top of page

FROM REFUGEE TO CEO:ALINE NIZIGAMA ON GIVING BACK


A black women looking at the camera
Photo By Javed Najafi


Aline grew up in Gitega, a small city up in the mountains two hours away from Bujumbura - the capital city, where she attended elementary school and later a boarding high school. Her father, who was a professor, artist, and politician, instilled in her a love for books and reading, particularly graphic novels, which fueled her visual imagination and transported her to different cultures and places.


At the age of 17, Aline's family had to flee the country in 1996, 3 years after the start of the civil war that killed many of her family members, friends and neighbours. Aline and her siblings ended up in Burkina Faso, West Africa, where they lived for two years before registering with the UNHCR as refugees. During that time, Aline finished high school while her siblings continued their education.


"We were able to afford some basic things like an apartment or a small house. However, living there as refugees was not easy, especially for my older sisters who found it stressful. It was a big adjustment for everyone, and my sisters had to deal with issues like unwelcome attention from men, which was not safe for a group of women and a young brother. Despite these challenges, we were able to make some friends who helped us integrate, but we knew that our stay was temporary," she explains.


Afterwards, they received an opportunity to immigrate to the United States and settled in an apartment in a Fargo, North Dakota suburb, where they had to start over. Aline couldn't speak English, but she learned it within three months with hard work and determination as she recalls.


I didn't speak a word of English when we landed. I was just as good at caption-watching cartoons because I like all these things that I would watch. The Simpsons was one of the programs and I would close caption and I read - it was like okay, that's how you say it and that's how it's written.

Aline's first job was working in a factory making windows, and she later worked in a few other jobs after moving to North Dakota, where she studied pharmacy for three years. During this time, she met her soulmate, with whom she eventually moved to Toronto because she believed she had a better future in Canada.

,

 Her life began to change when she enrolled at York University. While studying health policies, she was offered a job as a notetaker, where she audited courses that opened her mind, which eventually led to her earning a scholarship for a master's degree in public policy at the University of Toronto. She also participated in volunteer activities such as supporting francophones living with HIV/AIDS.


Later, Aline became the president of the Haguruka association, helping at least 2,000 women back in her home country, and served as a board member and chair of a housing organization for ten years. In 2012, she started working with YWCA Canada as a part-time research assistant while concurrently working full-time at a hospital in research as well. She was then offered a management position at YWCA Canada, which helped her make important connections. She eventually moved on to other opportunities in the public sector, then an executive position in the Francophone non-profit sector. Prior to that, she was able to create her own translation company, which is now fully operated by her husband. In early 2023, she was appointed CEO of YWCA.


"I credit my parents for inspiring me to take on leadership roles. I believe in mentorship. So no matter where you work, find a mentor who can help you understand things. I believe in being intentional; What do you want? Where do you want to see yourself ten years from now? It's staying actively involved in the community and the confidence that you have to work on, and I feel like that's what made a big difference," she adds. In her new role, she hopes to help many others, including newcomers, especially regarding gender equality. 


Aline’s story is one of resilience and determination. She overcame the challenges of being a refugee and worked hard to achieve her goals. Aline is a testament to the strength and perseverance of refugees, and she hopes that her story will inspire others to support and welcome them into their communities.



A black women looking away
Photo By Javed Najfi


Comments


bottom of page