"I am London" Social Media Campaign
I am London is a social media campaign in London, Ontario brought to you by the LMLIP Inclusion & Civic Engagement Sub-council. The annual campaign showcases diversity and celebrates successful immigrants who have chosen to call London their home. These proud and engaged members of our community want to share their inspirational stories with other Londoners.
Earlier this month we announced our first three Faces for the 2018 campaign!
Our Faces of London are chosen based on a diverse representation of age, gender, profession and compelling success stories of settlement in London with a special emphasis on civic leadership (eg: contributing one’s time, skills, and enthusiasm to improve the quality of life of individuals and communities).
The selected Faces of our great city are profiled on our blog and their stories shared through Facebook and Twitter.
When his dad was diagnosed with cancer, it was Stanislav Rajic who had to break the news to his parents in Croatian, who then helped them navigate the medical system in this new country.
Originally from Bosnia, his family arrived in Canada in 1998, after living for years as refugees in Croatia. Stanislav was 23, and quickly became the most fluent English speaker in his family
As a result of his journey, he understands the challenges of being in a new country where you don’t know the common language and he has spent the last two decades helping build bridges between immigrants and Canadian-born Londoners, often working with people living in poverty.
“I was always drawn to social services and community work and neighbourhood work,” says Stanislav, who is Community Outreach Co-ordinator at Crouch Neighbourhood Resource Centre.
Although he arrived as a licensed electrician, his certification was not recognized in Ontario. But that was ok with Stanislav, who had spent years working as a support worker in a Croatian refugee camp and felt compelled to continue helping others in need of social support.
Stanislav says for many newcomers, the biggest challenge is feeling like they don’t belong. He recalls the first time he felt like he belonged in London.
“After a few months here, somebody saw me on the street and called me by name. That recognition, being recognized gave me a sense of belonging.”
His first job in London was working with newcomers through LUSO Services, then on Hamilton Road. He has also worked for the city of London, Child and Youth Network and now as Community Outreach Co-ordinator at Crouch Neighbourhood Resource Centre.
Behind the scenes, Stanislav volunteers with community organizations and helped launch North East Community Conversations with Jacqueline Fraser.
One of the first events they held was a workshop that had participants to complete a simple task. There were two groups. Both were English speakers, but one group received instructions in another language. “We wanted to help people understand that feeling of powerlessness many newcomers feel when they don’t speak the language and they are trying to interact with the system,” says Stanislav.
“Real engagement is not just to participate, but to be involved in the development,” says Stanislav.
He says his work has given him not only a sense of purpose, but a sense of belonging in Canada.
She came to study business, arriving as an international student at Western University in 2011. But Fan Liu stayed to help strengthen the community, volunteering and working with agencies that aim to help support vulnerable Londoners.
By the time she graduated, Fan changed her focus to psychology and started looking for work that would help her give back to the community that had made her feel at home despite sometimes-debilitating language barriers.
Fan’s first job in London was with Youth Opportunities Unlimited, helping the agency build relationships for its jam manufacturing enterprise, now called Mushed by YOU. Youth Opportunities Unlimited is dedicated to helping young people in London & Middlesex be successful.
“I loved working with London at-risk youth to help them reach their potential,” she says. But Fan wanted to help more people when she wasn’t working and so she signed up as a volunteer with London’s Cross Cultural Learner Centre to help a family from Syria who arrived as refugees.
She also volunteers at the London Chinese Association and with the London Middlesex Local Immigration Partnership to help with strategic planning on how to better support newcomers.
These days, Fan continues to volunteer, while juggling two jobs – one at the John Howard Society working to help build bridges between newcomers and service providers in London and the other as a global engagement coordinator at Western.
She feels dedicated to the work she does. “London is welcoming. People are nice here and they have a strong passion to help newcomers and get to know them, but sometimes they don’t know how. There is a need for someone to be that bridge.”
She says she volunteers to give back the support she received as a newcomer.
“When I got into university I received lots of support from Western. People here make London feel like home to me. That’s why I want to give back.”
Dr. May Ali
Cold, snowy weather is often a hot topic for newcomers to Canada. It can be a challenge for those who come from warmer countries. For May Ali – who moved to Canada from Egypt with her family in 2016, the weather inspired a sense of purpose. “I thought, ‘winter is so cold here, why don’t you have heaters in the bus stops?’” recalls May, who taught interior design at Egypt’s Alexandria University for more than 15 years before leaving her home country. “When you come from another place, the first thing you see are the challenges for you,” says May, who is now a professor at Fanshawe College. “I thought I could help solve this problem.”
Research is her passion, and soon May began collaborating with other researchers from the U.S., United Kingdom and Egypt. Last fall she presented their results at Fanshawe College’s Research and Innovation Day – a modern bus stop complete with heat, WiFi, solar panels and wind turbines.
“Design is supposed to help people not just be beautiful, but to help the community you are in,” says May.
She says the transition to life in a new country was not always easy. Her kids missed their family back home. Her positive attitude and determination were the key to fulfill her ambitious. Her experience was positive. She found work within a week of beginning her search, and she encourages other newcomers to stay positive and to never give up.
Her family made new connections, her kids have a diverse group of friends and May is happy about the opportunities they have here. She says her family appreciates the diversity in London. “We have to explore, engage and share our experience.”
Along with devoting her research to helping community, May devotes her free time when she can, volunteering with her kids’ school whenever possible.
“I’m rewarded for helping people because I feel the appreciation,” says May. “Work from your heart, and good things will happen.
Alba Cielo Velasquez
If you met Alba Cielo Velasquez at her housekeeping day job, you might not guess she once spent weekends performing salsa, tango and merengue at her own seafood restaurant in Colombia. But you should see her teaching London children to dance. Since she arrived in Canada in 2004 with her family, the mom and grandmother has devoted her free time to teaching Colombian folklore dance to children in London.
Alba was here only a month, when she started a dance group with new friends she met during English as a Second Language classes. In the beginning, they were just a few couples who would gather at each other’s apartments to dance the nights away.
Then the group grew and word spread through London’s Colombian community that a professional dance instructor was living in the city. Alba’s new friends asked if she had time to teach children. And Ritmo Y Café was born.
Over the past 15 years, the dance company has performed at many special events and festivals – part of Alba’s mission to share Latin American culture with London and to instill confidence and pride in young people.
“I want my students to learn about their background and where they came from and never forget about their roots. I want them to keep their culture alive, and for them to learn about the country where either they or their parents came from,” says Alba.
These days, Alba teaches about 60 youth, charging enough to cover the basics, such as rent for school gyms and material for costumes Alba sews herself. She says her payment is knowing she has contributed to the rich multicultural fabric of London.
“I love to dance. It is my passion and it makes people happy. I want to share that happiness with Londoners.”
Delveen Al Naamo
She was still a teenager and brand new to Canada, when Delveen Al Naamo started volunteering to help other newcomers in London. It was November 2015, and Delveen was a student at Westminster High School, feeling lonely and out of place a month after she’d arrived in Canada. A Yazidi from Iraq, Delveen came to Canada as a refugee, along with her parents and five younger sisters, to escape persecution by Daesh militants. They were safe here, and for that Delveen was grateful, but she was still so lonely and depressed. When the school’s settlement worker asked her to help translate Arabic for some incoming students, she instantly agreed. “You don’t know anybody, you kind of feel like you don’t belong here. . . by helping people I thought maybe I’d get to know some people and make some friends. And it worked.”
Not only did she make friends. She gained strength in knowing she was providing support to people who really needed it.
Delveen continued helping at the school and became known among staff and peers as the go-to student for Arabic translation needs. It felt good, she was making a difference.
She started volunteering at South London Community Centre, then YMCA helping with a informal language practice program called Chit Chat with newcomer teens.
Fast forward three years, and Delveen, now 22, is at Fanshawe College, studying pre-health on her path to becoming a nurse.
She works part time and beyond that, she has continued helping newcomers settle in Canada as a devoted volunteer at London community centres. Her work has been noticed. In 2018, Delveen received the Engaged Refugee Award at London’s Life as a Refugee conference.
Helping others helped her too, she says. If she could give one message to newcomers it would be to reach out and ask for help if they need it.
“One experience can change everything,” she says. “It did for me.
He had a good life back in his home country of Nigeria, working as a sales executive with a multinational company.
His family of five was comfortable, by any standards.
But Afeez Ajibowu wanted his daughters to have opportunities he says they might not have had in Nigeria.
“It’s human nature. You want your kids to thrive after you’re gone. If they want to become a lawyer, you want them to have the opportunity to become a lawyer,” says Afeez, who now works in project management for an area school board. And so, striving to find balance between his personal career ambitions and the life he wanted for his family, Afeez applied to Canada as a skilled immigrant. The family arrived in 2013.
It wasn’t easy for Afeez, who’s lack of “Canadian experience” disqualified him for many jobs, despite his Master’s of Science degree from the UK, brilliant career history and experience on the board of directors of various corporations.
He went to London’s WIL employment and enrolled at Fanshawe College for the postgraduate in project management, which led to new opportunities and eventually to a position with an area school board.
Something else he’s been doing since he arrived in London is volunteering.
He sits on the board of the London Family Court Clinic, is a member of the London and Middlesex Local Immigration partnership and a Community Diversity and Inclusion Strategies Champion for the City of London.
“It’s important to find a way to give back to Canada,” he says. “I give back by volunteering my time and skills to causes I believe in – economic development, protecting vulnerable people, inclusion and mental health.”
To Afeez, community engagement is vital to making cities and countries stronger for generations to come.
“People made sacrifices for us to have the beautiful country we have, the support systems we have here. They made life better for the people who came after them. That has to continue. We have to contribute so that people coming behind will say, this place is a lot better than it was.”