Faces in the Crowd – From the Tropics to the Tundra

Posted on August 4, 2016 under Faces in the Crowd with one comment


ACALA – his home away from home


I want to make movies; to enable vulnerable groups to have their stories told and their voices heard.”

Meet Abdullah (Dullah) Kafashe

It was not easy growing up in Kigoma, Tanzania. Poverty, corruption, disease and unrest were normal parts of everyday life. The genocide in neighbouring Burundi tragically affected Dullah’s extended family and he lost many relatives. His family protected those that they could. Two cousins rescued by his mother grew up in the safety of his childhood home.

Against staggering odds, Dullah completed high school and became a member of the Tanzanian National Basketball team. On the day that he was writing his national exams, his older brother, a police officer and key supporter of Dullah’s education, was killed tragically in a motor vehicle accident. He left behind three children who were then abandoned by their mother. Dullah’s family stepped in and have looked after them ever since.

Around this time he met a young woman, Maggie, from Antigonish, Nova Scotia, who was working in the nearby refugee camps. There was much suffering in the camps and Dullah volunteered his talents to make life a bit easier for the children there. It would be the start of his commitment to assist those less fortunate than himself.

When Maggie went back to Canada he decided to follow her.  He knew a vital step to becoming a Canadian was to improve his rudimentary English skills. The urban centres of Toronto and Montreal were described as immigrant-friendly and hosted a number of services for newcomers.  But these cities also posed challenges, as ESL classes had wait lists well over 6 months long. Then, one afternoon in Toronto while biking to work, Dullah was held up at gun point for the $10 he carried in his wallet. The cities no longer felt so welcoming.

Feeling overwhelmed, a timely solution came from the east coast.  Maggie’s mother mentioned that ACALA (Antigonish County Adult Learning Association) was accepting students. So this African Muslim immigrant left the diverse urban centers and took a risk – and a train – out Antigonish. The jump from urban anonymity to small town curiosity was immediate.  In a place where everyone wants to know your name and your father’s name and where you’re from he was immediately welcomed into the ACALA program.   Dullah dove into learning, enjoying the great instructors, classmates and content. One of the goals of ACALA is to promote literacy, networking and awareness. Dullah had found a home.Lise Devilliers is the most instrumental  mentor I’ve had. She has made me the person that I am today.” praises Dullah.

The admiration is mutual. “Dullah is a very inspirational human being on so many levels. Because of his background, he has perspective which he shares willingly with other learners. He has a lovely and beautiful way of listening to those around him,” says Lise.

Following his success at ACALA Dullah was awarded a scholarship from the Coady International Institute where he earned a Diploma in Leadership. Juggling studies and family responsibilities, Dullah still found time to volunteer with L’Arche. Helping people is in his DNA.

In 2011, he packed his bags and joined Maggie in Salluit, a fly-in Inuit community. He arrived in January and was greeted by a treeless landscape, bitterly cold weather and 20 hours of darkness.  But also there to meet him was a people just as curious about this novel, tall African as he was about them. Dullah’s expressive personality, sense of humour, and personal experience dealing with trauma helped break down the cultural barriers. He became immersed in the community.  He took on numerous roles, from helping create a fitness center, coaching basketball, co-founding a running club, offering art and stained glass programs for teenagers at risk; to being a foster parent.

In 2015, he took a year-long program at NSCC and discovered a passion for film and video production. Dullah plans to use this new skillset in the future to give voice to those who have none. A recent highlight was filming a documentary about Salluit youth who travel to Hawaii to run in a half-marathon; a project that promotes health and resilience in Inuit youth.

“My journey has been difficult but I have met so many good people along the way. They have become my family in Canada. Antigonish is a very special place to me. It is such a positive community.”

Every time he returns home, his first visit is to Lise and ACALA. He updates her on his projects, dreams and plans – from personal to professional. He seeks her advice and attentive ear. Leaving the urban centres of Toronto and Montreal for the gifts and relationships so easily discovered in a small community was the best decision he could have made.

ACALA opened doors for him – and now he opens doors for others.



Enjoy this? Visit the rest of my website to enjoy more of my work or buy my books!
Highland Hearing Clinic

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


One Response to Faces in the Crowd – From the Tropics to the Tundra

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.