagement.
The scale of Gezahgn’s achievements is paramount, and continues to flourish. When the MAPH reaches out and embraces the newcomer, they in turn express their gratitude by striving to become exemplary community members like Gezahegn by offering their time to volunteer at the MAPH and other local agencies.
The MAPH operates on relationships which reflect the reciprocal nature of community service, and since its inception in 2013, the MAPH has helped over 2,000 families and 3,000 individuals.
Geza immigrated twice in his lifetime, and understands well what it feels like to be an immigrant in a new country. It hasn’t always been an easy time for the persevering humanitarian, who himself had to adjust to the small-town culture of Stratford when he first arrived. Moving to a smaller city like Stratford is worlds apart from moving to a large metropolis like Toronto, and Geza experienced a fair amount of difficulty and opposition in his early years in Stratford.
It wasn’t always easy trying to get his message across, convincing local community members about the pressing issues surrounding immigration and cultural diversity, and persuading the heritage-strong community of Stratford to adopt his values with an open mind. However, Geza endured, and never lost sight of the bigger picture at hand, and all of his hard work is now evident in the continuing success of the MAPH.
One of MAPH’s clients Moses from the Kenyan refugee camp Kakuma, who settled in the area with his eight children recalls his experience with Geza as “the most welcoming and supportive experience he has encountered since he arrived in Canada.” Moses is now employed at a local factory, studying English as a second language at a local institute, and is in the process of upgrading his education from Uganda to enroll at the University of Waterloo to obtain a degree in peace and conflict resolution. The MAPH has helped him buy a house, a car, and has helped two of his children attend universities in the surrounding areas.
Awards and Honours received:
2012 – Newcomer Champion Award: Community Leader (Province of Ontario)
2012 – Elizabeth II 50th Anniversary Award Volunteer Award
2014 – Caring Canadian Award (Governor General of Canada)
2015 – RBC Top 25 Canadian Immigrant (Canadian Immigrant Magazine)
2015 – International Peace Ambassador (World Diplomatic Association)
2015 – Volunteer Award – 5 year service (Province of Ontario)
2016 – Bikila Award – Community Service Excellence (Ethiopian Expat Community in Canada)
2017 – Sovereign Medal for Volunteers (Governor General of Canada)
2018 – Huron Chamber of Commerce – Award of Excellence
2020 – Listowel North Perth Chamber of Commerce – Excellence in Non-profit Newcomer Award
2020 – Ethiopian Community Award – Oda Neba School & Library project
Gezahegn is very pleased on the occasion of “The Great Ethiopian Homecoming” as it presents a great opportunity to extend his support for communities that have been adversely affected by the ongoing conflict in the northern regions of Ethiopia. The generous humanitarian had previously donated TVs, computers and other equipment to his hometown residents. Gezahegn is now in the process of donating wheelchairs for wounded soldiers in the conflict along with two ambulances. He says that such homecoming calls should be carried out in a sustainable manner so that Ethiopia can fully harness the potentials of its diaspora community. Through the years, Gezahegn showed his commitment to ensure favorable environments for immigrants and disadvantaged communities through humble and generous servitude which continues to shine for generation to come.