This is the third of a six-part series called What It Takes that tells the personal stories of new Canadians and their journeys to Canada. In this story, Global News intern Fadzaiishe Ziramba introduces us to Gladys Colarina, and tells us what it took for her to come to Canada from the Philippines.
Our next story in this series appears on Wed., Sept. 4.
Immigration stories can be stories of reunion.
Gladys Colarina, her siblings and father journeyed to Canada to join her mother after spending 13 years apart from her.
Colarina, 21, the oldest of her siblings, was born in the municipality of Tiaong in the province of Quezon, Philippines. Her childhood was filled with the sight of greenery and farm life.
When Colarina was eight years old, her mother travelled to Canada with the support of a few relatives. Her mother worked as a nanny, sent money back to the Philippines, and worked tirelessly to bring her family to Canada. The process would ultimately take 13 years.
More than one in five Canadians are foreign-born, according to the 2016 Statistics Canada census. That’s little surprise, as the government is counting on immigration due to Canada’s aging population and low fertility rates. In 2017-18, immigration accounted for about 80 per cent of Canada’s population growth.
Some want to reduce immigration. A group called True North Strong & Free Advertising Corp. bought space on billboards to draw attention to the People’s Party of Canada’s position on immigration, which is to reduce the number of admissions. The company that owns the billboards has since taken them down. (True North also later distanced itself from the content on the billboards.)
Canadians do seem to welcome immigration, though. For example, a global study conducted in 2018 by the Pew Research Center found that 68 per cent of Canadians agreed with the statement, “Immigrants make our country stronger because of their work.” The Canadian support for immigration was highest in the 18 countries included in the survey.
WHAT IT TAKES, part 1: An immigrant’s journey from Zimbabwe to Canada
WHAT IT TAKES, Part 2: From Nigeria, to the U.K., then here — How Esther Adeagbo made Canada her home
Still, Canada can be a difficult place to move to. While there’s a lot of media coverage about asylum seekers and irregular border crossings, the vast majority of people who come to Canada applied to enter the country for economic or family reasons.
When Colarina finally made it to Canada, she says it felt like a dream.
Her family lived a simple life in the Philippines, planting, harvesting meals and shopping for a few items at the local market.
Life, however, was not without its complexities.
Colarina’s sister, now 19, was born with several medical conditions. She has a cataract in her right eye and portal hypertension, a condition in which a system of veins called the portal venous system experiences an increase in blood pressure causing several complications.
She also has splenomegaly — an abnormal enlargement of the spleen. She began to walk when she was around nine years old.
WATCH: (May 20, 2019) Trudeau credits immigration for Canada’s growing tech sector
Colarina’s sister always required great support, but her family lacked the financial resources needed to have her treated at local hospitals.
Because her mother had gone ahead to Canada, Colarina jumped into the imposed role of parental guardian over her siblings.
She missed her mother dearly.
“I remember the time we had to drop off my mom to the airport,” Colarina said. “I cried after we got home. I cried because I was looking for her. I was very close to her.”
Her father, whom she labelled emotionally disconnected, quit his job to care for his children but struggled. Colarina says he drank and spent long periods out of the home.
“I had to experience a very challenging childhood without the support of a mother,” Colarina said.
“I remember having to manage our finances at the very young age of 12, just to make sure that my siblings and I had something to eat, to make sure that we were paying the utility bills.”
WATCH: (Oct. 20, 2016) Canada needs thousands more skilled immigrants to boost economy: advisers
Colarina’s sister often vomited blood due to her battle with portal hypertension. She needed to be accompanied to the hospital each time, and the money her mother earned as a nanny in Canada often could not cover her medical expenses.
“I remember telling myself, ‘My mom is in Canada, we are supposed to live a little bit more comfortable. But it’s not happening,'” Colarina said.
Her mother often borrowed money from other relatives in Canada to send to her family in the Philippines.
Valuing education, Colarina’s mother arranged for her to attend one of the best post-secondary schools in the Philippines. Throughout her studies, Colarina received honours and awards. In 2014, her mother briefly visited the Philippines to attend her graduation.
During the 13 years Colarina’s mother lived alone, she worked tirelessly to bring her family to Canada. In 2018, in desperation, she hired a lawyer to process her family’s permanent residency papers.
Colarina was shocked when her mother told her their papers had been processed. She had lost the hope of reunification with her mother.
Colarina had made plans to travel to Thailand for work and school, on a full scholarship. But finally, she emigrated to Canada with her siblings and her father in April 2019.
To Colarina, travelling to Canada felt like a “dream.”
“It was our first time to ride a plane. It was a fun experience. At the same time, it was terrifying because we had a connecting flight in China and what if we didn’t go to the boarding gates?” she said.
“We would have gotten lost.”
When she saw her mother again, Colarina was overwhelmed.
“That was my longtime prayer. I have been praying that since I was eight, nine,” Colarina said. “Every night I prayed just for my family to be together. That was my only prayer.”
Over the last three months, Colarina has spent what she describes as each moment of “gratefulness and thanksgiving” enjoying her mother’s company and getting acquainted with Canadian culture.
“Because English is not my first language, … when I arrived , I had to tell my mom, ‘Ma, let’s converse in English so that we can practice.'”
Colarina learned to build a resume for Canadian employers and learned to navigate the world of interviews. She never experienced a job interview in the Philippines.
With little work experience, she was quite worried about her ability to secure a job.
“Here in Canada, I think you can start working by 15 or 16. In the Philippines, you don’t even have any work opportunities for people that young,” she said.
WATCH: (Feb. 27, 2019) Montreal asks government to take more human approach on immigration
Fortunately, Colarina landed a bank teller job with TD Canada Trust.
She looks forward to working and is gladly developing a relationship with her father, who has since stopped drinking and is committed to the family.
Colarina envisions an exceptional future in Canada. She hopes to pursue an MBA degree.
“I’m motivated to learn more about myself. I’m determined to really develop my best,” she said.
“If Canada will let me have the opportunity to raise my skills, to really find my purpose, I’m willing to put in the hard work to have a meaningful and fruitful career here.”
In part four of our six-part series, coming Wed., Sept. 4, you’ll meet Dr. Nothabo Ncube and find out what it took for her to come to Canada from Zimbabwe.
© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.