Ottawa

Refugees find work at The Perley and Rideau Veterans' Health Centre

Christine Kayisanabo could hardly wait to get a job and start earning her own money. It's been a long journey from her home in Rwanda - torn apart by civil war - to a new life in Canada. She now works at The Perley and Rideau Veterans' Health Centre in Ottawa.

Nine former refugees currently working at the centre

Barbara Wilson (left) and Christine Kayisanabo work at The Perley and Rideau Veterans' Health Centre. Kayisanabo was a refugee from Rwanda who now works as a personal support worker.

Like many refugees to Canada, Christine Kayisanabo, could hardly wait to get a job and start earning her own money.

Kayisanabo came to Ontario from Rwanda in 2010, in the middle of January, greeted by snow and cold.

"But I like snow," said Kayisanabo who is now settled in Ottawa and now works full time at The Perley and Rideau Veterans' Health Centre – a long-term care facility for the elderly, including military veterans.

After a year of English classes, she started taking an evening course to become a personal service worker – aiding nursing staff and helping patients bathe, dress and eat.

Residents at Perley and Rideau Veterans' Health Centre.
For Kayisanabo, however, it's been a long journey from a homeland torn apart by civil war to a new life in Canada. She said she lost eight members of her family in Rwanda's violent genocide. An aunt in Brampton sponsored her move to Canada.

"Why I came? I have two reasons, trauma and security. Trauma, because I lost a lot of members of my family, my parents, sisters, brothers, a son of four years. It was very sad," said Kayisanabo. "And security, because the killer was free."

Kayisanabo is still very much on her own as her five grown children remain in Rwanda, but she hopes someday, they'll be able to join her.      

Nine refugees working at The Perley and Rideau

Once her training as a personal support worker was complete, she decided to volunteer at the Perley and Rideau where she eventually was hired.

"In my culture, we respect old people, we like the old people," said Kayisanabo. "I compare the old people with a dictionary. They know many things."

Barbara Wilson, a supervisor at the Perley Rideau said the health centre hires people from far and wide so it's easy for people like Kayisanabo from a different culture and still learning English to fit in.

Akos Hoffer is CEO of The Perley and Rideau Veterans' Health Centre where he says 48 different languages are spoken.
"She was the kind of person we were looking for," said Wilson who immigrated to Canada from Jamaica.  "She's good with the residents, she's very thorough, has a lot of commitment. We're proud to have her here as a member of staff."

Akos Hoffer, CEO of The Perley and Rideau Veteran's Health Centre, is also a refugee who came as a child from Hungary. He's among nine former refugees who work at the centre, where 48 languages are currently spoken by residents or staff.

"We provide a safe haven for veterans and civilians when they're most vulnerable and Canada provides a safe haven for refugees," said Hoffer.

"When you get people who have been refugees and people who have been in conflict in a safe place together, they're probably pretty comfortable with one another."