By DENIS GIBBONS
Basia Gilo mailed out more than 200 letters asking for sponsorship help in emigrating to Australia, Canada or the U.S.
“I got only one reply,” said Gilo, a native of Poland. “It came from Father Eugene Solecki, the pastor at St. Gabriel’s Parish in Burlington.”
Father Solecki forwarded the letter to Jerzy Ozog, president of the Polish National Union, the wheels started to turn and she was invited to come to Burlington with her husband Richard and seven-year-old daughter Anna in 1984.
Earlier this year MoneySense magazine ranked Burlington as the best city in Canada for new immigrants. The magazine examined the percentage of the city’s population that is made up of immigrants, rental costs, based on the assumption that a large existing immigrant population and affordable rent make it easier for a new immigrants to settle in a city.
Although they were married, the Gilos couldn’t afford a place to live in Szczecin, Poland. Barbara and Anna lived with Barbara’s mother and Richard with his mother.
“That doesn’t work most of the time,” she said. “But we didn’t have enough money to buy or rent. In those days you sometimes had to be on a waiting list for 15 or 20 years to get a house.”
Basia was supportive of Lech Walesa, who was forming the Solidarnosc trade union at the time, and that didn’t earn the family any favors with the Communist government.
The Gilos first emigrated to Dusseldorf, Germany, but didn’t feel comfortable there and wanted to move on.
“I remember Mirek Knul and Richard Sawala picked us up at the airport. There was a fully furnished apartment waiting for us on New Street.
“But first of all we were taken to the Knuls for dinner. They didn’t want us to go to the apartment right away and feel lonely and deserted.
“I would never move from here. I owe something to Burlington. That’s why I’m involved in volunteer work here.”
Gilo now is treasurer of the Mission Fund at St. Gabriel’s. It raises money and helps needy people around the world.
For 10 years she operated a Becker’s Milk franchise in the Mount Royal Plaza and later worked in quality control for the Gennum Corporation.
In Africa, Pious Maposa was used to going out to the villages to slaughter a goat or some chickens for a Christmas meal.
He and his family enjoyed their first Christmas turkey dinner in Canada at Smitty’s Restaurant in 2001. It was arranged free by a community organization.
“I had mixed emotions,” Maposa said. “It was our first time celebrating without our extended family. But the expression of love from the community in Burlington was overwhelming.”
Because of the political unrest in Zimbabwe, Maposa was unable to return to his native land after completing a five-year working contract in Botswana.
Maposa decided to bring his wife Liz and children Monalisa and Malcon to Canada because Canada and Zimbabwe were both part of the British Commonwealth and he thought it would make the adjustment easier.
“When we arrived at the airport it was 2 a.m. and they told us the only accommodation was in Burlington,” he said. “We had no idea Burlington was outside of Toronto.”
A community organization arranged for the family to stay in a Plains Road motel for a couple of months until they were able to find an apartment with the help of the Region of Halton’s Social Services Department.
Maposa had been heavily involved in the Catholic Church in Zimbabwe and he was able to continue his volunteer work with the Men’s Club of Holy Rosary Church.
“Father Ron Cote trusted us in such a way that he offered to give us a reference and be a guarantor when we were looking for accommodation,” he said. “He even helped me learn how to drive again, since we always drove on the opposite side of the road back home.”
Today the Maposas have a house of their own. Pious works for the Region of Halton in asset accounting and management and Liz is employed as an information systems auditor with the TD Bank.
Monalisa now is a second year student at the University of Ottawa, while Malcon is in his final year of high school at Notre Dame. Two more children Mutsa, 10, and Makomborero, just six months, were born in Canada.
Naming their last child was easy. In the Zimbabwean language, Makomborero means ‘blessings’, and that’s the what the family feels was bestowed upon them when they came to Burlington.