Tara Walton/TorStar new services


Mesfun Haile is one of the founders of the Aroni Awards, which honours youth who have succeeded despite socio-economic and academic challenges.


Helen, Mesfun and Lia Haile are three siblings working together for a cause that’s very dear to their hearts.

They are the producers of the Aroni Awards and Aroni Education Bursary program, which honours youth and young professionals who have found success despite socio-economic and academic challenges.

"Unlike many other awards that primarily focus on high grades, we wanted to focus on individuals whose highest accomplishments might not be in the classroom or a letter grade but instead in their daily work to help save and motivate their communities towards future growth," says Lia.

The siblings have also developed the Aroni Ambassador’s Leadership Program to help connect youth with successful professionals to help establish mentoring and networking relationships.

But for the Haile family the Aroni Awards means more than just helping to create positive futures for young people; for them the award honours their brother Aron Haile who died three years ago in an automobile accident while on vacation in Eritrea East Africa.

"Aron is the inspiration for the Aroni [our nickname for him] Awards. Long before Aron’s passing, he had conceived this idea of fund raising to provide scholarships for youth. This is an initiative paying tribute to his dream...his legacy," says Helen.

The first Aroni Awards were handed out recently to a room of 400 guests. Mesfun acknowledges that community support through donated tickets to the awards show also helped to allow disadvantaged youth to see the show. "Having youth in the audience watch others being awarded for their best efforts despite their obstacles can only help motivate them in their own lives," says Mesfun.

York University economics graduate Danielle Francis was among this year’s winners. For several years Francis has dedicated much of her time to volunteering with organizations like the Black Business Professional Association (BBPA) as chair of the Young Professionals Committee helping to mentor and develop youth career objectives.

"As a community we need to be able to leverage all of the tools that are available to us to be successful. I am honoured to receive this inaugural award and particularly humbled in that the awards are in honour of such an outstanding citizen that was Aron Haile," says Francis.

Other award winners included director, dramaturge and musical composer Weyni Mengesha (Da Kink In My Hair) for her contributions to the performing arts and Arsema Berhane for her work with homeless youth at Eva’s Phoenix; her help with Schools Without Borders which provides opportunities for international exchange studies; and her workshops where she teaches young women about HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.

For more information on the Aroni Awards, recent winners or to volunteer visit www.aroniawards.com.