Chances are you’ve been impacted in one way or another by the work of Joan Sam. Maybe she’s helped one of your loved ones in her job caring for people with Alzheimer’s and Dementia.
Maybe you follow her on Instagram.
Fifteen years after she arrived in London as a refugee from Sierra Leone, Joan’s Instagram photos of old homes and thrift shop finds have made her a local social-media celebrity with nearly 8,000 followers.
In her upbeat posts, under the handle @jocramel, she stresses the importance of storytelling.
Joan’s own story starts in Sierra Leone, where she lived before fleeing to a refugee camp in Gambia. In 2004, she immigrated to Canada with her mom, younger sister and her then-four-year-old son.
Within three months, Joan was working two full-time jobs – commuting to both by bus. With her son at daycare, her sister in high school and her mom at Wheable education centre, Joan cleaned rooms at a London hotel during the day and took a night shift stocking shelves at a department store.
“When you get here, you have one goal: To make life better for yourself,” she says now, recalling other jobs she held in the early years. Once she paid off her immigration bills, she began to focus on her larger goal of working in health care and enrolled in school.
Joan has worked in long-term care facilities and in home care and says she has now found her “calling” working with elderly patients experiencing Dementia and Alzheimer’s.
“I love spending time with the residents and listening to their stories,” says Joan, who also loves hearing stories from the International students she hosts during the school year.
Four years ago, Joan was inspired to get more engaged with the broader London community, and she started taking pictures of old homes in London and posting them on social media with the hashtag #Londonarchitecture. Her objective was to share photos of historic architecture and she was amazed at the response from Londoners she’d never met.
“The more you post, then people send you emails, people you don’t even know. They send you messages and tell you their stories,” she says.
She added posts about thrift shop finds, and community engagement, and her following continued to grow. Since launching the account, Joan has also started volunteering for a Wortley Village community newsletter called Old South News. She has invited other photographers and writers to join her and says she has made many connections with Londoners through the work that brings her so much joy. Joan has also been involved with a London oral storytelling project set to launch in spring of 2019.
“I’m fulfilled to be doing something for the community,” she says. “And some of the stories I hear are amazing.”
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