It was a chilly and windy October night back in 2005 that drew Ticha Gwaradzimba to pull off the 401 into London.
After more than a dozen years in the United States, the Zimbabwe native’s refugee status was rejected. Her plans were to settle in Toronto and make Canada her new home.
“I figured I was going to go to Toronto – more people, more opportunity,” Gwaradzimba said. “The women at the border (in Detroit) gave me names of shelters and I figured that would be the better place to get information than at a hotel. With it being late and the weather rainy, I called up the London shelter and there was space.”
Gwaradzimba figured she’d sleep the night and the next day move on to Toronto. In the morning, needing to fax a document to the immigration office, she went looking for the nearest post office.
“And I looked around and said, ‘This isn’t a bad little city; it looks okay,’” she said. “I didn’t know anyone in Toronto, either. So I decided ‘Why don’t I just stay here and see if it works out?’
“And there is Western, I can eventually go to school there. Maybe.”
Her aim of continuing her schooling would eventually become reality. But the immediate expectation of feeling at home was a bit more troubling.
Gwaradzimba found it difficult to land a job. And this from someone who possesses a bachelor’s degree in Politics and Administrative Studies and a master’s degree in International Relations from the University of Zimbabwe.
“I applied for numerous jobs, but was getting no response,” she said. “I had worked a library in Atlanta, so when I came here, I thought it was a good niche for me. I did look for jobs at the library here in London and at Western, but there was nothing. London, to me, seemed to be about networking when it comes to jobs.”
So Gwaradzimba began volunteering at the Cross Cultural Learning Centre, which helps newcomers settle and integrate into the community. There, the ‘networking’ revelation came to light as she was introduced to someone from the London Public Library, where a short time later, Gwaradzimba would be working full-time as an employment resource facilitator.
With employment now settled, Gwaradzimba turned her thoughts to school. As an international student, the tuition costs gave her pause. She had money for a semester or so, but chose to continue working and save her money. School would have to wait.
But networking once again opened doors for Gwaradzimba. She was told of United Way London & Middlesex’s Women Empowering Women Scholarship, created specifically for immigrant women to remove barriers they face when returning to school.
“I saw the United Way had a scholarship for immigrant women, but I figured they wouldn’t give it to me since I’ve already been to school. But I thought ‘why not?’ and went ahead and applied,” Gwaradzimba said. “When they called and said I had won, I was feeling guilty at first. Perhaps there’s someone else who could use this, someone who needed a leg up more than I do.
“But then I thought, ‘I could do a lot with this.’”
This past summer, Gwaradzimba began her Master’s of Library and Information Science at Western.
“For me, being a librarian is all about literacy; it’s about making information available to people. You don’t have to be in class to learn, you just need the opportunity.”
With her father being a teacher back home in Zimbabwe, Gwaradzimba admitted she was lucky growing up with his encouragement to continue her education, especially when most young Zimbabwe girls did not. She was one of only two girls in her Grade 5 class to continue on with their schooling.
“For me, having this certification, I will know more about the profession and, who knows, I may even go back to my country. The more you know, the more you can share,” she said. “The more I know how to run a library, how to get resources, I can help others who were not as lucky as me.”
NAMING THE NUMBER
Western looks to once again top its record-breaking $716,632 fundraising total raised last year for United Way of London & Middlesex. This 2012 goal will be unveiled Oct. 18 at The Wave in the University Community Centre beginning at noon.