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There is a saying in Ghana, Mama Cee tells me, that goes something like this: “The parents look after the young when they cut their teeth and the young look after the parents when they lose theirs.”
That latter part has perhaps never been truer, at least here in Hamilton among the city’s prominent Ghanian community, than during the last two years of COVID-19 lockdown and pandemic response.
Mama Cee is actually Comfort Afari. That’s another thing, Mama Cee tells me, about Ghanian culture. They love nicknames and that’s hers — Mama Cee.
Mama Cee and Barb Anie met with me recently to talk about the inspired, creative and thorough work being done, especially around COVID need in the community, by the Ghana Association of Hamilton, of which Mama Cee is president and Barb is a member.
There are, by the association’s estimate, about 5,000 Ghanian-Canadians in the city, and you don’t have to look very far to discern the contribution they’ve made to this city. The late Dora Anie, for instance, Barb’s mother, was a member of the Ghana Association, and the association always supported the work she did, furthering international ties between Hamilton and education in Ghana with her Schools of Dreams and A Taste of Africa events. These continue today, largely under the leadership of Barb who, like her mother, is a member of the Ghana Association.
The spirited Ghanian community here is a key part of the growing African profile in Hamilton’s Black population, in which those of Caribbean origin have traditionally predominated. As Mama Cee points out, there are now in Hamilton sizeable and growing communities of those from countries like the Ivory Coast, Burundi, Nigeria, Somalia and Cameroon.
Comfort Afari, left, and Barb Anie with some of the food vouchers that were given out to members of Hamilton's Ghanian senior community during the pandemic. The vouchers were redeemable at a variety of African grocery stores. The volunteers also helped seniors get to doctors appointments and vaccine clinics.CATHIE COWARD
Especially during unsettled times such as COVID has been, people often fall back on the communities they know best, and so, with that in mind, Mama Cee, Barb and the association put in place a culturally sensitive plan of action.
“Personally, through my professional experience as a social worker, I was aware of the loneliness and isolation that many feel, especially seniors, especially among immigrants,” says Momma Cee, who has a Master’s degree in social work from McMaster and works as a counsellor at Conestoga College.