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‘Stuck’ in Canada, Nigerian man finds purpose in Vernon

3 month visit turns to 3 year separation from family amid pandemic

Folu Oloyede had always dreamed of visiting Canada.

So, when his sister invited him to Lethbridge to meet his new nephew, it was an easy decision to make. What Folu didn’t imagine then — what he couldn’t have imagined — is how quickly his life would change forever.

He booked a round-trip flight out of Nigeria, hugged his son and kissed his wife goodbye, and said he’ll see them in a few months.

More than three years passed before he finally saw them again.

Sitting comfortably in a grey T-shirt embroidered with the Maven Lane logo above his heart, Folu’s wide smile masks the years of uncertainty that once weighed on his shoulders. Now an early childhood education (ECE) assistant, he’s just happy to be reunited with family and surrounded by friends in his new home.

“It’s a total coincidence that I’m here,” Folu laughs. “The plan was to meet my nephew, spend a few months in Canada and go back home to my four-year-old son and my wife.”

His return flight was scheduled for April 2020. But, on March 11, the World Health Organization declared the start of the pandemic. Flights were cancelled, borders were closed, and before he knew it, Folu was stuck.

“Nigeria shut down its air space. I was stuck — I was stuck and all I had was a visitor’s permit. I couldn’t work, and I couldn’t bear not being with my family,” Folu says.

Thankfully, he was able to stay with his sister, her husband and his nephew during the lockdown.

“I was thinking, maybe I can just see if there’s a plane, a way to get out of here. I thought maybe it would open up again in June or July,” Folu recalls. “And then, in June, a new policy came out, and everything changed.”

Travellers stuck in Canada on a visitor’s Visa could apply for a closed work permit without having to leave the country.

Folu went online and soon found a Nigerian family in Fort McMurray. They were looking for someone to take care of their two-year-old and put their seven-year-old through online schooling. As a high school biology and chemistry teacher, Folu was a great fit for the job, but he knew it would be temporary.

“I was travelling back and forth between Lethbridge and Fort McMurray for about a year, and then my sister’s husband got a job at the university in Kelowna,” Folu says. “When they moved to the Okanagan, they asked me if I was going be OK in Fort McMurray on my own. I wasn’t, really, so they started helping me look for other job opportunities.”

Finding the RNIP program

Folu’s closed work permit meant he could only work with the family in Alberta, but there was a new immigration path for skilled professionals debuting in the North Okanagan: the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot (RNIP) program.

Launched in 2020, RNIP helps communities and businesses benefit from the immigration of skilled workers by creating a path to permanent residency. The North Okanagan was selected as one of two communities in B.C., and one of 11 in Canada, to participate.

After reaching out to Maven Lane about an open position in September 2021, the team quickly connected Folu with RNIP coordinator Ward Mercer.

“I assumed it was just going to be another work permit. I had no idea that the program would be a fast track to permanent residency,” says Folu. “I thought it would be another four years before I could bring my family to Canada.”

Then, on Dec. 6, 2022, just over one year after first hearing about the RNIP program and nearly three years after getting stuck in Canada, Folu became a permanent resident. Four days later, his wife and son arrived in Vancouver.

“When I was waiting to see my family again, I was just working on adrenaline. My mind was divided, but I had to be professional. I’m working with young kids, and they can tell when you aren’t totally focused,” says Folu. “When my wife and son came here, my whole outlook on life changed. I felt whole again.”

Finding his calling

Surrounded by young smiling faces every day, Folu says he’s found his calling at Maven Lane. In the fall, he plans on going back to school to become a full early childhood educator.

“After university, I worked in the hospital with the state agency in Nigeria to help control HIV, but I always loved teaching and I eventually found myself teaching high school science,” says Folu. “Coming to Canada and going back into education felt like a natural progression.”

Only now, instead of teaching 17-year-olds about living organisms, he helps kids under three thrive.

“I’ve found my niche in being part of the development of children, shaping and moulding them and being a big part of their everyday lives. This isn’t something I’m doing to survive, it’s my purpose,” says Folu. “It’s so rewarding when you see the light in their faces and they come to give you a hug first thing in the morning. I look forward to seeing them every day.”

The RNIP program is made possible through funding from the Government of Canada and the Province of British Columbia.

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Roger Knox

About the Author: Roger Knox

I am a journalist with more than 30 years of experience in the industry. I started my career in radio and have spent the last 21 years working with Black Press Media.
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