Canada is the greatest country in the world. Of course, statistically, we know that’s true. The United Nations' Human Development Index, based on life expectancy, education, standards of living, and child welfare, has told us so for years.
But Canada’s greatness is not just about the “good life." Canada is the land of opportunity, where milk and honey flows, not just for the wealthy, but for anyone who dreams a dream and works hard.
There is no better example of this than my legal assistant, Justine Karungyi. Justine arrived in British Columbia from Uganda in 2006. She was 24 years old. She began her life in Africa while civil war raged and her family, including four siblings, became fractured. Her father was a local Chairman of the Uganda People’s Congress, which had governed Uganda for many years. He fled his home in Jinja, moving to his ancestral home in Mbarara with Justine and her sister.
The genocide of war kept Justine, her father and her sister in exile for over three years. Justine’s mother believed her husband and two girls were dead. After all, thousands of children were turned into soldiers and others were abducted, raped and murdered. Justine’s mother had moved on with her life with a new partner and more children. Losing her mother was as profound as the devastation of war.
As was the norm in Uganda, Justine’s father took his five children and settled in Masaka. Custody was not an issue. Children belonged with their fathers. No questions asked. In Masaka, Justine attended primary school and later, secondary school, at a private Catholic girls' boarding school. Her father paid the fees, but nothing else. Justine’s stepmother resented Justine and her siblings. They cost too much money and they interfered in her relationship with their father.
The school fed Justine a corn-flour and hot-water paste, called “posho,” and beans twice a day. She and her sister ended up on the streets begging for money to buy basics, including sugar, toilet paper and hygiene products.
Once she finished high school she enrolled in a two-year program to obtain an advanced certificate of education.
Justine’s Literature teacher talked about corruption, about standing up for people who could not speak for themselves, and about the law and what lawyers could do for their country and its citizens. At 15 years old Justine decided she would become a lawyer. But a legal education in Uganda was well beyond her reach.
She began working for KPMG as an administrative assistant and enrolled in Makara University Business School, attaining a bachelor’s degree in Human Resources Management. But she never abandoned her dream.
One of Justine’s brothers had married a Canadian citizen and was raising a family in British Columbia. He invited Justine to come to Canada to assist with the care of his two children under a new immigration program for live-in caregivers. When she completed her caregiving stint, began working in my law office.
She told me her dream of becoming a lawyer. I told her she could do anything she wanted in Canada if she was prepared to work for it. She was.
Justine will start law school in two months at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. She still has no money, but Canada’s student loan program will see her through, just like it did for me 25 years ago. She is well on her way to living her dream. She is living proof that Canada is the greatest country in the world.
Georgialee Lang is a Vancouver lawyer and arbitrator named in “Best Lawyers in Canada.” She blogs at lawdiva.wordpress.com. Her website is georgialeelang.com