The death of a young person – whether by intentional violence, sickness or a road mishap – is disturbing.
An increase in gun violence in the city concerns citizens, including Ontario’s Health Promotion & Sports Minister Margarett Best, who is yet to fully overcome the loss of a young friend who died in a horrific vehicular accident seven years ago.
Bank of Montreal software developer and arts aficionado Aron Haile was tragically killed in a bus accident while on a visit to Eritrea to celebrate the Christmas holidays and his 30th birthday with his parents.
Just days before his birthday, Haile was returning from a trip to Matara – an archaeological site about 130 kilometers southeast of Asmara – when his tour bus plunged off a cliff. Haile and three other tourists were killed and he was buried on his birthday on December 27.
Best, who practiced law before entering politics, met Haile a few years before he passed away.
“The circumstances of his death were quite different to what we are seeing in our city recently,” said Best. “I met Aron when he came to me to close a home he was about to purchase. This young man was bright, ambitious and doing all the right things. He reminded me so much of my two sons. He was my friend and I knew he was going to do great things.”
To perpetuate his memory, siblings Mesfun, Lia and Helen established the Aroni awards in 2005 to recognize young people in the community whose work mirror that of their deceased brother.
Best has attended every event, including last Saturday night awards show in downtown Toronto.
“The Aroni awards have clashed with other events that I have been invited to, but this takes precedence and will always do so,” said Best. “It means that much to me.”
Haile came to Canada with his parents in 1987 and graduated from David and Mary Thomson Collegiate and the University of Toronto with a degree in computer programming. He and Mesfun started a computer business and a small web-development company and he was a mentor to young people, always urging them to pursue their dreams.
“His work with youths is something that really impressed me,” said Haile’s uncle, Dessai Ghermasion. “He always wanted to help everybody, but he was very interested in helping young people uplift themselves. That boy was caring and he was an angel.”
Youth advocate and spoken word artist Sharon Wickham never met Haile. She’s however impressed by his impressive body of work in a short lifetime and extremely grateful to be honoured with an award in his name.
“This Aroni award will always remind me of the long and winding road I have travelled,” said Wickham, a single mother of three children. “I became a mother at a very young age and at times I was depressed. There were occasions when I asked myself why I brought children into this world with different fathers who are not around.”
These days, Wickham dedicates a lot of her time to the “Girls of Destiny” youth camp, encouraging young girls not to make the mistakes she made.
“I am so happy for Sharon,” said camp director Pat Chacha who nominated Wickham for the award. “She’s very active in the community and really trying to make a difference in young people’s lives.”
Wickham, whose children ages range from 14-22, credits Chacha with turning her life around.
“It’s good to have a mentor like Pat who believed in me,” she said. “She saw potential in me that I could not see.”
Belinda Barrocks is always behind the camera taking pictures at community events. Last Saturday, it was the mother of two’s turn to be photographed and she didn’t mind.
Born in war-torn Uganda, she spent a decade in Bahrain with her Ugandan father and Indian-born mother before coming to Canada 17 years ago.
“Bahrain opened my eyes to the diversity that is present in this city,” said the 30-year-old photographer and digital artist. “Receiving this award will certainly inspire me to capture more of the diversity here through my lens and do more with my life.”
Ajax resident Aliyana Reshamawalla was born two years after Haile died. She enjoys giving back even though she has endured many challenges in her five years.
At five months old, she was diagnosed with sleep apnea where she stopped breathing while sleeping. A few months later, Hospital for Sick Children doctors discovered Reshamawalla was suffering from autoimmune neutropenia, a blood disease which shut down her immune system. In February 2008, the young girl was in a car accident where she injured her hip and suffered internal bleeding. Her hip didn’t heal and she caught flesh-eating disease. And 33 months ago, she was diagnosed with a disease in which her veins and lymphatic system joined together.
Reshamawalla was the recipient of many gifts and toys while a patient at the Hospital for Sick Children for much of her life.
Now, the young girl is giving back.
She organized a shoe drive for Haiti earthquake and Pakistan flood victims and charity events for Ronald McDonald House and women shelters.
“For what Aliyana has gone through, she deserves an award and I am glad it’s an Aroni,” said Mesfun Haile.
Other Aroni award winners were Wojciech Gryc, the founder of the Five Minutes to Midnight organization that promotes human rights for youth in Africa and other developing countries and David “Soulfingaz” Williams who was posthumously honoured.
The self-taught producer, songwriter and musician died in his sleep last January.
Aroni bursaries were presented to Selam Abraha, Akeem Barnes and Tariku Kebede.
An honour student, Abraha plans to pursue nursing when she enters university next year while Barnes is a Rexdale youth worker. Kedebe, who lived in a refugee camp in Kenya before coming alone to Canada, is pursuing engineering studies at the University of Waterloo.
CBC News Toronto’s Dwight Drummond and Anne-Marie Mediwake co-hosted the awards show.