Soon after coming to Halifax in 1988 Elfinesh Zewde and her husband ran into a fellow Ethiopian. She saw it as a good sign. “We were so happy. He took us to see another Ethiopian family. God is taking care of us, I thought.” Elfinesh, now Senior Financial Reporting Accountant at the Workers’ Compensation Board of Nova Scotia (WCB), found the early days challenging. “Oh my goodness I missed my family. You see new faces, new weather; it was so windy, everything was new. You feel foreign.” She did find people kind. “It’s a welcoming city.”
Elfinesh had lived in Kenya for two years studying computer programming and English. There she met her husband who had come from India to study. He was offered a Dalhousie scholarship through World University Services of Canada (WUSC) and Windle Trust, so they moved here. A Windle sponsorship allowed Elfinesh to take a one-year diploma course at the Halifax Business Academy. “I arrived one day and went to school the next. They welcomed me.” During March Break she worked at the front desk of Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia – “My first job in Canada!” After graduation she found a temporary position with the city and then an insurance company. “I jumped into anything as I wanted experience.”
Just jump in, you never know what will happen.
Once Elfinesh had a full-time job she sponsored her mother and several siblings. One brother remains in Nova Scotia while her mother, five brothers and two sisters work in Calgary. “They tell us to come there but I’m happy here. I can raise my kids without exposing them to big city problems.” She knows she could earn more there but says, “I love my job at WCB; it’s the best place to work; my income is good enough.” Her children are now 22, 20 and 14. Bruke studies biology and psychology at Saint Mary’s and Henoch is doing computer science and mathematics at Waterloo. Sarah is in grade eight and an avid soccer player.
Elfinesh left her insurance position to study at Saint Mary’s full time, graduating with a business degree in accounting and finance. She also did her Certified General Accountant (CGA), professional designation, graduating in 2010 with the honour of being chosen valedictorian. She worked for the Black Business Initiative, Air Canada and Clearwater before joining WCB. “I took a risk to go to school and it worked well.” Her husband graduated with his Master’s in mechanical engineering at Dalhousie, but felt a calling to radio ministry.
Elfinesh was treasurer and chair of the Ethiopian Association of Nova Scotia and treasurer of the African Diaspora Association of the Maritimes. She also mentors university students. “It’s not like you’re living for yourself. We have to share our abilities and skills with other people.” Elfinesh has helped to sponsor other immigrants – all now successful citizens. “Doing something good for others who are in need is something that I inherited from my parents.”
She returned to Ethiopia with her children in 2011. “They loved it.” Her son returned for a month in 2014 as a hospital volunteer. “He had a wonderful experience. But when I go on vacation I miss Halifax.” Elfinesh encourages immigrants to be bold. “Think out of the box, see any opportunities. Just jump in, you never know what will happen.”