Recent years have seen a lot of change at the Southern Alberta Ethnic Association (SAEA).After almost 18 years as a financial executive with British Airways, Richard Odei-Wontumiwas appointed as the Executive Director on August 1, 2018.
Richard was born and raised in Ghana and educated in the United Kingdom. In Ghanaian culture, people’s first names reflect the day of the week one is born. Richard is a Friday-born, Kofi.
Kofi-Richard landed in the Greater Toronto Area in 2012. There, he reconnected with a childhood friend who was working at the University of Lethbridge. He said, “You should come to Lethbridge. It is a good place to raise children. Children can walk to good schools and you can drive to anywhere in 15 minutes.”
Richard went back to Ghana, got government permission to relocate, and arrived with his family in Lethbridge in December. That was a cold winter. Environment Canada recorded lows of minus 28 degrees Celsius. Richard’sthree children were 11, 13 and 14 years of age at the time. They had left their life of 25-degreeCelsius lows to not just a temperature shock but a culture shock. This is part of what makes his new role as a community leader so fitting.
“My goal is to put the SAEA building on the map of Lethbridge for everyone. Even little kids. This is a community building,” says Richard. Just before sitting down to speak with Lethbridge Living, Richard met a man who noticed the full parking lot and flow of people entering the building to enjoy the international lunch being served. This young man saw Richard in his office and wandered over to ask, “What is this place?”
“This is the Southern Alberta Ethnic Association. It’s the City’s Multicultural Centre,” said Richard.“Really?! A multicultural centre?” the young man asked. “I was born in Iran. I’m going to tell all my friends to come here too!”
Richard reflected on the importance of providing a gathering place for all citizens, particularly newcomers. “Some people can be lonely”, Richard says. “They need a place to meet others. When I came to Lethbridge I had no family here. I didn’t know how to get around by bus or even get a health card. I didn’t know that the police are here to help me if my family needs [their] help.”
In February 2018, the SAEAwill begin a new community program called Newcomers. “This new program will help people get information,” says Richard. “It will help people who are new to the community feel comfortable.”
February is also Black History Month and the SAEA will be hosting a full week of special events to celebrate the occasion. “Canada is the only place in the world that includes the importance of diversity as a key part of their Charter of Rights. Lethbridge is a City that makes inclusivity a main goal,” says Richard. He goes on to say, “Black History Month is very, very important. We will be honoring and remembering black people and what they have contributed to our society in the past, today and in the future.”
Newcomers will be added to a roster of many events that bring people together.TheSAEA also presents the popular seminar Cultural Bridges. “This program bridges the gap between different cultures,” says Richard. “With Cultural Bridges we can find commonalities. When we learn about different cultures we understand.”
The cultural nights are hosted by SAEA member ethnic associations and held at the multicultural centre. “We have a dancefloor and a stage for dance and industrial kitchen and dining hall for big dinners. We have a parking lot for guests,” he says. “In this building, we can celebrate everyone.” Ticket holders can dine-in or get a dinner to go.Thanks to Richard Odei-Wontumi, I now have a greater appreciation of being Sunday-born. This cultural knowledge is just one of the many things a person can take away from the Multicultural Centre right here in Lethbridge at the corner of 6th Avenue and 5th Street South.