The YMCA hosted an Immigration Lunch and Learn event Tuesday afternoon at the Orillia Public Library.
Participants listened to first-hand experiences of newcomers to Simcoe County, including Alasoba Kelsy-Braide, who moved to Orillia five years ago from Rivers State, Nigeria, to take the child and youth care program at Georgian College.
“I came with my two kids and have made Orillia our home,” she said. “I was a stay-at-home mom, taking care of my family, but there is a stage you get to in life where you start to wonder what’s next, and I think I got to that point.”
When Kelsy-Braide moved to Canada, she didn’t know much about the culture.
“It took me a while to adapt,” she said. “When I was in college, there weren’t many resources to learn.”
Kelsy-Braide, who is in her 40s, relied on her classmates to help her get settled in Canada, but she wishes she had more help from the community.
“Just like me, there are other immigrants here who are lost and don’t know anything,” she said. “When I first came here, I didn’t even know where I could get my hair cut or braided, so we would go to Toronto for the weekend.”
To help others get settled and to share information, Kelsy-Braide started a Facebook group for fellow Black immigrants. She says it’s important for her to help make Orillia a more diverse community, which is one of the goals of her page.
“Between five years and now, I’ve seen a lot of changes,” she said. “When I came here, there weren’t any Black restaurants, but that’s changing.”
Bringing the community together Tuesday afternoon to hear stories of immigration was an opportunity Kelsy-Braide didn’t take lightly.
“Hopefully, these stories will strengthen community and bring people together to know where we are coming from,” she said. “We need to talk about what the future will be like for us immigrants.”
Dave Hamilton, the team leader for the YMCA’s immigrant services, says Tuesday’s event aimed to spread awareness and information about newcomers to the region.
“The immigrant population in Orillia continues to grow,” he said. “It’s important that the people who are here are aware of the expansion and experiences that people have gone through on their journey to be here.”
Hamilton says it’s always important to support newcomers to the community.
“The best way is to support local businesses that are owned by newcomers,” he said. “Look for information; be open-minded and accepting of the newcomers of our community.”
Over the past six months, there has been a significant increase in immigrants moving to Simcoe County, Hamilton says.
“It’s due to COVID, Ukraine, and we can’t forget what is happening in Afghanistan and Syria,” he said. “Those things are still happening, and we are still helping newcomers from those regions settle.”