What it's like being a leader on a COVID-19 response team in Canada

Jun 9 2021, 7:44 pm

For over a year, the pandemic has impacted daily life for all Canadians in one way or another. Although we’re not out of the woods quite yet, significant progress is being made to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Much of this era-defining work is being carried out by volunteers and staff at the Canadian Red Cross, people who are coming together to give their time for the greater benefit of others while making a positive impact. Ololade (Lola) Ogunsuyi has seen this firsthand.

In Toronto, she works in emergency management with the Red Cross, leading teams through their COVID-19 response. As a site manager, she’s worked in long-term care homes throughout Ontario — supporting residents and staff. Currently, she’s on-location at the Canada-US border testing sites.

After completing her undergraduate degree in London, England, and later, her Master’s Degree in Systems Medicine at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, she returned to Canada. Ogunsuyi was back in Toronto just a few months when “everything was in a scramble” and “really stressful for everybody” due to COVID-19.

Having lab experience, she submitted her information to the federal government in April of last year, and they passed it along to the Red Cross, who contacted her directly.

“Being willing to help out with the COVID response is how I got involved with the Canadian Red Cross as a site manager,” Ogunsuyi tells Daily Hive. She went from submitting her name as a volunteer to actually getting a job, but this wasn’t her first time committing to being that someone for others.

Early last spring, she began volunteering with new Canadians seeking employment opportunities. What inspired Ogunsuyi to start this work is her background of being a daughter of immigrants. “Both my parents are Nigerian immigrants, and they came and settled in Canada in the ’80s,” she says.

“I do remember growing up, seeing their struggles [trying] to access certain resources that would help them. Whether it be attaining a job or different educational or employment opportunities, it was extremely difficult for them. I know other children of immigrants, or immigrants themselves, who I’ve come across in life also deal with that.”

Ogunsuyi explains that helping new Canadians can be as simple as showing them how they would do a job search, reviewing their CVs for them, reviewing their personal statements, and explaining how they would go through the application or interview process for any type of job. 

“Being able to take a few minutes of my time to help people, I don’t think it’s a burden. Everyone needs help as far as I’m concerned. I found that it was more than fulfilling because it did help,” she says. Volunteering is something that Ogunsuyi continues to do with the Red Cross in her spare time. 

The time you spend volunteering doesn’t have to be set to a fixed schedule, and Ogunsuyi nods to how time spent on social media or searching on Google — even just 10 minutes — is a period that could help someone in need. 

“Even an hour a week for somebody, if they wanted to do this, is reasonable. For myself, it really varied. It just depended on the stage that the person was in.”

Today, Ogunsuyi’s workday at the Red Cross depends on what shift she has, alternating between morning or late-night shifts from week to week. When she arrives at work, she’s with her team, processing travellers coming into the country and making sure that everyone is safe and protected. “In the midst of a pandemic and a stressful situation, it’s really great that we’re all able to maintain such a positive spirit,” she notes.

One of the things Ogunsuyi enjoys most about her work is hanging out with her coworkers. “The instant that we all met, we just clicked,” she says. “I actually look forward to going to work because I like my coworkers. We all get along. That makes a big difference.”

If ever a challenge arises at work, she says it’s a “giant collaborative effort” as she collaborates with site managers from the Public Health Agency of Canada, other Red Cross managers, the organization’s occupational health and safety advisor, and the deputy off-site coordinator.

“We, for the most part, always discuss every single thing to come up with something reasonable to help us move forward,” adds Ogunsuyi. It becomes clear that teamwork is an important part of her role, working alongside and learning from colleagues with similar interests in humanitarian efforts. 

Ogunsuyi’s position has allowed her to recognize and nurture her leadership qualities, and she says there are many ways in which you can pursue a meaningful career at the Red Cross; there’s not one single role. 

“Whether it be [on] the HR side, a risk advisor, an emergency care worker, or a nurse, or a physician, or an occupational health and safety advisor, or even in the public health field, there are many different aspects of how you can help people.”

The Canadian Red Cross needs your unique skills. Visit redcross.ca to discover job and volunteer opportunities that could be perfect for you.

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