STRATFORD – Sitting in the Multicultural Association of Perth-Huron office in the Falstaff Family Centre, City of Stratford councillor elect Gezaghn Wordofa said he is looking forward to beginning his council work for the city.
“It’s been a long road, a very long road,” he said.
Wordofa is not referring to his campaign, but the numerous years he has dedicated to volunteer work for Stratford, Huron and Perth Counties and further afield.
“I demonstrated I love what I am doing,” he said. “This is one of the best cities, the best country. It counts. People count, and they saw my passion.”
For over ten years, he has been the founder and president of the Multicultural Association. He feels that work led directly to his opportunity to serve on council, but he noted that he won the tenth seat, narrowly edging out candidate Dave Gaffney by 21 votes, so he said it is an incentive to work hard to prove his worth.
Throughout the campaign and in the days since he was elected, he said that some of the significant concerns Stratford residents have raised are the need for a walk-in clinic, homelessness and trouble finding a family doctor. He is ready to fight for these basic needs of the community.
Wordofa acknowledged the historical significance of this election. Not only is it the first time the City of Stratford has elected a Person of Colour, but he is not alone. Councillor Harj Nijjar also won a seat at the table.
Before getting sworn in, he had been setting goals and speaking with other council members about making progress on the issues he believes are urgent. Homelessness in Stratford and the surrounding area is a priority.
“Sometimes the motels (in Stratford) overfill,” he said. “You know how much money we are paying? It’s costly, and that is a lot of tax money.”
He noted that it is tough for women to find shelter because, with good reason, those fleeing domestic violence are prioritized.
“These people are human,” said Wordofa. “These people are taxpayers, and these people are also Canadians who were born here. Sometimes the motels are not enough with people coming from St. Marys, Listowel, Milverton … These are severe issues.”
He spoke of his background and how he never had any plan to come to Stratford.
“When you were working with big organizations, we would travel to New York, Geneva, Moscow – because I used to work with the United Nations,” said Wordofa.
However, his wife was born and raised in Stratford.
“That is my connection,” he said.
Since arriving in Stratford, Wordofa has been a fixture, volunteering his time throughout the city and surrounding area. He can be seen gathering people to clean parks, clear snow for retirement homes and bus stops, or deliver masks during the pandemic to local people who need more help.
Although he ran unsuccessful campaigns in the past, he said it was a very organic process this year.
“I didn’t do door-to-door (campaigning),” he said. “I was so busy, and I continued to do volunteer work. Some people asked me when I would go door-to-door, but many people are in need.”
Even on election day, he was out helping people and only arrived at the polls near the end of the day.
“I only cast my vote at 7:45 when voting was almost finished,” said Wordofa.
There has been an uptick in damage to campaign signs, and he noted his disgust with this. Video has been shared on social media of efforts he organized to fix and replace damaged signs for all candidates.
“We bought the wood. You must special order it.”
In his way, through his commitment to community and volunteer work, Wordofa’s message was still arriving door-to-door in the pages of local newspapers, through radio, television, and other media devices.
“People could see me, so I took a risk,” he said. “As an afro-Canadian, I am a voice of diversity, First Nations, 2SLGBTQIA+, and I’m a voice for other people. I support all ages and transgender people. I believe in them, and I love to support them. I am a voice for all these people. I am so happy I got voted in. We can work together. I will show them the value and importance of diversity.”
“I will continue to work with the community with transparency, openness, and discussion. I will listen to the community and what they are thinking. They have so many things. So many people don’t understand what is going on. People don’t understand and are fed up. We must be accountable. You must be transparent when you are working in public. That’s why I am honest, and I’ve tried to do my best, and I’ll try to continue to work hard.”
He is looking forward to working with the new mayor and council.
“I am very excited to have this chance,” said Wordofa. “I was born in Ethiopia. I went to school in Russia for college. I had no right to vote. You had to vote for one person … in some countries, there is no democracy … that is why you have to work very clearly and be accountable. Even in my home country and village, they heard about (my victory) and are happy because I was elected and I’m Ethiopian. I’m African. I am African Canadian. I believe in my heritage.”
On the morning Woodstein Media was conducting this interview, CKNX News referenced a survey on discrimination conducted in London. Huron and Perth Counties found discrimination in both counties was 20 percent higher than in London. Wordofa shared his feeling about the results of the survey.
“When you hear about that because I am living here, and my family is growing here, it hits me very hard,” he said. “I am also one of the types of (people being discriminated against.) It includes me. We try to educate. We try to teach by encouraging positivity so then they can learn. It is not acceptable. Nobody should accept this. We try to make sure we’re equitable to people. For me, it’s tough, and sometimes, when I see this happening to others, it could happen to me. We try for the best, and we try to make sure all communities are safe. We have to make sure everybody is aware, and we have to fight discrimination. We must fight racism. Every day, people with different (sexual) orientations are harassed, and we must be aware of how to help and support.”
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