The Eritrean community in Calgary has been devastated by the loss of 38-year-old Habtom Shlesh, who died in a workplace incident on Oct. 2 in Airdrie.

Friends and family gathered Friday afternoon in the living room of Shlesh’s Marlborough Park home, offering condolences and grieving with his widow, Ruta Weldeselassie.

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Through a translator, Weldeselassie said Shlesh had worked “day and night” to provide for his family, both in Alberta and in Africa.

On top of work, he also served as a board member with the Eritrean Canadian Community Association of Calgary.

“He was always hardworking because he had so many dependents,” Weldeselassie said. “He had his immediate family here, but also his extended family.”

“Habtom is the best guy,” said close friend Goitom Gedreyewhanas.

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“I’ve never seen him complain. Always smiling, friendly, supportive. He’s a team leader… a very loving guy.”

Shlesh’s journey began in Eritrea. He and Weldeselassie started a family but moved in 2009 to find opportunities in Israel.

The couple left their two children in Eritrea with family, sending financial support back when they could.

In 2017, after having two more children, the family moved to Calgary.

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Tesfalem Yohannes, a childhood friend of Shlesh who also moved to Calgary, said moving to Canada with two children still in Eritrea weighed heavily on the father of four.

“When you’re separated from your family, your children, it’s very hard. You are thinking everyday about them,” he said.

But last month, after years of saving money, Shlesh was able to fly his two remaining children to their new home in Calgary.

“Sept. 10 was a very special day for him, because this was the first time he gathered with all the family in 10 years.”

Yohannes said when Shlesh was reunited with his children, “words could not describe how happy he was.”

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Just three weeks later, the jubilation the family felt turned instantly into heartbreak and disbelief.

“This is not true,” Weldeselassie said through an interpreter.

“This is just like a nightmare.

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“[The kids] came on Sept. 10. Just barely a month, three weeks. So they didn’t even have enough time to get to know their father and to get the love that they missed for 10 years.”

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The circumstances leading to his death are still under investigation.

Shlesh was working for road maintenance company Volker Stevin in an Airdrie neighbourhood when the incident occurred. According to Alberta Occupational Health and Safety, the “worker was struck by a vehicle.”

Volker Stevin was issued a stop-work order which remains in place.

The company said in a statement to Global News that it is providing counselling and emotional support to the family, and also provided a financial donation to assist the family.

Individual employees of Volker Stevin have also made donations to a GoFundMe page organized by Gedreyewhanas.

The fundraiser had collected $14,600 as of Friday evening.

A service will be held at St. Michael Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church on Saturday.

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