WOW Ambassador: Khatima Louaya
Nominator: Ruth Yaka Milenda
Building a Better Future for Canada
Ruth Yaka Milenda, a refugee claimant from the Democratic Republic of Congo, will never forget Khatima Louaya’s first visit to her humble apartment. “Although we had no furniture, Khatima sat on the floor with us to discuss our needs,” says Ruth. “It touched me so much. She helped me to find furniture and other items. Every time I call her she is there for me, even if it’s just to refer me to where I can find a certain type of service.”
Ruth came to Ottawa in 2016, with her two daughters and sister. They initially lived in a shelter and were introduced to Khatima by a social worker.
Khatima immigrated to Canada many years ago. In Morocco she was a lawyer, but changed careers in her new country. She works for the Conseil des écoles publiques de l’Est de l’Ontario (CEPEO), the French public school board in Ottawa. CEPEO provides services and programs to newcomer students, but also to their families.
Once a week, Khatima visits local shelters to evaluate the needs of newcomer families. She informs the families about all of the options available to them in terms of supports and community services. The students and their family members can also meet her at her office.
“Khatima does her job with love and passion,” remarks Ruth. “She puts herself in the place of others. Every time I wanted to cry because I felt lost, she found the words to comfort me. She would say that she understood how I felt and that she too had experienced these feelings as a newcomer. She told me to always keep my head high and that things will improve.”
“Khatima puts herself in my shoes, reminds me of all the details and most importantly shares her own immigration story,” remarks Ruth. Khatima told her how she had slept on the floor for her first few nights in Canada.
“She encourages and reassures me,” adds Ruth. When Ruth registered her daughters for school, Khatima met her there, to answer her questions and provide guidance. On Khatima’s first visit to Ruth’s home, she noticed that they didn’t have curtains and felt this was unsafe for a house with four women. She quickly arranged to buy curtains.
Both women fondly remember a day they spent driving from one service to another in Khatima’s car. “I told Ruth that one day she will drive me around in her own car,” remembers Khatima. “A newcomer often starts at less than zero, so I tell them that I arrived in this country with one box and received a lot of support from other people. In spite of everything, I try to reassure newcomers like Ruth that they always need to have hope, perseverance and the will to succeed.”
Now Ruth has her that car and has found a permanent job. “Her story can help to inspire others,” adds Khatima. “I helped to show her the steps along the way, but it was Ruth’s hard work that has led to her success. She has integrated well, even adopting the Canadian French accent.”
“Khatima encouraged my sister and me to integrate into the Francophone community in Ottawa and to participate in local community and cultural events,” explains Ruth.
After their initial struggles, Ruth and her family have found a sense of stability and much of the credit for their orientation goes to Khatima. Both sisters went back to school for practical training. “We have a home and my sister and I have full-time jobs,” adds Ruth.
Ruth smiles proudly as he reflects on the accomplishments of her two daughters. “They have adapted well and are among the best students at École Secondaire de LaSalle,” she says. One daughter is in the music program and other is active in athletics. “They are very comfortable here.”
Ruth suddenly becomes serious as she tells of how one of her daughter cries when she thinks about the possibility of having to return to their home country, “She has friends here and truly loves this country,” adds Ruth. Although their initial application to stay in Canada as refugees was rejected, they recently submitted an application to stay here on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
Khatima comforts her and assures her that everything will be fine. “Ruth is a success story,” says Khatima. “She has a permanent job and is well integrated in the community. She has a network of other newcomer families. She is a very strong woman who works extremely hard and does so much for her family. She has the motivation to succeed and shares with others too.
“I experienced physical violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” says Ruth. “Now for the first time I feel safe. I love to work with children and want to continue my life here.”
Khatima feels that in many ways Canada is the best country to be a newcomer. “I give to newcomers because I know that a woman like Ruth will ultimately give to others and through her contribution will help build a better future for all us,” concludes Khatima.