Ethiopian immigrant Aklilu Afowerk came to Canada on April 6, 1989, which is also his birthday.
It took him 21 days to run from Ethiopia to Sudan. After three years in Sudan, he was sponsored to come to Canada.
Grateful and appreciative, the member of Beit Tikvah Congregation has been performing good deeds in his adopted country ever since.
“This country is a very nice country. I came alone, I now have a wife, a daughter and a house and good neighbours. How am I going to pay Canada back? By doing what I can to help people,” he told the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin.
In a ceremony at Rideau Hall, April 14, Governor General David Johnston presented Afowerk, 51, with the Governor General’s Caring Canadian Award in recognition of all that he has done and continues to do to help people.
“Aklilu Afowerk has been volunteering in the Ottawa community for over 20 years, looking after the well-being of the elderly and infirm. For example, he regularly drives a gentleman with a heart condition to visit his wife in a chronic care facility, and, at his synagogue, he helps a congregant with ALS participate in the service,” reads his Caring Canadian Award citation.
“I do small, small, things,” Afowerk said modestly. “I visit most of the time at the Civic, and sometimes the General Hospital when I know somebody who is in the hospital. When I don’t know someone, I make friends and visit, especially people who have no relatives in town to visit them.”
Afowerk’s daughter, Sarah, is now in her first year at Queen’s University studying psychology.
He doesn’t forget any one, young or old. “I like kids, and go every morning to the synagogue, and I’m the ‘candy man’ on Shabbat. I like that.”
Created in 1995, the Governor General’s Caring Canadian Award recognizes individuals who volunteer their time to help others and, as noted on the Governor General’s website, “to build a smarter and more caring nation. The award also highlights the fine example set by these volunteers, whose compassion and engagement are so much a part of our Canadian character. It allows us to thank them for their contributions and for the positive impact they have had on the lives of others.”
“I know Aki, as he is one of the superintendent staff at our housing complex, Canal 111,” said his friend Sol Shinder via email. “Aki is a very proud observant Jew who is a member of Beit Tikvah Congregation. Aki is universally respected by all 46 families that reside at Canal 111 because of his gentle caring attitude. I think that he brings honour to the Ottawa Jewish community.”
At the reception following the Rideau Hall ceremony, the Governor General arranged to have kosher food available for Afowerk and his guests. Later that day, the residents of Canal 111 also held a reception in recognition of his receiving the award.