Importance of getting involved
The importance of being involved in the community was reinforced in Wolde-Giorgis by her parents when she was young. “My dad volunteered for different organizations like local Eritrean community associations and African groups as well Southern Alberta Heritage Language Association,” says Wolde-Giorgis, who often tagged along, volunteering her own time at various events and activities with her dad. Her parents’ involvement with various non-profit and community organizations opened Wolde-Giorgis’ eyes to the importance of getting involved.
“It showed me a way to celebrate our culture while learning more about my own and others,” she says, also crediting her early volunteering with strengthening her leadership skills and providing opportunities to connect with others.
“I wouldn’t be so involved in different volunteer opportunities now or as I grew up if it weren’t for those times I tagged along. Whether it was making posters, painting banners or organizing/planning events, I learned and experienced more by being part of it, rather than only attending such events,” she says.
Becoming involved in her new home country became truly important to Wolde-Giorgis. “I wanted to belong to something,” she explains, adding that the community activities she participated in forged a sense of connection to her new country, something she works to address among other newcomers in her position today with the Federation of Calgary Communities, which provides programs, support and services to more than 200 member not-for-profit organizations that improve neighbourhood life in Calgary.
“We know from social research that lacking social connections is as damaging to your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day,” she says. Wolde-Giorgis recognizes that newcomers often experience higher levels of stress and isolation when they arrive in Canada and says that becoming involved with local community organizations can provide a sense of belonging that they lack when first immigrating.
And who knows … it might even lead to a career, as it did for Wolde-Giorgis. “I didn’t intentionally start volunteering to build a career but because I saw something I wanted to be part of and help with. But my experiences ended up doing just that,” she says.