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.
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.”