Cleaning up to give back in Perth-Huron

Multicultural Association of Perth-Huron volunteers have picked up over 5,500 discarded face masks amongst the litter


  • Feature   Wed, Jul 14th, 2021   Nigel Gordijk
Multicultural Association of Perth-Huron founder Gezahgn Wordofa (at left) has been cleaning up the community with volunteers like Hira Dhariwal. “You know why we do this? Because we make a difference,” said Wordofa.  (Contributed photo)


Multicultural Association of Perth-Huron founder Gezahgn Wordofa (at left) has been cleaning up the community with volunteers like Hira Dhariwal. “You know why we do this? Because we make a difference,” said Wordofa. (Contributed photo)


Between April and July, Gezahgn Wordofa says he and his team of 52 volunteers from the Multicultural Association of Perth-Huron (MAPH) have picked up over 5,500 discarded face masks from county parks and surrounding areas.

“We want to show how very important this is,” said Wordofa, who founded the group and lives in Stratford.

“People may not know how normal it’s become for people to throw garbage in the parking lot or the park. These are supposed to be nice places with children running around in playgrounds.”

All volunteers take public health precautions during their shifts, such as wearing masks, gloves and using garbage pick-up claws. “We are very protected.”

“We’re doing our campaign until September,” Wordofa said, who hopes the initiative spreads throughout the whole of the province and, eventually, all of Canada. The clean-up initiative has attracted media attention across Ontario. “That’s our main goal, to have people doing their own (clean-ups). It’s good to show to other communities what we’re doing.”

Wordofa was born in Ethiopia’s capital city, Addis Ababa. On a recent return visit, he donated masks bought in Canada and toured factories making cotton face masks for schools. However, there aren’t nearly enough available.

“People there are using the same mask for maybe two or three months,” he said. “Over here, we’re wearing one mask a day and then changing. I know we have a lot of masks here. That’s why if you throw away your mask, you have another one at home. In my country, back home, they don’t have many masks, so even if the government says you need a mask, we have no masks.”

Since they began in April, the volunteers have retrieved 5,569 discarded face masks, as well as other items of litter, mostly from rural areas and parks.

Before immigrating to Canada, Wordofa lived in Moscow, where he opened a food bank and soup kitchen.

He is educated in law, world history, human rights, international relations, and diplomacy. However, he says he’s realized people don’t judge him based on his Ph.D. or his doctorate, but on his volunteerism. Wordofa received a Governor General award in 2014, and he was recognized in RBC’s Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Awards in 2015.

He founded MAPH in 2011 to welcome new immigrants and recent arrivals from other provinces to the area. The group helps them to adjust to life in Perth and Huron communities.

In addition to their litter clean-ups during the pandemic, MAPH has been serving the community in other ways, too, including providing rides for people who need to get to their COVID vaccination appointments.

On July 1, MAPH led a community walk-in Stratford to support Indigenous communities in the wake of recent discoveries of hundreds of children’s remains at former residential schools. Wordofa said that in addition to celebrating what it means to be Canadian, it was essential to stand in solidarity with Indigenous people during their time of sorrow.

Locals recognize Wordofa and his clean-up crews working in the community and shout words of gratitude and support. “We get a lot of good feedback from the community. We’re very happy to be doing this and to be appreciated,” he said.

Many of the volunteers are former refugees who are eager to show their love for their adoptive country. “People came from refugee camps where there is war and no respect for human beings,” said Wordofa.

“You know why we do this? Because we make a difference. Is it very important? Yes, it is.”