A Little Grace and Joy in The Village at University Gates

Joy Habonimana has just finished her shift as a Personal Support Worker in the long-term care neighbourhoods in The Village at University Gates. She’s only been with the team for a month or so as she sits down to share her story, and though she seems a little shy, she’s open about the journey that led from her home in Burundi to this village in the north end of Waterloo.  

Grace and Joy stand at a wall adorned with photos and the word family. 

Joy and her friend, Grace, trained together to become nurses in their homeland, and their friendship has grown strong over the years. They are now among a growing number of internationally-educated nurses who have come to Ontario to offer their skills and meet the insatiable demand for healthcare professionals. They arrived from Burundi together in mid-January, both eager to begin a new chapter, and Joy says she’s looking ahead to a time when her family can join her. It’s hard to imagine the sacrifice of leaving two children under the age of 11 at home, but Joy says she must look to the future.

“If I was only looking at the present, I would not have come,” Joy says, “but I look to the future for my kids. It will be a very good opportunity for them when they will join me.”

Grace and Joy will work as Personal Support Workers while they upgrade their credentials, and Joy says she is beginning to settle into the culture at University Gates, though she admits there is quite a learning curve. In Burundi, she has worked in a hospital setting for most of her 11 years as a nurse, including five in pediatrics, but a care environment for older adults as known in Canada is nothing Joy is familiar with.

“It has been a total change,” Joy says. “I was not sure in the beginning that I was going to be able to make it, but we said let’s give ourselves time and now, we say okay, we can do this.”

She says the welcoming culture at the Village has helped her settle, and everyone has been eager to help. Of course, navigating a new city in the midst of winter, which she has never experienced, proved to be challenging, but in terms of her new role within the Village she is quite content.

“The people are so helpful . . . and they are encouraging,” Joy says of her fellow team members, and she has been learning plenty from the residents she supports.

“They love me,” she says with a broad smile. “If they were not loving me, I might be feeling a bit depressed, but they love me so much and some tell me that I spread joy to them, so I feel so good.”

It goes both ways, she says, for the residents bring her joy, and she happy to be a support for them.

Assistant General Manager Kelly Younger has come to know both Joy and Grace as they have become part of Village Life.

“From the moment that Grace and Joy landed in Canada they have brought passion, positivity and love to our Village community,” Kelly says. “In such a short time, they have built trusting relationships with our residents, team members, family members and leaders; they are family. 

“Our Village community is so proud to be part of supporting both Grace and Joy as they walk along this nursing journey in Canada,” Kelly adds. “We are so blessed to learn and grow alongside of them and we look forward to the future ahead where we can continue to integrate their clinical knowledge into practice at University Gates.”