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Winning Yk hearts since '81
Community volunteer Ajjie Shaw forged life in Yellowknife for her children

Thandiwe Vela
Northern News Services
Published Friday, November 30, 2012

"Grandma" Ajjie Shaw remembers very clearly the day three decades ago when she left the Caribbean city of Kingston, Jamaica, to embark on a new life in Yellowknife.

"I'll never forget that flight," the 71-year-old great-grandmother said, reflecting on that gut-wrenching day in October 1981, when she took off in the plane, leaving her four young children, hysterical in tears, behind on the island.

"They were crying. They were crying and I had to be strong," she said. "I remember hugging them and telling them, 'Mommy's going to Canada to work. To make life better for you' ... and I love them. And I pretended as if everything was OK.

"When I sat in the plane, I bawled. Because I was then in the plane so they could not see that I was crying. And those flight attendants will never forget that black woman."

Born Dec. 13, 1940, Shaw had made a living in Jamaica working for the Child Welfare Association before the opportunity arose for her to work as a nanny for the Greens, a middle-class Jamaican family living in Yellowknife at the time, caring for their three daughters.

It took Shaw four years before she was able to secure landed immigrant status and send for her daughter Martha and two sons Neil and Samuel. But in the meantime, the Greens, and then Sarah and Katy - the two daughters of former Yellowknife residents John and Marion Dillon - were the nanny's children.

"They took me into their home and into their heart. They treated me like family. Still do," she said.

"I was missing my children but as a mother I think I had enough love, I could give love to those children like they were my own kids."

Shaw spoiled the kids of her employers just like she had done her own kids, she said, with hugs, reading, playing around in puddles with gumboots, and climbing the rocks behind the community pool.

"Those days I had knees," she said, revealing two scars where she has since undergone knee replacement surgery. "(The children) were just like my own. Mine were not here but those children took the space of my children while I was here and at the same time I still had enough love for my children that were left back in Jamaica."

Shaw went on to work as a child care counsellor, and has been an avid community volunteer since retiring in 1999.

In addition to volunteering for several cancer awareness causes, Shaw has served as an Arctic Ambassador since the NWT Seniors' Society started its visitors program five years ago, in which volunteers answer questions, guide and welcome visitors at the Yellowknife Airport.

The most common question visitors ask, she said, is if there is a Tim Hortons at the airport.

A member of the Yellowknife Seniors' Society and Calvary Community Church, Shaw is affectionately known as "Grandma Ajjie," because of her hospitality, and penchant for serving tea and sometimes Jamaican homemade meals such as rice, peas and curry chicken to anyone who comes by.

"Grandma Ajjie's home is always open," she said. "To welcome anyone. You can always get a meal in my kitchen. You can always have a cup of tea, or a cup of coffee."

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