Motivated by a second chance
Volunteer using his experience to mentor youth who might be at risk
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/09/2021 (623 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
If things had gone differently, Awet Biagaber wouldn’t be alive right now.
In 2004, Biagaber was in a coma for two weeks after being seriously assaulted.
“I was just lucky that God gave me a (second) chance,” he says. “I could’ve been dead.”
Born in Eritrea, Biagaber and his mother moved to Brandon in 1990. A year later, they moved to Winnipeg. It wasn’t long before Biagaber, a teenager at the time, joined a gang and started drinking, stealing cars, getting into fights and selling drugs. He was arrested several times.
“I didn’t have (any) knowledge of the consequences of being into drinking and being part of that lifestyle,” says Biagaber, 44. “I thought it was just like the rap videos I watched: bling, bling, everybody drinks and makes money.”
Eventually, Biagaber was arrested for selling drugs and sentenced to five years in prison. He got sober while behind bars and was released in 2014, after serving three-and-a-half years.
Today, Biagaber uses his experience to mentor youth who might be at risk.
Two years ago, he started volunteering at the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba, where he helps youth plan their careers and encourages them to pursue their education.
“I almost lost my life to the gang activity, so now I want to mentor youth to make sure they don’t go through the things I went through,” he says.
Biagaber started volunteering before the COVID-19 pandemic, which allowed him to build relationships with the youth in-person while playing football, participating in game nights and making trips to the beach.
During the pandemic, Biagaber has stayed connected with them via Zoom on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. He provides the sort of guidance and support he lacked when he first came to Winnipeg, helping participants have an easier transition to the province.
“It goes both ways: I’m helping the community, and at the same time, it’s helping me,” he says. “I take pride in helping other people. It’s for my own healing. It makes me feel good that I’m doing something proper.”
Earlier this summer, Volunteer Manitoba and Royal Bank of Canada awarded Biagaber the 2021 RBC Bright Future Award. The award recognizes individuals or groups who have volunteered their time to help youth overcome barriers and prepare for success in life.
“For me, it’s a blessing, and it gives me good motivation,” he says. “Someone is noticing what I’m doing, and it lifts me up toward helping more youth.”
Biagaber is upgrading his education so he can become a social worker and help more at-risk youth.
“I’m lucky I’ve survived,” he says. “I know so many people who didn’t get the (same) opportunities as me — they’re just dead. I take that blessing very seriously right now.”
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