Early in February, I wrote about John Mulwa, a Kenyan migrant and Hamilton chef who was fighting to keep himself in Canada. For starters, what drew me to his story was his level of engagement in the community. John had fundraised, volunteered his skills and built networks with people within his East African community in Hamilton, but also with other Canadian farmers, citizens and friends. Another was the conditions he left. After facing violence from land disputes in his home country of Kenya, John ran away in fear for his life. Kenya is a country squarely in the climate crisis, and the continued desertification in the area is flaming conflicts, especially between farmers and pastoralists.
Once publications like ByBlacks, and other outlets caught on to his story, John saw an uptick in support. The media coverage he got increased the total number of signatures of his online petition to 19,451. The work and campaigning of the community were instrumental in his new permanent residency status. In talking with him, he noted the exceptional help of Hamilton MP Matthew Green, the NDP member of Parliament for Hamilton Centre and member of the Canada-Africa Parliamentary Association (CAAF). The work of Green and others has helped make dreams come true.
“When I was granted an extension, I got lucky with a two-year visa and 2-year work permit. At the same time, I got a message from immigration that I should send my fingerprints. I sent it to them and 3 days after I qualified to stay in Canada.”
Remember that Mulwa originally was applying for a simple extension of his refugee status. “I was not aware they would give me PR. Thanks to everyone who came through to sign the petition.”
Since coming to Canada in August 2014 John has shown nothing but the perfect model of what a Canadian should be. He worked his way from precarious jobs in bakeries to Robertland Academy which is a military base school. Now he works at Columbia International College as a senior cook. A community advocate in his own right, Mulwa has been a contributing member of African Canadian societies in Ontario as the Vice Chair of the Jamiib Group. All this is on top of his work arranging community BBQs, introducing Canadians to African staples, and helping take care of new community members.
As a person who has faced all the trials new Black immigrants face here, John is putting that experience to work by helping East African immigrants find work and housing.
“Almost 300 people from East Africa have come, and I have tried to help them, by finding people who have space in their homes. I was in their situation, so I want to help them.”
Those at the beginning of this troubled journey to status in Canada may have the same question for the farmer/entrepreneur/community advocate/chef:
“What is the reason for your success?” His answer is humble. “I am not successful I am trying. I came to run away from my troubles. I worked for 14 to 15 dollars, under-the-table jobs, but if God blesses me I won't need to be overworked. I am more into giving a helping hand to the community.”
If John will not toot his own horn, then allow me. The decision to leave your home is not easy, it is made harder by an immigration system made confusing by design. John has faced impossible odds and comes out on top, and while he did not do it alone, he started it alone. But he prefers showering others with praise.
“I want to thank ByBlacks really. When you wrote - if John Mulwa is not Canadian enough, then no one is - that really got traction.”
But as one journey ends it is just the beginning of the next, and he has plans for his new future in Canada.
“To stay in Canada and build my restaurant, catering and farming.”
We are more than excited about the grand opening of his future restaurant, and to see John realize his dreams. For now, let Canadians celebrate a new wonderful resident and the Black community can celebrate another leader.