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As a new Canadian, it’s my responsibility to help newcomers with the kindness I was shown

From navigating life at school to learning about winter sports and libraries, Dami Fakolujo reflects on what he's learned after moving to Canada 11 years ago and why he feels it's now his responsibility to help the next wave of newcomers to settle here.

I feel I owe it to the people who helped my family when we moved from Nigeria 11 years ago

This First Person article is the experience of Dami Fakolujo, a Nigerian Canadian living in Ottawa. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

Last summer, my family organized a small barbecue. The grill was sizzling and there was a combination of excited children and adults in conversation as I walked into the backyard.

The adults talked about everything from the recent Nigerian elections to Canadian sports that are not as popular in Nigeria like rugby — in part because I was wearing a hat from a local rugby club, gifted to me by my university rugby team coach.

It was like another BBQ my family hosted, but what stood out was that most of us had never met the other family until that day. That's because the other family had recently immigrated to Canada from Nigeria. In fact, they had just landed the day before.

My dad used to be a lecturer in the metallurgical engineering department at Yaba College of Technology in Lagos and other dad was his former student from about 25 years ago. The two had kept in touch and that former student's wife was pursuing a PhD at the University of Ottawa.

Despite their exhaustion, the Bamigbaiye family looked eager to introduce themselves.

In turn, I was glad to meet them. Over the course of that barbecue I realized how much we had in common. They reminded me of our family when we first arrived.

    But what stood out was how little their kids looked. We were just 13, 12 and seven when my siblings and I came here. These kids — ages 10, six and five — were even younger.

    Back then, I remembered looking up to adults who helped us settle into Canada. At the BBQ, it dawned on me that it was my turn to step up and become one of those adults to help this family navigate Canada.

    It's been over 11 years since my mother, my siblings and I joined my father in Canada. Just last fall, on Oct. 23, 2023, my family took the oath of Canadian citizenship.

    It was a momentous event but moving to Canada has not always been smooth sailing for my family and me. I struggled with everything from pronouncing words differently to navigating a clash of Nigerian vs. Canadian values.

    For example, I had to tell my high school rugby coach that I wouldn't be able to attend every practice, as was typically expected of the team members, because, like many Nigerians, my parents insisted I prioritize school work over after-school recreational activities they saw as a distraction.

    I am grateful to more established Canadians of every nationality who acted as our extended family during those early days and helped guide us through significant life events like finding our first home, schools, and surviving the Canadian winter.

    I'm also thankful for the friends who brought me — a quiet recluse — out of my shell. Interactions with other immigrants who had a similar journey to me were crucial to me finding my footing and place within Canada.

    As I watched this newly-arrived family at the BBQ, I realized my family were no longer the young newcomers trying to figure out a life in Canada.

    Instead, my siblings and I were part of the established generation of Nigerian Canadians who now have responsibilities toward the next generation of immigrants.

    For me, that's meant spending hours driving around with the parents of this beautiful family in the weeks before their Ontario driving test.

    Although they have multiple years of driving experience in Nigeria, I explained some Canadian driving habits like over-exaggeration of the neck turning motion that is usually expected of drivers during the test.

    I also took the children on trips to the local library and ski hill to introduce them to the various activities, books and comics that kept me entertained when I first moved here.

    Though I could spend my free time with my friends, writing or playing video games, for me, it's important to give back in this way.

    I believe that to whom much is given, much is also expected. I have benefited from the generosity of Canadian residents, and I feel it is only right to pay it forward.

    WATCH | These Canadian newcomers reflect on what home means to them:

    The meaning of ‘home’

    1 month ago

    Duration 3:25

    Three newcomers create works of art around what home means to them — knowing they will probably never be able to return there.


    Do you have a compelling personal story that can bring understanding or help others? We want to hear from you. Write to us at ottawafirstperson@cbc.ca.

    For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

    ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Dami Fakolujo

    Freelance contributor

    Dami Fakolujo is a recent graduate of the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University, a Nigerian Canadian and an avid consumer of science fiction.

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