Calgary, Alberta

Adanech Sahilie: An Invaluable Community Connector


To close out 2020, we’re bringing you 20 stories from an extraordinary year. Doctors. Teachers. Entrepreneurs. Activists. These are the stories of ordinary Albertans who were changed by circumstances beyond their control—and what they did to make their worlds, and ours, a little better.

Adanech Sahilie’s phone rings constantly.

Sahilie, 35, used to work as a settlement counselor, helping immigrants and refugees negotiate their new lives in Calgary. It’s been four years since she left that job, but she never changed her number. A former social worker from Ethiopia, Sahilie told everyone that if they had trouble, they should call her.

And they do. They call when they need the police or medical help or legal aid. Sahilie tells them, “I’m not 9-1-1. I’m just Adi, please.” (Adi is her nickname.) But she never discourages the calls. “I just try to connect them with resources.”

In April, a recent immigrant who worked in a meat processing plant called to say he tested positive for COVID-19 and needed help. And then another worker called, and another.

“And so I ended up with 75 meat processing workers!” said Sahilie, who founded an Ethiopian-Eritrean COVID-19 support group, now officially known as the Immigrant Outreach Society.

I just focus on what I have to do. How can I support people to fight this virus?ADANECH SAHILIE

Over the next weeks, she spearheaded a volunteer campaign to deliver meals to Ethiopian and Eritrean employees of Cargill Ltd. and JBS Canada, the two Alberta-based meat-processing operations with large outbreaks this spring.

Sahilie contacted the owner of Yegna, a local Ethiopian restaurant, and set up an initiative supported by funds from religious groups of different faiths in Calgary: the restaurant made meals of injera (an Ethiopian flatbread) with sauces and soups, and volunteers delivered them to workers and their families.

“I just focus on what I have to do. How can I support people to fight this virus?” said the married mother of two, ages 5 and 7.

“My strategy is not to get stressed out or complain about the year; it’s to do a good thing. We have the capacity to change bad things into a good outcome.”

But it isn’t always easy.

After an outbreak at Calgary’s Kidanemehret Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church affected more than 100 people this summer, Sahilie was contacted by a woman who was pregnant and hospitalized with COVID-19, while her husband was sick at home.

If each one of us does their part, we will have a good 2021.ADANECH SAHILIE

“I got a phone call from her while she was struggling to breathe,” said Sahilie.

“And she said, ‘Please, don’t hang up the phone. Just talk to me. And just tell me that I’m not going to die.’” Sahilie stayed on the phone with her that night. The woman survived.

Since then, Ethiopia has erupted in violence. Here, Sahilie continues to work as an activist and advocate for her community and has been hired as a project coordinator with Action Dignity.

“Everything is uncertain, right?” she said, and then added that people can choose to act decisively during uncertain times.

“My expectation is that I will do my part in order to decrease transmission,” she said. “If each one of us does their part, we will have a good 2021.”

Christina Frangou is a Calgary journalist who covers health and social issues. Her reporting has garnered multiple national awards and nominations, including a National Newspaper Award in long feature writing for a story about her experience as a young widow.


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