Two ambitious young men cut down in the prime of their lives were fondly remembered last Saturday night at the ninth annual Aroni Awards celebration.
Last September, community health worker and builder, Nahom Berhane, was stabbed to death while walking with friends on Danforth Ave. near Greenwood Ave. A 23-year-old man was arrested and charged with second-degree murder.
The father of two teenage girls and University of Windsor graduate who became the president of the Eritrean Students Association was posthumously honoured with the Aroni Inspire Award.
Still grieving the loss of their loved one, the award was accepted by his sister, Arsema Berhane, and other family members.
“Nahom was a charismatic leader, amazing artist and loving spirit,” said Arsema, who is a University of Western Ontario health sciences graduate. “He greeted people with a beautiful smile and kind heart. He touched so many lives to the extent that I still receive e-mails and phone calls from people in Canada and abroad telling me about the positive impact he had on them.”
Nahom Berhane’s two daughters, Johara Russell and Sarafina Nahom, spoke glowingly of their father, who aspired to run for political office.
“My dad was very caring, positive and helpful,” said Russell, who is in Grade 10. “I miss him a lot.”
Raised in Eritrea, Sarafina – who is in Grade Eight – came to Canada three years ago to join her dad.
“In a sense, she was robbed of the opportunity to grow with her father,” said Arsema.
Born in Eritrea, Nahom Berhane arrived in Canada the day before his 10th birthday on March 14, 1990 with his mother and three siblings to join the family patriarch, Tsehaie Berhane – a university professor – who fled Asmara in the 1980s because of the civil war.
Five years ago, Berhane graduated from the United Way of Toronto City Leaders program. A few months before his death, he secured a project management certificate from the University of Toronto and was preparing to apply for his Project Management Professional designation.
Aroni Awards lead organizer, Mesfun Haile, saw Berhane the night before he was killed.
“I was stunned when I learned of his death,” said Haile. “Nahom assisted us with this awards event and he worked tirelessly with young people in the community to make them useful and responsible citizens. Losing someone you know is always difficult, but what makes this so hard is the violent manner in which his life was taken. He advocated against the violence among our young people in the community.”
Twelve years ago, Aron Haile – who at the time was employed with the Bank of Montreal as a software developer and was an arts aficionado – returned to his homeland, Eritrea, to celebrate his 30th birthday with his parents. A few days before the landmark event, he was returning from a trip to the Matara archaeological site, which is about 130 kilometres south of Asmara, when the tour bus plunged off a cliff.
Haile and three other tourists were killed and he was buried on his birthday, December 27.
To perpetuate his memory and capture his indomitable spirit, Haile’s older brother, Mesfun and sisters, Lia and Helen, established the Aroni Awards in 2006 to honour achievers and inspire young people.
In addition to Berhane, U of T kinesiology & global health student, Stephanie Wang; former Canadian basketball player, Titus Channer; York University nursing student, Ladan Kite and the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) Faith Alliance were the recipients of awards this year.
Founded in 2003 because of escalating gun violence in the city, the organization mentors young people and provides computer and job skills training.
“This award validates the work we have been doing over the years to engage, encourage and empower our young people,” said the alliance chair and ordained minister, Don Meredith who in December 2010 became Canada’s fourth Black senator.
Bursaries were also presented to Ryerson University social work student, Ashley Nkrumah; C.W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute Grade 12 student, Destiny McIntosh-Smith, who intends to pursue tourism & travel studies at Seneca College and Habibeh Akbari, who is completing high school at Georges Vanier Secondary School.
A quadriplegic, Akbari plans to enroll in the Ontario College of Art & Design to pursue graphic design studies.