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Providence Alumna Honoured with Prime Minister's Award

No immigrant or international student that I’m aware of will have a bad experience. Not on my watch.
Deborah Olukoju is paying it forward. She’s been doing so ever since the mid-1980s, when she arrived in Canada as an international student and was taken under the wing of a teacher she still refers to as her “mentor.”
On March 18 Olukoju, who completed both her Master of Arts and Doctor of Ministry at Providence Theological Seminary, was honoured for her work as a pastor, counsellor and helper at the Prime Minister’s Volunteer Awards event in Toronto, where she was named Community Leader for the Prairies region (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta).
It’s an award she’s happy to share with the students, families and faculty who went out of their way to make her transition from Nigeria as smooth as possible—who, like her first contact at Emmanuel Bible College, where she did her Bachelor of Theology, took the time to welcome her into community life.
It’s the gift of time, more than money and materials, she says, that will truly impact an immigrant or international student.
“When you’re giving authentic relationship it will cost you time. You can’t give authentic relationship without giving up quality time,” she says.
As a young scholar in unfamiliar surroundings, far away from home, Olukoju’s experience wouldn’t have looked all that different from countless others faced by students in her own time, before it and even now. She couldn’t drive; she wouldn’t have known where to go if she did. The adjustment to North American life, she admits, was more difficult than she expected.
But she wasn’t alone. Her mentor, Barbara Sparks, was a ready sounding-board, a constant presence who helped Olukoju find, and embrace, a new community of fellow students and their families.
“Those families would take the time to invite me,” she says. “They kept the community experience going on for me.”
It’s an experience she now extends to others from her home in Winnipeg.
In her role as liaison for the Nigerian community with the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program she has assisted newcomers in finding homes and employment in the province. Her work as Manitoba facilitator for the National Organization of Immigrant and Visible Minority Women of Canada Mentorship Program allows her to offer the quality time that so affected her own experience. And her leadership of Immanuel Fellowship Church puts her in the midst of the spiritual life of her neighbourhood.
All the while she has remained connected to Providence and for five years taught the Seminary’s Clinical Pastoral Care program. Sunday, her husband, also completed his Master of Arts at Providence and has previously worked for the institution in a recruiting role.
“We’ve been part of the Providence family for a long time,” says Olukoju, laughing, “They can’t get rid of us and we can’t get rid of them!”
Referring to Olukoju as a “real spark plug,” Providence President David Johnson says she “worked to make the Seminary a better place” over the course of her studies. “’Let’s make things better for people’ typifies her attitude,” he says. “We are proud that one of our alumni has been recognized at national level.”
Emphasizing a desire to see her Prime Minister’s Volunteer Award influence current and future Providence students, Olukoju underlines the importance of taking the time to welcome immigrants and international students into community life.
“If we are truly Jesus’ hands and feet let’s take time,” she says.
She lives by her words.
“I made a promise to God that if I end up living in this country no immigrant or international student that I’m aware of will have a bad experience. Not on my watch.”
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