Some stories are hard to tell. John-Bosco Kaikai doesn’t like to talk much about his childhood in Sierra Leone, a country that suffered under a brutal civil war for more than a decade.
“My parents sent us to boarding school in Ghana for much of the worst times,” Kaikai says, acknowledging that despite this he was very aware of the battles going on in his homeland.
He’d rather talk about what happened when he was 16 and three Guelph churches sponsored his family to come here as refugees.
“It changed our lives completely. Everything was different, from the weather to the food and the school system. But it was a good different,” he says.
Before they left their home in the city of Freetown, Kaikai’s mother bought them sweaters and gloves because she knew Canada would be cold in February.
“They don’t really sell winter clothes in Sierra Leone, though,” Kaikai says. “We had no idea how cold it would be. I wouldn’t leave the house for the first two weeks because I was just shocked by the cold.”
Starting school was a shock, too.
“The school system is very different, and it was a big adjustment. I had to learn the Canadian culture while trying to do well in school,” he says. “But I loved going to school and meeting new people. I also got my first part-time job and had a chance to make my own money. That was great too.”
Kaikai not only adjusted to high school, he did well enough to be admitted to the University of Guelph with an entrance scholarship and will graduate this week with a Bachelor of Arts in criminal justice and public policy. From here, he hopes to work for a year then continue on to post-graduate education.
“I’ve always wanted to be a lawyer, and that’s still my plan,” he says. “I’m taking the LSAT in October. But I’ve also become interested in the possibility of doing a master’s at the University of Guelph, so I’ll be applying for that as well.”
Kaikai discovered a somewhat surprising passion for Canadian history during his U of G studies. “I never thought history would be one of my interests, but I find Canadian history fascinating,” he says. “My favourite course was a fourth-year one in Canadian rural history with Dr. Catherine Wilson. She’s a really good prof who made it fun and interesting.” He demonstrated his commitment to his adopted homeland in 2006 when he became a Canadian citizen. “For me, it was part of integrating into this society. Canadian citizenship is worth something in this world.”
During his first few years at U of G, Kaikai played intramural soccer and then joined a community men’s soccer league. But his studies and part-time jobs have occupied most of his time.
“I love to learn, I really enjoy being at school and attending class and discovering something new every day,” he says enthusiastically.
His summer breaks, however, afforded him the time to do volunteer work with the Action Read program, where he helped to teach adults to read and helped prepare a tutoring manual, among other tasks.
Kaikai isn’t the only family member who has enjoyed academic success. His brother, Andrew, is currently studying engineering at the University of Waterloo, and his youngest brother, Matthew, will be going to grade eight in September. His mother is also attending nursing school.
While Kaikai’s accomplishments have been earned through hard work, he’s quick to acknowledge the support he’s received that’s made it possible.
“The churches that sponsored us initially ― St. James, Dublin and Harcourt ― and the Bibby family helped us get on our feet in Canada. I can’t thank them enough,” he says. “And none of it would have been possible without my mother. She’s the one who did the application to get us to Canada, and she’s worked two and three jobs since we got here so that we would have a better future.
“And we will have a better future, because there are so many opportunities here ― opportunities we just didn’t have in Sierra Leone.”