Ladies in the Family Foundation
Ladies in the Family Foundation (LIFF) is a non-profit organization focused on building relationships among immigrant women with a focus on black women and girls to increase their economic, social, and emotional wellness as they navigate building new homes, businesses, and work lifestyles in Canada. They partner with Calgary Housing Company to offer programming, community connections, and supports to residents. Their group was founded by Bukola Ojemakinde.
Bukola moved to Calgary in 2006 after completing her Master’s degree at the University of Tennessee. At University, she had a strong support system and community around her. When she moved to Canada and was away from university, she says she felt empty. Within her school she had built a strong support system, but now she felt alone in her immigration journey. She resolved to do something about it.
Ladies in the Family Foundation grew out of that need to support other new Canadians in their immigration journeys.
“The weather and the food can be a culture shock, and I wasn’t sure what to expect,” says Bukola.
A mother of two, she connected with some non-profits serving newcomers, but experienced a gap in emotional care.
“The gap existed where there was not enough emotional and cultural support,” she says. “The ways kids adapt and parents adapt is so different. I felt like something was lacking.”
“In rural areas, remote areas, villages, people rely on themselves and others for support. They build bonds. When you have an issue, you take it on as a family.”
For many immigrants those bonds and that support community disappears as soon as they move unless you come with a large extended family.
“It becomes very important to build connections with strangers and form that family,” says Bukola. “In life there are so many ups, and downs. Those are the times you really need people in your corner.”
Bukola explains that people underestimate the impact of those connections until they need them.
“We want to help people build those connections in advance. We are educated and grounded in what non-profits exist and can help direct people on who to call when the need arises. There are so many resources out there, but sometimes immigrant populations don’t know about them.”
When Bukola first reached out to CHC she did not know anyone in the organization. Now, she has built strong connections with many staff and residents. She says she looks forward to offering more community programming over the next five years. She focuses heavily on outreach within CHC to identify gaps in support for new Canadians and looks for ways to build community.
Bukola is also a recipient of the Home Grant Program. She hopes to use the grant to plan events with CHC residents that foster empowerment, resilience, and strong mental health.
LIFF is different than other organizations, says Bukola, because there are many places you can go for supports, but not many that you can go for empowerment.
“We focus on the mental health of black women and girls. We are excited about the position we have to branch out and connect women to the resources they need. We want to bring in the boys and the husbands, too.”
Bukola speaks about the changes she has seen over the last decade and a half she has been in Canada. She shares that much of the early outreach she saw with new Canadians was done over social media and texting groups. With LIFF she brings that outreach off the computer screen and into the real world to build in-person connections.
New ideas are leading to new ways to provide support.
“People have come up with new ideas about how to bring in food from Africa. There were very few grocery stores previously. Now food arrives in three days or a week. There used to only be one fashion designer, but we are finding new ways to send over measurements and import clothes. Integration is becoming easier, but there are still gaps.”
It is in filling those gaps that Bukola is focused. Her goal is collaboration, not duplication.
“Building around culture with our end goal being strong mental health and peer to peer support. We are providing people access to mental health services and culture is the bedrock of our organization.”
Bukola is encouraged by the idea that the load is lighter when more people carry it.
“If I can only do my part, maybe that will encourage one more person to join me in the load of carrying. You meet certain people and it is almost like they are helpers, they are waiting there to support you. They may just be there for a while, but they put so much of themselves into the mission as if it is theirs. This is the same thing I want to carry on when supporting others. I want to mentor and point them to strong partnerships and share our triumphs.”