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.
Conrod Tucker, Construction Worker, "By volunteering you are helping others while also helping yourself."
Soft spoken and gentle, Conrod Tucker is a deeply spiritual family man, who loves to volunteer his time and share his blessings with his community. “By volunteering you are helping others while also helping yourself as you get a chance to network and meet people from various backgrounds. You build friendships,” he observes.
Conrod trained as an accountant in Jamaica, but when he arrived in Canada in July 2010 with his wife and young daughter, he found himself accepting work in construction to pay the bills and provide for his family.
Conrod has continued to work in construction while studying for his Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) certification and saving to buy a house. He believes that he will get there, but in the meantime, he does his work with dedication, humility and joy, grateful for the many opportunities that Canada provides. “A home is a basic need, providing a sense of security and stability,” says Conrod, “and I get to be a part of that through my work”.
Conrod lives by his faith, and this is evident in the way in which he gives back – whether it is through the work he does at his church, the food drives he organizes with his co-workers, or taking his daughter to volunteer at the London Food Bank as part of her birthday celebrations. “We teach generosity by example,” he says. “It is really fulfilling to be able to give back especially as we are so blessed. It may not be money, but we give our time.”
Conrod has worked throughout the pandemic. Although he was afraid initially, his prayer and faith gave him courage. “I was looking at the bigger picture”, says Conrod. “There are people who bought new houses with pre-set closing dates. Some had already sold their existing home, so we worked tirelessly to ensure we met those deadlines, while following all the health guidelines.”
Conrad believes that all the front line, essential workers in every industry should know how grateful we are for the work they do. “On behalf of all Canadians, I want to say thank you and that we appreciate the work that you are doing. Be encouraged and know that what you do matters. It’s a challenging time for us all but we will get through this together. Stay healthy, stay safe, stay strong”.
“At the end of the day”, says Conrod, “you are making a difference no matter how small and that is very satisfying.”
“Liberty,” says Jean-Papy Kitura, “Freedom, Equality - these are the things that surprised me and my family when we arrived in Canada in 2016.” To the Kitura family, having lived in a refugee camp for over 10 years, the openness and freedom of life in Canada has been the most rewarding.
Jean-Papy left his war-torn home in the Democratic Republic of Congo soon after finishing high school in 2004 and found himself in a refugee camp in Tanzania, where he worked with various non-governmental organizations (NGOs) focusing on child protection, gender equality, prevention of violence against women, etc. Even though he worked with the NGOs, Jean-Papy says travel outside the refugee camp was impossible, and he is very grateful for the opportunities that Canada offers. “I am free to work anywhere, I can protect my family, we have the right to study and the right to live peacefully. These rights are precious…” says Jean-Papy.
London has been the perfect choice for Jean-Papy and his family. “I have received tremendous support from the community, especially Carrefour Communautaire Francophone de London (CCFL). Its staff have supported my children in school and helped me find a home that is big enough for my family of six children.” The Kitura family is French-speaking and they did try to live in Montreal for a year, but returned to London as they felt that it provided the best environment to bring up their kids. “I want my children to be bilingual”, says Jean-Papy, “it will help open so much more for them”.
Jean-Papy works for Legendary Security as a security guard assigned to retail outlets in London. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns he went to work every day. “It was tough,” he says, “especially when customers were demanding, and I had to do my best to calm them down.”
He took courage and comfort from his faith, and from his family, praying that he would not bring the virus home. “I love my job”, says Jean-Papy, “I get to meet different people of different cultures and it has helped me improve my English-speaking skills.” “One of the good things to come from the pandemic,” says Jean-Papy, “is that I was able to find work as a security guard, as so many people did not want to work.” Jean-Papy is proud of his contribution to making London a safe, comfortable place during the difficult lock-down days.
Jean-Papy believes that his life experiences have equipped him to be a strong support to his community, and he constantly provides moral assistance to the sick and those in need. As a community leader he provides support and advice to newcomers. He encourages Francophone newcomers to stay connected to community organizations such as CCFL and Collège Boréal. “Being connected,” he says, “helps newcomers to learn the language quickly, find work and support the integration of our children.”
“London is beautiful,” says Jean-Papy “the environment is clean and it is quiet and peaceful.” “My kids are safe and secure,” he concludes, ”we are happy to be here”.
Jean-Baptiste Ntakoma, Director, London French Daycare, “My well-being depends on the well-being of my neighbour.”
Jean-Baptiste Ntakoma had been helping members of London’s Burundian community integrate into the London community for years when the COVID-19 pandemic forced all activities to a halt. Jean-Baptiste was president of the Association Culturelle Burundo-Canadienne de London at the time. He knew that many of its members, mostly new immigrants and their families, were facing isolation and loneliness. So he began hosting virtual meetings every week. “On Saturdays, I would call everyone and say, ‘are you OK? Is there anything you need?’” says the London dad and general manager at the London French Day Care Centre.
Zoom was a new platform for everyone, but Jean-Baptiste created at an account and scheduled the meetings. He also reached out to London community organizations and partners of the Association. Some donated gift cards, which jean-Baptiste helped deliver to peoples’ homes. “I could hear it in their voices; people felt a sense of relief and that made me feel good too,” he says.
Originally from Burundi, Jean-Baptiste moved to Toronto in 2000. Four years later, he moved to London to study accounting at Fanshawe college. Jean-Baptiste has lived in London ever since. He says he owes a lot to the city where he met his wife and had all three of his children. “I haven’t moved from London since 2004. I’m a Londoner now,” Jean-Baptiste says with a smile.
Jean-Baptiste started working at the London French Day Care Centre in 2015. He describes the children who attend the daycare as London’s future leaders. He says he wants the daycare staff to be role models for the children. “When I’d meet my old teachers and principals as an adult, I could see that they were proud of me. That makes you feel proud.”
When COVID-19 hit, the London French Day Care Centre was forced to close for about three months. When it became possible to reopen in July 2020, Jean-Baptiste decided to bring all the daycare employees together to come up with a collaborative reopening plan that everyone felt comfortable with. “It’s a shared challenge,” Jean-Baptiste says. “But even when we were closed, we didn’t abandon the families…This is a place where kids spend 8 to 10 hours per day…The daycare is a second family.”
Since his move to London, Jean-Baptiste has volunteered at many organizations including the African Canadian Federation of London and Area and the Carrefour Communautaire Francophone de London. In 2017, he became president of the Association Culturelle Burundo-Canadienne de London. While he has recently stepped down, he continues to volunteer with the Association.
Jean-Baptiste says he learned the importance of community involvement and helping one’s neighbour from his grandfather, Damien Kayengeyenge. It’s a lesson he hopes to pass on to his children and the children at the London French Day Care Centre. “My well-being depends on the well-being of my neighbour,” Jean-Baptiste says. “That’s something my grandfather insisted on, that I insist on and that my family insists on…It’s about understanding others, and also being understood.”
Amna Saleem, Founder of Caring Canadians Society, “Making a difference in the life of one person counts.”
Amna Saleem, a graphic designer by profession, has always believed that it is important to give back. She says, “I believe that God has given everyone the capacity to go above and beyond to help others. All we need is the heart to feel the pain of others around us especially if we have been through that pain ourselves”. When she left her native Pakistan in October 2012 to begin her new life in Canada, she left behind a half-finished, much cherished dream of establishing a seniors’ home in her hometown.
As soon as she settled down in London, Amna began to look for opportunities to help. “I have always wanted to do charity work,” says Amna, “so why not here? After all Canada is now my country, my home.” Amna saw that there was a gap in supporting vulnerable people, particularly newcomers and refugees, in London. She started a “food, clothing and essentials bank” with the help of a Facebook page and limited contributions from within her community. This soon expanded to include hundreds of other community members across Canada and around the world. In 2017 Amna registered her charity as a not-for-profit organization aptly called the Caring Canadians Society.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Caring Canadian Society donated thousands of PPE kits, delivered hundreds of door-to-door food hampers and supported community members in need through a personalized grocery and pharmacy program. “We have developed relationships with organizations like Mission Services, the Salvation Army, My Sister’s Place, London Health Unit, Muslim Resource Centre, Sakeenah Homes, Rotholme Women and Family Shelter and others,” says Amna, “and through them we have provided immense support to their clients.”
Caring Canadians Society is humbled by the gratitude of the people they help. Through their various charitable connections in London, people know that they have a place they can call when their need is urgent, like the new father who called from the hospital needing a car seat to bring his newborn home, or the request from one of the shelters for hats, mittens and gloves in the winter. Amna and her team use their Facebook community to raise the funds needed to fulfil the requests. “We may not be doing things on a big scale, but I believe that making a difference in the life of one person counts”.
“It was never my plan to grow this large”, says Amna, “but by the grace of God we are now awaiting official approval to register Caring Canadians Society as a full-fledged charity. We are blessed to have the support of our Councillors, members of federal and provincial parliament have been part of our efforts and have supported us.”
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!”