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The new face of health promotion

Gebre Berlihun is WCHC’s new health promoter, taking over after the retirement of Joy Finney. Originally from Ethiopia, he was at the Kitchener Downtown Community Health Centre for 20 years.

There’s a new face around the Woolwich Community Health Centre.

Gebre Berlihun has taken on the role of public health promoter after the retirement of 25-year employee Joy Finney in October.

Berlihun brings a wealth of experience to the job himself, having previously served as a health planner for the Kitchener Downtown Community Health Centre for the past 20 years. So what brings him to the rural part of the region?

“Sometimes you need a change. I like the place I worked at, but I was looking to slow down … so I found this rural community,” said Berlihun, noting that the switch has indeed given him the change he was looking for.

“The focus is now more on the relationship than on the task … building relationships, building rapport, getting to know people … it’s a different environment, a different setting for sure.”

The transition has been relatively smooth, he added, having plenty of WCHC staff to give direction when needed. But he is still adapting to the new environment. The population he deals here in Woolwich is brand-new to him, and among the biggest changes in the new role.

“In terms of health issues and promotion issues, there are very similar topics and similar ideas,” said Berlihun. “But in terms of population … I might see a number of seniors around here. Versus in downtown core you deal more with homeless and imbalance issues.”

Berlihun makes sure to stay heavily involved in the community – he also teaches a masters of social work program part-time at WLU. He also served as president of the church board at the Debre-Sina Kidane Mihret Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahado Church, located on Kramp Road in Breslau.

“I am also involved with community organizing with different groups, whether that’s with seniors, multicultural groups, I’ve been involved with the community outside my work,” said Berlihun.

He grew up in Ethiopia, Africa, and came to Canada in 1999 to study at Laurier. He noted many surprising similarities between the town he grew up in and the catchment area that he now serves.

“Last week I was meeting one of the Low-German community leaders in their house, and I ended up having a conversation for two-and-a-half hours,” said Gebre.

“It is like more storytelling – I was telling my story, they were telling me about the Old Order Mennonites. There are many similarities in terms of fears, in terms of religion, also in terms of communities coming together during good times, bad times, all those kind of things we have been discussing. I feel I’m going back to Ethiopia in that sense.”

Currently, he stays busy organizing health education series for the WCHC. An upcoming one is entitled “Loneliness: The Impact on Health and Ways to Reach Out and Connect.” Guest speaker John Lord will address the impact of loneliness on health and ways to combat it and reach out to improve quality of life. The session is completely free and takes place in late-February.

Other events in the series include Understanding Seniors Consumers Protection, Rights and Scam, Rethinking Aging, Detoxification for General Health,  Advance Care Planning and the Law, Seasonal Affective Disorder, Hearing Aid Information Session, among others.

Berlihun said that he has been encouraged with the turnout with events thus far.

“My first environment was with a grief event,” said Berlihun. “When I saw more than 20, up to 100 people at the event, I was surprised. That means the motivation and the interest to come as a community looks like … a bit different than the cities.

“There is a sense of community that is easy to bring people together.”

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