Throughout 2020, the novel coronavirus pandemic has revealed in Canada just how vital newcomer care workers have been in providing services and support to some of Canada’s most vulnerable and marginalized populations.
One of those care workers in Winnipeg is Ayobanjo Ayodeji. This is his story.
A former restaurant manager and customer service representative turned care worker, Ayobanjo Ayodeji’s ultimate goal is to someday own his own plot of farmland outside of Winnipeg.
I just moved here from western Nigeria with my son and daughter in October 2019, as part of family reunification. My wife moved here in 2012 to be trained as a registered nurse. It was really hard to be apart for those years, but now that we are able to live together here in Manitoba the wait has been worth it.
Overall, I felt like the immigration process has been very fair the whole way through. The guidelines and categories for various types of visas and entry are clear, and so long as you pass your tests and have your documents prepared and ready, everything goes fine.
When I arrived with my children, we met my wife and were initially all living together in Portage La Prairie, a town of about 13,000 people an hour west of Winnipeg. Two weeks after our arrival here it snowed like crazy! It was so bad that the power lines were down and we spent several days without electricity.
I’ve previously worked as a kitchen manager, restaurant manager and customer service representative within the food production industry, and as an administrative officer at Nigeria’s Federal College of Agriculture back home.
But I’m now working at care centre for individuals with intellectual disabilities, which helps them develop the skills necessary for achieving an independent life. And I love it. I get to spend my days looking after others – talking and listening to them, feeding them, and helping them explore their interests, learn new skills and discover talents they didn’t know they had. It reminds me a lot about my one year of service in the Nigerian Youth Service Corps, many years ago.
A bicycle shop in the village of Nenwe in Enugu state, southeastern Nigeria. After graduating university, (name) spent his year of mandatory service in the Nigerian Youth Service Corps travelling around Enugu state doing care work in areas lacking in community services. Photo: pjotter05/Flickr.
In the early 1970s, Nigeria set up this program of one-year mandatory service for university graduates to help with the country’s development. It was during my service, travelling around and helping provide services in small towns and villages in eastern Enugu state – sometimes something as simple as visiting with the elderly – that I really learned how meaningful it is to work with people in a way that helps bring improvement to their lives.
But here in Canada? I don’t think you need that type of youth service program. Here your government, in comparison to Nigeria, is so much more competent in how it is able to offer help to its citizens. People who need it receive care, food, and even some kind of income supports. So that other kind of large mandatory service program does not seem necessary, in my opinion.
In fact, I’ve discussed these types of things a lot lately with my family and friends back in Nigeria. I talk to them every couple of days – even talked to them just this evening! It’s only the afternoon here but they are approaching midnight there now with the 6-7 hour time difference. But social media now makes these kinds of connections so much easier.
Canada’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has not been without its missteps, but the country on the whole has fared relatively well in containing the virus, especially compared to the U.S and western Europe. Above — Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, speaks with media alongside Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa, March 11, 2020. Below — A street mural in Toronto pays tribute to essential workers. Photos: Justin Trudeau/Flickr; Bella/Flickr
The whole pandemic has made it really interesting to compare how different governments and nations have responded to the dangers of Covid-19. Here in Canada, there has been responsible actions by the government and public health institutions, and for the most part people have followed social distancing guidelines and the wearing of appropriate PPE to protect yourself and others. This is a good thing and it’s nice to see.
But this has not so much been the case in Nigeria, where those sorts of things seem almost impossible to do for many reasons. The government there needs to do more, and educate the populace on public health. In addition, they should provide adequate facilities for various hospitals and motivate the essential workers, especially by providing health insurance coverage for them and their love ones.
My accent is still a bit hard for some people to overcome, because it is very strong and it is the first thing that people notice about me, and it makes it very obvious that I am not from here. But I will continue to work on this.
Otherwise, people accept me and talk to me and respect me even though I look different. This has been amazing to experience. I don’t really encounter racism. I know the topic has become very popular because of the Black Lives Matter protests, but to be honest, I’ve not encountered anything like what they are talking about here.
I constantly ask my children about it too – every day I will ask them if they are harassed or treated badly because of who they are, and the colour of their skin. But they have affirmed to me that they are okay. My daughter is 20 years-old and wants to go into medicine; she just had her first day at the University of Manitoba, where she has started studying biological sciences. My son is 17 years-old, in grade 12. He wants to become a pilot.
A plot of farmland near Kemnay, Manitoba, 225 km west of Winnipeg. Immigrants arriving from central and eastern Europe in the early 1900s played a key role in the early development of Manitoba’s now multi-billion dollar agricultural industry, which exports around the world. Photo: Laurie/Flickr
As for myself, my ultimate goal is actually to become a farmer! I would love the chance to buy or lease a plot of land to grow potatoes, watermelon, onions, whatever. I feel like it would be a very appropriate way for me, a newcomer, to contribute to Canada’s economy, by helping grow the food to feed others.
In fact, my advice to other immigrants here is to be good ambassadors of their respective countries, while also seeing how they can add value to the existing social, cultural and economic aspects of Canada.
KNOW AN EXPAT LIVING IN WINNIPEG THAT YOU THINK SHOULD BE PROFILED? EMAIL PEGCITYEXPATS@GMAIL.COM