The eighth annual I am London campaign showcases immigrants who provide essential services in London. Join us on the 8th of every month until December 2021 to read about our Faces of London.
As a young man living in a small town, nestled in the foothills of Northern China, Hongtao Bi (Ryan) worked with children in a kindergarten before he came to Canada in 2012. He quickly settled in London, where the peace, safety, tranquillity and slower pace of life made a refreshing change. In fact, even though London is the tenth largest city in Canada, he was surprised to find out that it much smaller than his hometown in China.
Ryan has worked in many roles – caring for children, as a recruitment talent agent, helping applicants to process their visa applications, as a driving instructor guiding newcomers to Canada and most recently, delivering food as an Uber Eats driver. A common theme runs through all his career choices – he loves taking care of people. In the past year, as a frontline worker during various lockdowns, he has focused on giving his Uber Eats clients the best possible experience. He worries if they are safe, if their food will stay warm, and encourages all frontline workers to “protect yourself first, so you can provide a better service to your customers.”
Ryan is training to be a HVAC (heating ventilation and air-conditioning) technician at Fanshawe College in Woodstock. As an Uber Eats driver his work hours are flexible, allowing him to work and study at the same time. Ryan is described by his teachers as motivated, supportive and remarkably resourceful in a city where he is a newcomer and a second language learner. “Canada is a place where your dreams come true,” he says, as he makes plans to launch his technical career and hopefully, one day soon, start his own family.
The pandemic has been a challenging experience in many ways, and he has felt especially sad that he was unable to fly back to China to see his parents and sister. Before the Spring Festival/Lunar New Year, Ryan realized that there were many people like himself who missed a family reunion, and with the guidance of his instructors at Fanshawe he created a Tiktok video Happy New Year greeting for Asian students. It was so well received that Fanshawe College shared it with their International Centre, who in turn shared it with their resources globally. “Every single person can influence the people around them. Keep moving in life and learning,” he advises.
Even though Ryan is proud that he has been able to help the London community by delivering food through the pandemic, he believes that the healthcare workers are the “real heroes”.
Taiwo Apampa, Business Manager, “Find ways to share your story, your talents and your gifts with others.”
Taiwo Apampa and her two young girls moved to London from Lagos, Nigeria in February 2020, when her husband enrolled in a one-year intensive MBA program at Ivey Business School. She left behind a flourishing career, extended family and a vibrant community, but her zest for travel and experiencing new things propelled her forward to an exciting new life. After her husband completed his program in March 2021, they decided to make London their permanent home.“Canada will give our children the very best opportunities that the world can offer,” says Taiwo.
They arrived in London just weeks before the pandemic hit, but Taiwo’s determination to find a community, work and pursue her art meant that they were soon able to integrate through the kids’ daycare, their church, her husband’s school community and the London Arts Council, among others. Taiwo quickly found work as a Business Manager in a London-based business providing safe and effective protective personal equipment (PPE) to frontline healthcare workers throughout Canada.
Taiwo is on the factory floor almost daily, “I successfully managed the transition of our production facility to a 10,000 sq ft. factory in London. I secured grants to implement a green lighting project and reduce our carbon footprint. Recently my work overseeing quality assurance and continuous process improvement has taken on a new initiative and I am excited to help lead the charge to move the company towards being zero-waste.”
Passionate about equity, diversity and inclusion, Taiwo has fostered that culture in her company. “I have been responsible for workforce growth and development recruiting, training and directly managing more than 60 staff. I am especially grateful for the opportunity to provide meaningful employment to new immigrants like myself who may face barriers to the job market.” Having been exposed to various cultures around the world, she says, “I respect the beauty and uniqueness that everyone brings to the table. I believe that everyone should be given a fair and equitable chance.”
“Art is everything to me,” says Taiwo. She started painting relatively recently and has met an amazing community in London through art and culture, donating her work to local organizations. She also finds the time to volunteer to support causes that are dear to her such as the Canadian Cancer Society.
Her advice for newcomers is, “Find ways to share your story, your talents and your gifts with others. People you meet can open doors for you in a myriad ways. You may also find that the people you meet are often willing to help if you ask for it. Be willing to share your gifts, even if that gift is time. Get connected to the things, organizations, initiatives, projects that inspire you and allow you to serve and give back in a meaningful way. You will be amazed at the doors that open for you.”
Taiwo believes that London has given her the opportunity to live the life of her dreams. To be able to pursue her career, her passion for the arts, to contribute to the community through volunteering opportunities and to be able to raise her children in a beautiful and safe city.
Taiwo concludes, “I am grateful that we chose London, and for all of the connections we have made and the support we received along the way. We are happy that London has become our home.”
Ester Garcia, Owner, Immanuel’s Kitchen, “Together we can all contribute our bit in making the city of London a peaceful, loving and a caring community,”
Ester Garcia stopped running once she got to London. No more hiding, she decided, as she made peace with the unending physical, mental and emotional trauma she suffered in her childhood home and her abusive marriages. She credits these traumatic life experiences as the motivation for her work with the homeless in London. “That’s where I get my compassion,” she says, “because I know what it is to be rejected, abused and unloved. Now I know that I had to go through all of that to have the heart I have today.”
Ester who is deeply spiritual, came to Canada from Texas in 1986. Throughout her life her faith has given her strength and guidance, especially in difficult times. She started Immanuel’s Kitchen on Dundas Street as a Christian kitchen hiring people with disabilities, tying up with Hutton House Association for Adults with Disabilities and Leads Employment Services which provides specialized services for people with disabilities, to source her employees. She encourages all to get involved in helping each other and giving back, “Together we can all contribute our bit in making the city of London a peaceful, loving and a caring community,” she says. Her dedication has extended to mentoring young women with disabilities to pursue their education, using her own experience as an example.
Throughout her life, Ester has been in and out of shelters, even being homeless for a while. She advises, “Don’t disrespect the homeless, you have no idea what has brought them there.” She lived at a women’s shelter with her children when she moved to London, where the London community helped her with housing, counselling, and provided a safe space for her and her children.
As a way of returning her blessings to the community, Ester contributes 10 percent of the revenue from Immanuel’s Kitchen to run her recently registered charity “Immanuel’s Helping Hand” which feeds the homeless along Dundas Street. She has tied up with a number of local London businesses and private donors who support her work with the homeless. “I have provided them with meals, blankets, clothing, and other daily life essentials,” she explains.
The building where Immanuel’s Kitchen was based was shut down during the pandemic, but Ester has continued to operate from a different location, finding ways to provide daily meals to the 25-30 homeless people who depend on her generosity. Immanuel’s Kitchen has partnered with United Sikhs, Old East Village Cares, and members of London’s Calvary Church in providing help to the less fortunate.
“We can all learn from the homeless,” Ester says, “they are generous with each other. You give them a piece of bread and they will share it.”
Innocent Migabo, Hospital Cleaner, “Whatever job you do, know that you are making a difference in your community!”
“I did not choose Canada, Canada chose me,” says a grateful Innocent Migabo. After spending more than four years in refugee camps in Namibia, he arrived with his family on a bitterly, cold freezing day in December 2017 to begin his new life in the country that offered his family safe refuge.
Innocent and his family have settled down quickly in London, something he attributes to the combined efforts of their private sponsors, settlement workers, teachers, classmates and friends from his neighbourhood. In short, the London community that welcomed him.
Innocent is originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he trained as a nurse. It was a natural progression to pursue a career as a personal support worker (PSW) in Canada, but first he had to upgrade his English-language skills although he is very comfortable with French.
As he prepares for his chosen career, Innocent has found work in the housekeeping department at London Health Science’s Victoria Hospital. He believes that the work he does contributes to the welfare of the patients and the hospital staff, especially during these stressful months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Innocent has felt encouraged by the appreciation that he has received from the hospital administration, the patients and his colleagues for showing up on the frontline everyday even though he was worried for the safety of his family. It is so good to hear the words, “Thank you for what you are doing,'' he says. Innocent learned how important it was to protect himself and others by following the regulations regarding personal protective equipment and sanitizing.
Innocent’s children love being in Canada, where they have blossomed into happy young people, who enjoy the outdoors and their schools. With five kids under the age of 12, it is a lot of fun and a lot of hard work but “London is a beautiful place to live and raise children,” he says. He is committed to London and offers these words of encouragement to newcomers: “First of all”, he says, “know that London is your home. Work hard to develop your English skills and do not be afraid to go back to school in order to get whatever qualifications you need. Lastly, whatever job you do, know that you are making a difference in your community!”