On my cousin France, a Filipino hoping to help out in Canada
Growing up, I noticed how generosity has been a huge part of my qualities as a human being. As early as grade school, I can remember when a friend of mine or even an acquaintance would need something, and I would immediately start to ponder if I can be of assistance to what he or she needs. By high school, I saw to it that close friends of mine would receive presents from me during Christmas time, their reaction being enough as reciprocation.
It was only in recent times when I started reflecting on the roots of my innate nature of giving (which may or may not be abused by some, but that’s for another story). I realized that it might be coming from family, specifically when I saw my mother delve into the world of counseling. I was sitting in our living room when I once overheard a phone conversation she had with a possible client.
“As much as possible, I would do pro-bono. It’s an advocacy of mine,” I could recall her saying. It was a touching gesture, but generosity running in the maternal side of our family does not stop there.
Recently, I read an article stating that my cousin, France Claire, from Montreal, Canada has filed her candidacy for city council in a residential neighborhood in Quebec. While entering politics is indeed a serious matter which can be perilous for the weak, I thought of how perfect she is for this path she is taking. It is mainly because I saw how passionate she is in learning about communities during her last visit here in the Philippines.
It was back in 2014 when I last saw my Ate France in person. At first, I merely thought she was another relative from another country visiting to meet the family. It turns out her intentions were a lot more powerful than I thought.
During our first meeting, I saw how open and affectionate she was, always asking about my day when I got home from school, visiting me during graduation practice and school events.
I went home one day and was surprised that Ate France has been packing her bags. I thought she was leaving early, but it turned out she was leaving for Tacloban to do relief work for the victims of Typhoon Yolanda. There, not only did she help different organizations with their donations, she also delved into the lives of the victims themselves, knowing their stories pre-calamity and how the typhoon affected their lives.
Fast forward to my graduation, Ate France got back and celebrated dinner with my family. After that, she immediately changed from a semi-formal dress to a mountaineering get-up to catch the last bus ride to Buscalan in Kalinga, to visit Apo Whang-Od, the oldest mambabatok of the province, and the indigenous community she is part of. It was there where, like she did with the typhoon victims, she sat and listened to the indigenous people of Buscalan and learned about their culture, as well as the hardships they face, being part of the indigenous community. She wanted to know what their needs are and how she can assist in their continued growth as members of Philippine society.
“These are the things you really need to be on the ground to know about, and how important it is to document it and get the message out there, so that we can do better for these communities,” she told me in a recent online conversation we had.
Experience is the best teacher for Ate France, based on what I learned from her community work, and that is what propels her in each of her endeavors to help, even in communities where she is not a native of. For one, she spent most of her life in Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce. Growing up in its predominantly immigrant community, she saw the issues everyone faces everyday, especially when it comes to basic needs.
Ate France herself had first-hand experience of this struggle when her family moved to Canada with limited resources. She was struggling to finish high school to make ends meet, and worked in the service industry. This made her dream of better opportunities for each immigrant living in the city. She believes we all deserve equal footing, and at the very least, have our basic needs met.
“We can see that systems create barriers and once you really see that, I think that, in order to address these barriers, you kind of have to enter the system,” I recall her telling me.
I’ve always known her as a person who always gives back, but this time, maybe Ate France is ready to give back in a bigger scale. She is now making history as the first Filipina to run for city council in Quebec, pushing to address the needs of her fellow citizens in an immigrant community. She said she wants to help fix the housing crisis in the city. She wants to help in creating programs that provide educational opportunities for the youth, as she once knew the struggles of finishing one’s education with limited resources. Her desire for social change inspires a young writer like me. I hope to help bring about social change too, through my writing.
With societies facing serious stress in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, I aim to give by sharing stories that brighten our day. For now, I just wish to share the story of this young woman I love, and I and our family are immensely proud of. She indeed shows how being helpful runs in our family, and runs in her veins as a Filipino.
Adam Laurena is a graduate of AB Sociology from the University of Santo Tomas. Although it was not his dream course, Adam made the most out of his four years in the program, honing his ability to see the world he lives in from different perspectives. He was formerly a staff writer for INQUIRER.net’s entertainment section, and now contributes essays for the publication. Aside from writing, he loves drag, Funko Pops, sitcoms, films and professional wrestling.