‘Vernon is home for us’: COVID-19 pandemic changes course of Nigerian man’s life

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COVID-19 pandemic changes course of Nigerian man’s life
WATCH: For one North Okanagan immigrant, becoming a permanent resident of Canada was never in the plans until COVID-19 struck and he found himself here. But with the support of his family and a childcare centre in Vernon that hired him, his surprise journey has a happy ending. Sydney Morton has his story. – May 10, 2024

For all of us, the COVID-19 pandemic was a curve ball we didn’t see coming, but for Folu Oloyede, it changed the course of his life.

The Nigerian man was visiting his sister in Fort McMurray, Alta., and was scheduled to fly home in April 2020. But when the pandemic hit, Canadian borders closed and planes were grounded, leaving him with no choice but to stay in Canada away from his wife, Kenny, and young son Dotun.

“I couldn’t get a ticket out of Canada and then I was stuck. I tried everything I could because I left a four-year-old baby at home, so I tried to get out of here, but I couldn’t and then I was stuck,” said Oloyede.

During the lockdown, Oloyede stayed with his sister and her family. In August 2020 the Canadian government opened a new temporary policy that allowed visitors to apply for a work permit without having to leave the country. This meant Oloyede could find work; he was able to gain employment from a family in Fort McMurray to help their children with their online schooling.

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About a year later, his sister’s husband took a job at the University of British Columbia Okanagan campus in Kelowna, B.C., and asked if Oloyede would like to move to the Okanagan Valley with them.

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He took them up on the offer.

He applied for a job at the early childhood education centre, Maven Lane in Vernon, B.C. There, he was referred to the Rural Northern Immigration Pilot Program (RNIP) in 2021 to help put him on the path to gain permanent residency.

The RNIP was established in 2020 to create a new immigration path for skilled professionals.  The team at Maven Lane helped Oloyede enroll in the program, which works with local businesses and their employees to help streamline the immigration process.

“Permanent residency can take a long time. Our program can still take a long time but there are definitely benefits to it,” said Ward Mercer. regional coordinator of RNIP.

“When we first started, our permanent resident process could be 10 months, whereas others are a lot longer and our work permits are really, really fast.”

However, the program is coming to a close and Mercer says they are no longer accepting applicants. The reason for the pilot closing is that it has reached its five-year maximum and Mercer predicts a similar pilot project will replace it in the near future.

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Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has announced they are in the process of creating a permanent version of the program.

Since 2020, the pilot has supported 483 businesses and has helped 1,882 new immigrants, including their family members.

“I am blessed and I am happy with the role that Maven Lane took and everything that people talk to me, I just direct the attention back to them because they are the biggest support apart from my sister and her family here. They were solidly behind me,” said Oloyede.

Maven Lane has been working with the RNIP for years, and Oloyede is the fifth teacher of theirs to go through the program and achieve a permanent residency.

“It’s really been important for us as a child-care centre,” said Kyla Macaulay, Maven Lane employee engagement coordinator.

“These children are learning all about the world from us. We are not a school so we don’t need to teach them their ABCs, 1-2-3s, our job is to remind them what fabulous humans they can be.”

Three of the 1,882 people RNIP has helped are Oloyede, his wife, Kenny and their son Dotun. His family arrived in Canada days after he became a permanent resident in 2022.

Now the family lives together in Vernon and they have even added a new addition to the family — three-month-old Tiwa.

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“This is home for us now, Vernon is home for us,” said Oloyede.

Oloyede says this is just the start of what he hopes will be along and happy lives here in the Okanagan.


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