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.”