What It Takes: Nothabo Ncube vowed to become a doctor. She came to Canada to realize her dream
This is the fourth in a weekly, six-part series called What It Takes that tells the personal stories of new Canadians and their journeys to Canada. In this story, Global News intern Fadzaiishe Ziramba introduces us to Dr. Nothabo Ncube, and tells us what it took for her to come to Canada from Zimbabwe. Our next story in this series appears on Wed., Sept. 11.
For some immigrants, many years in the first world brim with hardships akin to, or greater than, those experienced in their former home. After migrating to Canada, Dr. Nothabo Ncube realized it would take time to actualize her vision of a “land flowing with milk and honey.”
Ncube, 30, was born in Zimbabwe. She remembers the smell of water sinking into soil as she explored vast and open spaces. As a child, she delighted in walking and running barefoot on the soil with peers. She was fond of “Ubuntu,” the spirit of unity.
“I never felt alone,” Ncube said. “I felt like I was surrounded by my brothers and sisters, even though those people were not necessarily related to me.”
Yet life in Zimbabwe was not without challenges. Ncube was 13 years old when her father moved to Canada to escape political turmoil. He planned to sponsor the family. They would join him in Canada.
Ncube’s parents chose Canada because of its diversity. They believed it would be a favourable country to raise their children in.
Canada, meanwhile, is counting on immigrants like Ncube to sustain the country’s population. By 2053, about 90 per cent of the country’s population growth will come from immigration, not births.
“With an aging population and low fertility rates, immigration plays an important role in ensuring that Canada’s population and labour force continue to grow,” according to the minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship’s 2018 annual report to Parliament.
WHAT IT TAKES, part 1: An immigrant’s journey from Zimbabwe to Canada
WHAT IT TAKES, Part 2: From Nigeria to here — How Esther Adeagbo made Canada her home
WHAT IT TAKES, Part 3: Gladys Colarina had to wait 13 years before she could join her mother in Canada
Back in Zimbabwe, while she waited for her father to arrange the family’s move to Canada, Ncube relished the vibrant relationship she shared with her mother. She thought of her mother as the “first teacher life introduced.” Her mother taught her to cook and dress up. She insisted Ncube accompany her to business meetings in order to prepare her for womanhood.
For a year, Ncube lived with her mother and younger brother until a fateful Sunday changed the course of her life. At the age of 14, her boarding school stay was suddenly interrupted by a family call. She was quickly prompted to pack her toiletries and travel home. The Christian boarding school scarcely allowed students to leave the school premises on a Sunday unless something catastrophic had occurred.
“As I was walking to the boarding school gate, I just felt weird,” Ncube recalled. “Something told me that something big had happened, and for some reason, I was afraid that someone had passed away.”
Ncube told herself that if she got to the gate and saw her mother’s car, she would know her mother was well. If she did not, her worst fears would be confirmed. She would know her mother had passed away.
When she got to the gate, she did not see her mother’s car. Instead, her uncles escorted her to one of their homes. There, her brother told her their mother had tragically been killed in a car accident.
“I remember, in that moment, thinking to myself, ‘How am I going to make it?’ … I was alone. And my dad was already in Canada. We were still waiting for (permanent residency) papers. That’s what was most painful about my mother’s death. My dad wasn’t there.”
On the day of her mother’s funeral, Ncube stood before the coffin and vowed to become a doctor, one of the highest positions earned in the country.
For the next three years, Ncube and her brother lived with an aunt and uncle in Zimbabwe. She lost the freedom she enjoyed in her relationship with her mother. When seeking basic needs, she often thought through her requests in a methodical and calculated way.
“When you’re asking your mother for anything, you don’t think twice about it,” Ncube said. “I didn’t have the luxury of expressing myself in that way anymore. I was guarded.”
In 2006, Ncube and her brother left Zimbabwe and journeyed to Canada. They eagerly anticipated their reunion with their father. Ncube recalls losing sleep the night before her flight. Canada was, to her, a land of dreams, a place of perfection, fertile and conducive to great growth.
When she arrived in Canada, she was shocked. Far from the house she had dreamed of moving into, she unpacked her bags in a community housing apartment in Regent Park.
“I was surrounded by drug dealers and prostitutes,” Ncube said.
“People would drop out of college and high school. (There were) teenage pregnancies, you name it. It was not an environment which really supported who I wanted to become in the world. I felt alone.”
Determined not to succumb to the chaos around her, Ncube kept to herself and focused on her studies. Her father worked two jobs to support the family — a day shift and a night shift. Except for weekends, she barely saw her father.
“Life is hard for a lot of immigrant families, but it’s even harder when you’re an immigrant from a single-parent home,” Ncube said.
As she concluded her final years of secondary school, Ncube was connected to Pathways to Education, a program that offers educational support to low-income youth. Her support system at the program became a second family to her. Through the program, she received a full scholarship to McMaster University.
Upon completion of her undergrad, she applied for medical school. Although she was accepted, she was financially unable to afford her tuition. In a chance encounter with a hairdresser with whom she shared her story, she was offered $10,000 to begin her studies.
Ncube was able to complete her studies, honouring her vow to become a doctor through a student line of credit and support from her father and brother.
Ncube’s story of triumph has taken her across the world. At the age of 23, she was chosen to appear on Oprah Winfrey’s Lifeclass titled You Become What You Believe alongside a pool of remarkable women. She believes she was the youngest in the room.
In 2017, she shared her story on the TEDx platform.
Today, Ncube travels the world as an inspirational speaker. She founded a mentorship program called Esther after the biblical figure. She mentors 50 young women in Canada, South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria and Zimbabwe.
“I believe that we’ve all been through something,” Ncube said.
“It brings me so much joy to be able to do this work, to connect with the girl child, to help women heal from past trauma.”
Next year, Ncube hopes to host her first women’s conference, the “Woman Shift Summit.” In the future, she hopes to develop her own talk show. She already has a name for it: Dr. Thabo TV.
Although her journey has been fraught with treacherous roads, Ncube is grateful for the life she now enjoys in Canada.
“I love that Canada has given me the opportunity to pursue my dream. Even now, to pursue the deepest desire of my heart by using my voice and my story to inspire and empower.”
In part five of our weekly, six-part series, coming Wed., Sept. 11, you’ll meet Oksana Taran and find out what it took for her to come to Canada from Ukraine.