Pamphinette Buisa – From second-generation immigrant to top-notch Olympian

Photo courtesy of Pamphinette Buisa

Pamphinette Buisa is a force to be reckoned with, both as a top-performing Rugby player and as a young female leader who is passionate about social justice.

Born in Canada to immigrant parents from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Buisa made her Olympic debut in Tokyo 2020 after joining the Canadian national team in 2014.

Currently, she is getting ready for the Paris 2024 Olympic games while expecting a jam-packed Rugby summer with two world cup games coming up among others.

She helped Team Canada win silver at the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing in 2014 and made her World Cup Sevens debut in 2018 in San Francisco. At the Lima 2019 Pan Am Games, she was part of the team that won Canada a gold medal.

Determined to excel

Buisa got into Rugby almost by accident. She first started playing basketball and volleyball competitively when she was in middle school, but she was always considered a little too aggressive and got fouled out in the game. But a Rugby coach who was watching her play suggested she try out for the sport that allowed her to hit people without getting penalized. So, she went for it.

As the youngest person in her school’s rugby team, she had to overcome significant challenges in order to be part of the national team, including recovering from a shoulder dislocation injury.

“It was a tough journey to get on in the sevens program particularly. I had to convince not only my family but also my community to believe in the dream that I had that wasn’t necessarily outlined for someone like me. Especially in our community, a lot of women don’t really leave home until they’re married, let alone playing competitive sport, or make a career out of the sport,” she adds.

Buisa says what keeps her motivated is remembering the “why” of doing something particularly when she is going through physically and mentally taxing training. She cites her parents as huge inspirations for her.

“I’d say definitely my parents motivated me. Always. When they came to Canada, all their credentials were not recognized. I think just seeing what my parents had to navigate and how much grace they had. Also, they knew their whys, they knew that interacting with someone who was disrespectful is never a reason why they came, they came here for a better life, and their presence in itself is a form of resistance,” she says.

A passionate community leader

Outside of sports, she is also busy making waves as a community leader. Having a disabled mom some disability and experiencing things through the lens of her parents, Buisa says she is also committed to ensure there is less discrimination in society and that there are more voices for people who face disadvantages or oppression in life.

Pamphinette Buisa leading a Peace Rally for Black Lives in Victoria. | Photo courtesy of Pamphinette Buisa

“I study political science and social justice. I aspire to use those insights on power dynamics, on structures, on culture, to allow me to understand how it works. I think what I appreciate about social justice is that it requires interaction, and intentional engagement with community,” she says.

As a woman of colour in a male-dominated sport, Buisa says she has to fight for equality on multiple fronts.

“You are already dealing with how people understand what femininity is, so having to just navigate that is already difficult. And you have things like equal pay and visibility. It’s always an issue just being a woman in the sport, I think I like to see cultural competency within leadership. I think when there aren’t a lot of people of colour in spaces of leadership, oftentimes it’s difficult to make policies that are for people that you’re intending to influence without them actually being in the room,” she says.

Currently she is a member of Rugby Canada’s BIPOC working group, assisting in the development of policies, training, and education to make rugby in Canada a diverse place free of racism.

Buisa helped to create Vancouver Island Steps Up to raise relief funds for people in the pandemic after seeing gaps between governmental financial aids and what disadvantaged people actually needed.

Among other achievements, she also co-organized a Peace Rally for Black Lives in Victoria in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, where over 9,000 people showed up to protest against racism and police violence.

Buisa also worked as a hotel outreach worker to provide crisis support for local residents and took on the role of a consultant for Decolonize Together.

“I was fully immersed in elite spaces, I was only around high-performance athletes, people with the same drive towards a certain lifestyle and goal. That was radically shifted when I worked at the hotel. I was working to transform it into a temporary housing shelter and got exposed to folks who are excluded from these experiences,” Buisa tells of her personal journey in search of social justice.

Looking beyond oneself

Having had to travel extensively all over the world for Rugby games also allowed Buisa to develop a more profound understanding of the world beyond borders.

“I’ve met my cousin for the first time when I was on a rugby tour. I think the opportunity to meet some family and just get the insight into some of their realities has really humbled me and also pushed me to stay responsible with the privilege that I have, “she says. “It made me see beyond borders that we may come from very different walks of life and understand life completely differently, but we are all humans existing on scarce resources”.

Last Buisa adds that as we celebrate Black History Month in February, it is important to remember that black liberation and excellence should be paired with elevating indigenous sovereignty.

“It is important to remember that it’s linked, that you can’t have one without the other. Especially within the North American context, there was a lot of black slaves that were brought over but that was also at the expense of Indigenous land. While we elevate black excellence and all the amazing things that come out of this month and beyond, we should remember that we have to also keep elevating our Indigenous kins.”