A couple buying their first home together. A woman starting up her dream business at last. A young person accused of a crime he didn’t commit.
These were some of the people Ifeyinwa helped when she practiced law for seven years in her home country of Nigeria.
“I became a lawyer because, to me, it’s a way to help people,” she said. “That’s one thing I really love about the law.”
When Ifeyinwa left her family and friends moved to Winnipeg, she was excited to continue her law career in a whole new city and country. Though she knew it would be a challenge, she encountered more obstacles along the way than she anticipated.
“I knew I was going to be starting over, but nothing prepared me for the actual journey,” she said.
As a newcomer, not only did she have to adjust to the usual challenges of moving to a new country like finding housing and transportation, she also had to complete the necessary steps to become licensed to practice law in Manitoba.
“I would have had to go to law school and take many courses, or I could challenge the exams,” she said.
Ifeyinwa wanted to resume her legal career as soon as possible, plus, going back to school would have taken a significant amount of time, which Ifeyinwa said she could not afford.
“Because I had bills to pay, I took the option to challenge the exams.”
Her hard work paid off, and she coasted through her exams within six months and was ready for the next step in the licensing process: articling. The only articling position she could find at the time, however, was an unpaid one. Her heart sank, realizing this could put an end to her dream of practicing law in Winnipeg.
“I went back to my career counsellor and said this is my situation – I may have to give up,” she said. “At the time I was articling, I had to quit working because I couldn’t do them both at the same time. Sometimes I wasn’t getting home from my articling job until 7 pm, so there’s no way I could get another job.”
“I can’t express how much SEED and Assiniboine Credit Union helped me.”
Her counsellor connected her with SEED Winnipeg, a United Way Winnipeg donor-supported agency that helps builds opportunities for participants through financial empowerment programs and services. Ifeyinwa was accepted into SEED’s Recognition Counts program, which provides supports to skilled immigrants wanting to continue working in their field of expertise or explore an alternative career in Manitoba.
The program offers financial counselling and an opportunity to apply for a loan of up to $15,000 with Assiniboine Credit Union. Participants can apply this loan towards the cost of having their qualifications recognized in Manitoba and obtaining employment in their profession or trade. For Ifeyinwa, the loan covered the cost of the bar exam and other licensure requirements.
“I can’t express how much SEED and Assiniboine Credit Union helped me,” she said. “It was such a relief when I found out I could get a loan at 5%. And I didn’t have to pay it back right away, so it gave me time to get through my licensure.”
Today, Ifeyinwa has paid off her loan in full and has started up her own law practice. She continues to practice real estate law but also family and immigration law, helping newcomers. Knowing that Ifeyinwa has had a similar experience is reassuring to many of her newcomer clients.
“They know I understand. It’s so hard when you’re new to a country where you don’t know people. It’s very scary,” she said.
Ifeyinwa has lived in Winnipeg for almost four years now, and she knows and continues to help many people.
“It feels like home now,” she said. “And I tell other newcomers about SEED and Recognition Counts. It helped make my dream come true, and it can help them with theirs.”