Frank Onasanya, originally from Nigeria, recently sat down with the Immigration Partnership staff and shared with us his story of how he came to live in North Grenville. Frank spoke openly about his childhood, the challenges he faced and overcame as an immigrant, and how these experiences have shaped him into the person he is today.
Tell us about your childhood growing up in Nigeria.
Growing up in western Nigeria, Frank learned the value of money at a young age. He remembers ‘street trading’, “I was allowed to go 6 or 8 streets in my neighbourhood and sell whatever my parents had,” he said. Frank shared that it is not uncommon for young children in Nigeria even at the age of five or six, to know how to manage money, prepare food, and even how to take care of their younger siblings. “Here (or even in England) that’s called child abuse, over there [Nigeria] that’s the way it is. Once you get to that age you need to know how to take care of yourself, what happens if mom and dad don't come home? You have to know how to survive,” he said. Frank said he is glad to have had lived those experiences.
How did you come to live in North Grenville?
Frank left Nigeria in his mid-twenties and immigrated to England, where he pursued his post-secondary studies. These studies eventually led him to play semi-professional soccer in Cambridge. Thirteen years later Frank moved to Toronto, through a transfer with the company he worked for in England. As a District Manager of a chain of restaurants, Frank travelled and moved a lot within the Greater Toronto Area.
In 2000, Frank was transferred again through his employment to Ottawa. After living the fast-paced city lifestyle for many years, Frank and his wife, having young children at the time, decided they wanted to live a more rural life and made the move to North Grenville. “I wanted to be able to go to work and come home and hear the birds sing,” said Frank.
Today, Frank works for the federal Department of National Defense and commutes to Ottawa for work. Frank continues to be involved in his community through coaching soccer, volunteering, and in 2014, he made history when he was elected the first black councillor of North Grenville.
What is one of the most challenging things about moving to a new country?
“So much of the unknown is challenging,” said Frank. When Frank first moved to England, he didn't know much about the country. “What I learned in school was the history [of the country], how people lived and how people did things was different, you can’t learn that from a textbook,” said Frank. “The way people expressed themselves, their tone and body language was different than what I was used to,” he said. Frank had to learn to adapt and not take things as insulting or demeaning, “I just had to understand that people express themselves differently,” he said.
What advice would you give to other newcomers moving to Leeds Grenville from another country?
“Perseverance and determination are important as is really listening to people to understand where they are coming from,” said Frank. He said to be respectful, listen to others and acknowledge what they are saying. Often, disagreements and even racism and prejudice come from a lack of understanding.
Seven year old Norah MacLaurin-Hogg lives in the Village of Merrickville-Wolford with her parents, 4 brothers, and her dog named Summer. Her favourite traditions include celebrating her birthday and Christmas. Like many other young children in Merrickville, Norah has been involved with the Rideau Bridge to Canada refugee group. She has already met and played soccer with the refugee children who arrived in late June, “they beat us”, she says. When asked what she wishes another people knew about her she responded without hesitation, “that I’m smart!”
Immigration Partnership staff recently had the opportunity to sit down with a family living in Merrickville, the MacKay’s. All four of the MacKay children have been involved with local refugee resettlement efforts, and continue to volunteer their time to the Rideau Bridge to Canada group (formerly Merrickville Bridge to Canada).
This week, meet Fae, the oldest sibling of the MacKay family!
Fae MacKay, 16 years old, was born in Virginia in the United States, but has always called Merrickville her home. Although Fae grew up in a small town, from a young age she has been exposed to diverse cultures. The MacKay family welcomes travelers and exchange students in their home through an organization called, WWOOF Canada. For those of you unfamiliar with the program, WWOOF is an acronym for “worldwide workers on organic farms” or “willing workers on organic farms”. The worldwide movement links visitors with organic farmers and growers to promote cultural and education experiences based on trust and non-monetary exchange. The MacKay family has a hobby farm on their property where the 'wwoofers' work, they also help out with the kids. “I think it’s great because it introduces us to new cultures and lifestyles,” says Fae.
Fae, going into grade 11 at North Grenville District High School, is among the many youth volunteers who have dedicated their time to help fundraise money to bring a Syrian refugee family to Merrickville. She first got involved with Rideau Bridge to Canada through her mother, Diana MacKay, who is actively involved in the group. Soon after she began volunteering, Fae was asked to be the Chair of the youth committee – her role will be to help the Syrian children integrate into their new school and community. When asked what advice she would give to someone moving to Merrickville from another country, Fae responded simply; “Merrickville is a small town and everyone knows each other in the community. Don’t be shy. People are open.” After a wait of about 17 months, the fundraising and hard work of the Rideau Bridge to Canada group has paid off – the group welcomed a Syrian family to their town on June 22nd.
Fae also talked about her experience participating in a student exchange in France last year, which she says, “gave me a better global perspective”, and wishes that other people knew that small towns are open to welcoming newcomers. “Merrickville is not that diverse yet, but people here are ready to welcome newcomers,” she says. Her exchange abroad also sparked her desire to explore the world, “just because I am from a small town people expect I’ll stay here… that’s not the case for me”.
Where did you grow up?
My family was raised in a tiny Acadian fishing village called Petit de Grat, on Isle Madame in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. My mother was a teacher and my father was a lobster fisherman and the ocean was our playground growing up!
Do you have any personal/family traditions that you love to celebrate?
Every Christmas, my children and I fill a shopping cart of everything we would love to eat over the holidays, then we go drop it off at the Food Bank for another family to enjoy! The school where I teach, Ange-Gabriel, is focused on making a difference one action at at time, so we help out with local and global projects that they are often involved in.
What advice would you give to somebody moving to Leeds Grenville from another country?
Embrace the diversity of the flora and fauna of our region by exploring our trails and waterways; shop at our farmer's markets and support our local merchants. Experience the variety of cultural concerts at the Brockville Arts Centre and participate in our Multicultural Festival! Find your place in our spiritual community - we have great energy here! Have fun! Explore our region and your new Country! Share your talents! Welcome HOME!
What do you wish other people knew about you?
I am an energy worker and I truly believe that everyone can heal themselves from the inside out and that the transformation begins with an attitude of gratitude. I truly believe that every single act of kindness is worth posing and that everyone can make a difference in this world!