Nigerian mother faces new challenges as family migrates to Canada

Carolyn Vanderveen, pictured, met Joy Maxwell through church in 2014 and since then a friendship of support has developed that is well and alive today. Vanderveen is holding a traditional Nigerian shirt that was gifted to her by Maxwell. Photo by Madina Azizi.

When Joy Maxwell and her family first arrived in Canada about six months ago, it was a warm sunny September morning, quite a contrast to the situation today as the family of seven endure their first brutal winter in small town Lanigan, Saskatchewan.


Maxwell came to Canada by herself in 2014 to work as a nurse, leaving her family behind. She hoped to get her permanent residency quickly and bring her family– including her youngest son who was one-year-old when she left him–to Canada to start a better life.


To Maxwell’s surprise, it took three years to get her residency card. A period she calls long and lonely.


“I had to spend three Christmases all by myself, without my family,” said Maxwell.



When Maxwell met Carolyn Vanderveen, she says, everything became a little more bearable with her companionship and constant moral support.


“Carolyn has always been there for me and has helped support me every step of the way,” said Maxwell.


“When you hear about her story, about her and her husband Maxwell and how they chose to make that sacrifice in order to make a better life here in Canada, what else can I do?” said Vanderveen. “And I want to be careful not to take the credit because she made the sacrifice and she did all the hard work.”


Finally in 2017, Maxwell received her residency card and went to Nigeria to bring her family to Canada.


“For the three years that we have been apart, for us to make it at the end of that three years is worth all the pain and all the stress. We feel more fulfilled being together now,” said Maxwell.


Bringing her family to Canada was one thing but now helping them adapt to the Canadian culture poses new challenges for Maxwell.


The cold is nothing new for Joy Maxwell but for her five children and husband, it is something they are experiencing for the first time.


“It was a ‘boom’ experience, they have never seen snow before,” said Maxwell. “I did warn them about the cold, I even took a video and sent it to them but they couldn’t comprehend it until they came and saw it.”


“I liked cold but when we got into Canada, the kind of cold I saw here, I don’t think that’s the kind of cold I like,” joked Maxwell’s husband, Opara Maxwell. “I like the air-conditioning kind of cold.”


“I have to wear three jackets and two pants to keep me warm but my face freezes,” said Divine, Maxwell’s 18-year-old son.


However, the cold is not the only Canadian thing the family has had to adjust to–food is also up on the list.


“When we came, we brought some food from Nigeria but we are running out of stock now.


“The food we have here in Canada, they are not quite used to it. They eat less outside and more at home,” said Maxwell, who has had to make home-cooked meals more often than she did in Nigeria.


Living in a small town of just over 1,200 people, Maxwell says that though the community has been very warm and welcoming, it has been hard for her kids to fit in at school.


“In their school, they are the only blacks and it’s not easy for them to break into the circle of friendship,” said Opara. “The children are really trying to adapt and I give credit to them because it’s really not easy coming from a totally different environment.”


“Understanding people and they understanding me is very difficult because I have an accent,” said Divine, who is in his last year of high school. “Finding friends to integrate with is kind of hard.”


The family has also found it difficult to integrate into the Canadian church culture.


“When we went to church, it was a very quiet environment. You just go quietly and you sing quietly, we are not used to that,” said Maxwell. “We are used to dancing lots. When you go to church in Nigeria you have to sing loud and dance.”


Nevertheless, Maxwell says the challenges that the family has had to face as new Canadians are insignificant in comparison to the joy of having her family in Canada with her.


“I am so thankful to have my family here. There is really nothing to compare with it.”



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