Joel Assogba likes to create positive vibes.
Whether it’s in his job as a bilingual certification officer with the department of fisheries and oceans or as the author of children’s books, he looks for opportunities to inspire empathy in others.
“Do unto others as you would like them to do unto you — that’s the golden rule. If you would only take a minute and put yourself in the place of others, then you can understand how they might feel,” says the African-Canadian man who has written and illustrated a series of trilingual books on multiculturalism.
The titles include The Rainbow’s Kids, Wind of Freedom, I’m Not a Foreigner, Respect for Life and What Colour Are Burdocks? And he has been wanting to share his stories with others since arriving on P.E.I. this past October.
“I believe we are now at a crossroads of difficult times. We have a chance of choosing a path of peace and nonviolence and respect for life. And we can do that by teaching compassion to our children and grandchildren,” says Assogba, during a break from his work.
He is also hoping to meet with community groups to give presentations on humanitarian topics.
“With the collaboration of school boards, I am trying to get adults and children in schools and communities involved in creating a society free of bullying and racism,” says Assogba.
The reason he feels so strongly about these issues is through his experience in mixed race households.
“I am a Canadian, originally from West Africa. My mother is half Lebanese and half African.
“Also, my wife is Japanese and my children were born in Japan. We lived there for 20 years. And I faced a lot of discrimination there. Because I didn’t look Japanese, they treated me like an outsider,” says Assogba.
But, instead of becoming angry, he developed a deep desire to turn the tide on racism. He started writing books, giving workshops and presentations.
One day at a lecture, a young student came up to him and told him that the only things clean were the palms of his hands. She told him to go home and take a bath because he was dirty.
“This was the best time to educate her. I showed her by washing my hands for four minutes. She was surprised to see that nothing had changed,” he says.
Later, when he was called back to the school, the student was waiting to give him a hug for the lesson she had learned.
“She became my friend,” says Assogba, whose positive experience as a speaker and a writer in Japan led to holding literary events for students and others in the Manulife VIP Lounge of the Canada Pavilion at Expo 2005 in Aichi Japan and at the Embassy of Canada in Tokyo in 2006.
Now living in Tignish, people are noticing his positive energy.
“Joel is a nice fellow. Always smiling and friendly, he gets along well with people. He’s a great addition to the community,” says Tignish resident Dale Laviolette.
Assogba says creating positive feelings between people is simple.
“When someone stares at you, smile back. When that person smiles, they will often say hi to you. Then you can say hi. Eventually, you’ll shake hands and start talking. Then you can understand them.
“You have to be open to that person to make empathy happen,” says Assogba, adding it’s easy to do in a small community.
“The people in Tignish are really great. They’ve accepted me and are very friendly. When I walk to work, people stop and offer me a drive. I’m happy to have found a home here.”
AT A GLANCE
Joel Assogba fast facts
Born in West Africa.
Immigrated to Canada in the 1980s, settled in Gatineau, Que.
Received bachelor of business administration degree with a major in industrial relations in 1992 at the University of Quebec at Hull.
Completed foundation courses for master’s degree in social sciences, business administration and education at UBC, 1992-1994.
Moved to Japan in 1994 where he ran Queen’s Language School, teaching English and French for 17 years.
Moved back to Canada, settling in Ottawa in 2012.
Moved to Tignish this past October after getting a job.
For more information on Assogba, his books or speaking engagements, contact him at email@example.com.