By RON FANFAIR
Becoming a Young Diplomats of Canada member seven years ago was a major springboard for Nishan Zewge-Abubaker.
Through hands-on training programs and key partnerships that provide exclusive access to high-level geopolitical events and summits, youths develop diplomatic leadership and international advocacy experience.
Zewge-Abubaker joined the youth-led organization while enrolled in Monarch Park Collegiate Institute.
“Being associated with Young Diplomats showed me there are ways to find interests and pursue them,” she said.
A graduate of McMaster University where she was the student union diversity services director and MacAfricans club president, Zewge-Abubaker is pursuing a Master’s in public health while serving as a neighbourhood action evaluation research assistant at the University of Toronto.
“My interest is in advocating for health equity for racialized people and I intend to do that through community-based interventions,” she said.
Zewge-Abubaker was presented with a scholarship at the third annual Bikila Awards recently.
She dedicated the academic award to her mother, Amelework Zewge-Teffera, who is a U of T graduate.
“As a new immigrant in Canada, she worked to support her family back home while seeking higher education,” said Zewge-Abubaker who was a Hamilton YWCA Woman of Distinction nominee this year. “She fought through complexities and challenges so that I could succeed.”
Scholarships were also presented to Tedros Kassa and University of Ottawa biomedical science student, Yohannes Melkie.
Professional Excellence Awards were doled out to Brantford General Hospital physician, Dr. Fikre Germa; Dr. Girma Bitsuamlak who is a Canada Research Chair in Wind Engineering and an associate professor in the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering at the University of Western Ontario and Washington-based artist/poet, Alemtsehay Wedajo who received professional training in Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union and Germany and founded the Tayitu Cultural Centre.
“I have received several awards, but being the recipient of something from my Ethiopian community is quite pleasurable,” said Wedajo, the mother of two children. “It’s a big achievement for me.”
An American resident since 1991, Wedajo said she knew she wanted to pursue an arts career when she was 13.
“Nobody in my family was in that field and they were all in opposition to me getting into it,” she said. “I, however, stayed the course, because that is my passion and here I am over 40 years later still doing what I like and enjoying it.”
The first female director of the Ethiopian National Theatre, Wedajo has performed several times in Toronto.
“This is one of my favourite places because there is a large Ethiopian community here, including family and friends,” she said.
Dr. Tegest Hailu, a practicing physician and faculty member at the University of California at San Francisco and Stratford-based Dr. Gezahgn Wordofa were the recipients of Community Service Excellence Awards.
The first Black person to open a soup kitchen in Russia where he lived for 15 years, Dr. Wordofa – a former United Nations peace ambassador – humbly accepted the award.
“I feel very blessed,” he said. “Today is my day and I am going to enjoy it with my family.”
The holder of a doctorate in law and international relations from the University of Moscow, Wordofa met his wife – Canadian Nicole Lauwaert is an information technology engineer – who was employed with a Russian firm. They have a son.
Since arriving in southwest Ontario five years ago, he co-founded the Multicultural Association of Perth-Huron and has been honoured with the province’s newcomer Champion Award, the Governor-General’s Caring Canadian Award and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.
Last year, Wordofa made the Top 25 Canadian Immigrant List.
The Pankhurst Family – a household name in Ethiopia – was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
British-born Sylvia Pankhurst, who died in 1960 in Addis Ababa four years after taking up residence there and was the beneficiary of a state funeral and an “honorary Ethiopian” title conferred by then Emperor Haile Selassie, was a staunch anti-fascist activist and supporter of a union between Ethiopia and the former Italian Somaliland.
Her son, Richard Pankhurst and his wife Rita – they are both 89 years old – have been Ethiopian residents for five decades.
Dr. Alua Pankhurst, the octogenarian’s son, travelled from the landlocked African country to receive the award on behalf of his family.
“Ethiopia is an amazing place with many interests,” he said. “I am an anthropologist and my dad is a historian. I grew up there and it’s home for me.”
Award-winning British playwright/poet and University of Manchester chancellor, Lemn Sissay, was the event’s keynote speaker.
“I was born an artist,” he told Share. “I knew I was a poet very early in my life. I don’t know where that came from. But it came. It’s who I am.”
Adopted after his Ethiopian-born mother was unable to care for him, Sissay spent 11 years in foster care with a White British family. Rejected by his foster parents soon after turning 11, he lived in various children’s homes in Lancashire for six years.
When he was 21, Sissay – after a three-year search – found his biological mother working for the United Nations in Gambia. His father, who was an Ethiopian Airlines pilot, died in a plane crash in 1973.
In October 2011, he came to Canada for the first time to deliver the Wendy Michener lecture at York University.
The awards memorialize the legacy of the late Abebe Bikila, who was the first Black African athlete to capture an Olympic medal. Running barefoot in Rome, he won the marathon in a record time of 2:15:16.2.
Successfully defending his title four years later in Tokyo, Bikila was denied the hat-trick at the 1968 Mexico City Games when a right knee injury forced him to quit after 17 kilometres. His countryman, Mamo Wolde, won the gold medal.