There were a lot of firsts for Louis Tiboruhanga Thursday morning (October 27th) as he stood atop a heaping mound of freshly picked Peterborough County pumpkins in the back of a pickup truck looking to the sky and the first snowflakes of the season.
“My first Canadian snow,” the Rwandan father-of-two says.
Louis with his daughters Genevieve & Gloria
Two pickup trucks sat in front of Immaculate Conception Catholic Elementary School, suspensions lowered by the weight of the orange load—200-plus pumpkins.
And then the lineup started. Students snaked out of the school where they were greeted by Louis’s beaming smile.
“Thank you, here you go,” Louis says, as he places a large pumpkin into the hands of a Grade 3 student. Every student in the school was to receive their own pumpkin, including Louis’s own daughters Gloria (Grade 3) and Genevieve (Grade 1).
Louis distributes pumpkins to happy students at Immaculate Conception
How Louis ended up distributing free pumpkins to Catholic elementary students in Peterborough’s East City is a story of harrowing tragedy, loss, desperation and finally hope.
Louis fled his life in Rwanda in January 1997 and ended up in Kenya’s Kakuma (UNHCR) refugee camp. Both his daughters were born and raised in the camp, where he spent more than 19 years.
In 2008, Sister Ruth Hennessy of Casa Maria Refugee Homes in Peterborough sponsored the Tiboruhanga family. But it took another eight years before their resettlement to Canada was approved. Louis’s wife passed away in the camp in 2011.
The camp provided the necessities, including schooling, but Louis says he didn’t see a lot of hope for his children, who were schooled in crowded, under-resourced classrooms.
“The future in the camp was desperate," he says. "You can’t see your children excelling with 150 children in the classroom and expect to have a better future for them."
Desperation turned to hope on July 19th, 2016 when Louis, Gloria and Genevieve landed at Pearson International Airport in Toronto, greeted by Sister Ruth and brought to Peterborough to start a new life.
“It was a very fantastic day—an unforgettable day for me,” he says.
The children have settled at Immaculate Conception and Louis has been finding part-time work.
Peter Leahy owns Merrylynd farm in Douro where Louis has been picking pumpkins.
“Picking gives us time to chat a little," Peter says. "Louis has many interesting and humbling stories. He realizes that for him to adjust to Canada will be hard, but he's doing it for his kids to have a better life. His faith is very strong and his spirit is astonishing. We hope to help him find a job right away. He's willing to do anything and his English is very good.”
Peter Leahy and Louis giving out pumpkins to the kids
One day while working in the field, Louis expressed to Peter that he wanted to give back to the Immaculate Conception school community, which has been so warm and welcoming to his daughters.
Peter offered the pumpkins and pickup trucks, and on Thursday Louis had a chance to make a small gesture of thanks to the school and staff at Immaculate Conception. And his daughters were able to celebrate their first Canadian Halloween with schoolmates in style.
Hope is something Louis and his daughters now have thanks to Peterborough, Canada
“It is something very extraordinary to me," Louis says. "It’s extraordinary in a sense that I see it as the hope for my children—they have the future in their hands."
“I was extremely happy that the school children would come to me, accepting this small gift I had planned for them. I think it is really very wonderful.”