Earlier this month, a high school student volunteer and I were doing some community service work for my neighborhood. It’s a requirement for her Grade 12 Religion Class. She is a Filipino teenager who is relatively new to Canada and Edmonton, being here for just a few years with her experiences limited by having to attend school remotely.
She also volunteered for my neighborhood community league last July and August for her Grade 11 Religion Class during summer school. So we’ve spent some time with each other and have gotten comfortable chatting about various things. It’s been pretty fun!
During her most recent volunteer shift, she was helping me pick up litter along the public sidewalks in my neighborhood. It was tricky as snow has fallen over the past two days, hiding the pieces of trash I know were still stuck there for the past few weeks. We’d kick and shove the freshly fallen snow, pick up pieces of cardboard, plastic and the occasional pencil with our pickup stick and shove it into the trash bag I have open.
Feeling good about being outdoors in the cold for two hours and filling a large bag of trash, we went back into our community hall to clean up and warm up. By this time we’ve talked about many things that teens are likely to talk to an older cousin or cool aunt about – school, friends, crushes, Canadian culture and etiquette and my experiences with these as a Filipino newcomer teenager 15 years ago.
We switched to the topic of music and got into the conversation of beautiful duets we enjoyed listening to. That’s when I shared to her the very first time I heard a duet sang by two women (female voices) and how it changed my outlook on music. Until then, in my childhood years, I’d always thought of duets as something sang by a man and a woman as their vocal ranges are so different from each other. Until I was proven wrong.
It was in the early 2000’s and I was a second year high school student in a mining village in the Philippines. It was time for Intramural competition, and in my school, the performing arts and athletic competitions are equally intense. On the performing arts competitions there are solo singing, duet, individual and group dances.
The duet singing competition started. I remember being curious when two female students went on stage. They performed the song “Tell Him”. I got goosebumps hearing them both sing the chorus!
Tell him Tell him that the sun and moon Rise in his eyes Reach out to him And whisper Tender words so soft and sweet I’ll hold him close to feel his heart beat Love will be the gift you give yourself
Their voices were both clearly feminine but were distinct from each other. On top of that, they were not acting like a couple singing those words to each other, which made them stand out even more than the other contestants. I remember the screams of amazement, the cheers and the standing ovation we gave as the audience right after the song. They were the clear winners for the category even before the official announcement happened a few days later in the award ceremony.
It wasn’t until years later when I thought of this performance again. I search the song online and watched the original performance by Celine Dion and Barbara Streisand. And as I listened to it, my awe and appreciation just all came back.
As I was telling this story to the student volunteer, I pull out my cellphone to show her the YouTube video of the original music video. She seemed just as astonished as I was 18 years ago that two women can sing together in such a contrasting and harmonizing way. I sang the first two lines of the chorus, both with the soprano and alto lines to show how different they sound individually, encouraging her to imagine how they sound when combined.
This song continues to be one of my absolute favourites because of how my schoolmates performed it, in the underground gymnasium of our high school. I don’t even remember the names of the students who performed, but I know that the community if people who lived in the village of Philex Mines is quite vast all over the world. If this post somehow reaches them I hope that it becomes an opportunity for lovely nostalgia of their high school years.
This time around I am going to publicly name two politicians for what they have done! What a timely post shortly after one year since the most recent municipal elections here in Edmonton.
Cue scary noises!
Actually, I’m just joking, really!
I think it helps that they are both former former city councilors, but either way, I am actually actually not naming them and shaming them. I’m naming them because yes, I think they probably won’t even remember doing these two things at all. These seem to be very small gestures but had really impacted the way I look at things here in the city where I live, and had shifted my life in a very noticeable way. It is a positive impact – no shaming will be happening here.
First is former City Councillor Scott McKeen, who represented Ward 6, downtown Edmonton. He was pretty active in his social media accounts, and I followed his Twitter account to stay up to date with city politics. One day, he re-tweeted about a Repair-a-thon event a few days before it was about to happen. I like sewing, fixing things up and making them usable again. This event is an opportunity for people to get everyday items and clothing repaired, and people can volunteer their skills to help get these stuff fixed up. Because of a scheduling conflict and the fact I just found out about it a few days before the weekend, I cannot make it and I was pretty upset. I could have helped patch up clothes, sew back buttons and fix hems on shirts and bottoms. At the time, I already figured that Home Economics is not a a typical part of the curriculum for children here, so many don’t have the skills to do simple repairs with clothing, household objects or electronics.
From seeing this event being promoted, I also discovered a Twitter account called Boomerang Bags Edmonton. It is very much related to sewing and upcycling. The goals is to get volunteers to sew fabric shopping bags that can be re-used as opposed to single-use plastic bags, and donate them to local stores so they can encourage customers to use them instead of buying bags. It’s a win-win and I loved the concept. So I got involved, signed up to volunteer and made a lot of bags. If I tally them up it probably will go up to the hundreds at this point.
It’s interesting because the preferred terminology that is gender-neutral is “sewist”. But it’s difficult to use since as someone who is ESL, whenever I hear the term I think of someone who is doing something related to plumbing, like sewage. Because of this I still use seamstress especially when talking to people who might not be as familiar with the community.
Anyways, because of being a volunteer seamstress with Boomerang Bags, working with fabric become a larger part of my hobby time. I’ve already been quilting for years and I’ve made enough quilts, throw blankets, pilllowcases for my home. And during the pandemic, our community’s talents had an opportunity to shine in a major way. Hundreds of crafters, seamstresses (or sewists), quilters worked together for months to help with two major fabric-related goals: to make fabric masks for those who cannot afford them, and to make fabric laundry bags for healthcare workers to store their contaminated scrubs after work that they can just toss into the laundry.
I wonder if the former councillor realized that from this very small act, it opened me to Edmonton and Alberta’s community of creatives sewing.
Second is former City Councillor John Dziadyk, who represented Ward 3 on the north side. He caught my attention during his election campaign in 2017 because his marketing strategy was frequent, consistent, and his viewpoints were phrased in a way that resonated with a lot of people frustrated with how things are done in city government. After he got elected, his social media, particularly Facebook, continue to be very active in sharing information about community matters.
He published a short video during spring time 2018, encouraging people to help with the snow melting and puddles in drains by chipping off the ice of a blocked drain when they see one. It’s clear that the video was a simple one, likely just him and another person holding his phone. He used an ice chipper, a common tool used in the winter, tried to strike a puddle a few times and then the muddy water started to drain. He said, doing this helps prevent flooding and from stagnant ice water to collect. This can be dangerous if the puddle freezes again which tends to happen in March and April.
It blew my mind that it is something that an everyday person can do. I definitely have seen these slushy puddles on sidewalks and intersections all the time. As someone who frequently walks, I’ve been splashed by them a few times. I thought there’s nothing anyone can do other than hope for warmer weather so all the water evaporates.
As a result, I started to observe sidewalk drains whenever I walk around. While I don’t always have the time or I forget sometimes, whenever I could, I would also remove pieces of garbage or leaves that would block the drain. That way, when it rains or there’s a large amount of snow and ice melting, all the water have somewhere to go. It’s one of those seemingly invisible things that if someone looks at proactively, it can save people from inconvenience, potential accidents, and soggy footwear.
What’s most interesting about these two experiences is that these actions are not even closely related to their actual roles, which is advocating and addressing political issues under the municipal government. A few times, I’ve heard people say that being a politician for a city or municipality, is the toughest one compared to being a provincial or federal politician. Either way, I’m thankful that something as simple as browsing social media platforms and finding these information from their posts had made a positive impact on me. A re-tweet, and a simple video, who would have thought! Well, I hope these two former politicians are doing well these days after moving on from political life.
This article was also submitted by the author as a contribution to the Alberta Filipino Journal (a cultural/ community newspaper in the province of Alberta, Canada) in April 2022
In hounour of National Volunteer Week which is on April 24, I would like to share some opportunities and resources when it comes to volunteering. A short definition of volunteering is doing a task where you are unpaid, or paid a very small amount that it wouldn’t fit the minimum wage requirements, that supports a charitable or community-oriented objective.
This is a very small list of the thousands of opportunities available, but the ones I’d like for our readers to consider.
Right In The Neighbourhood and the City of Edmonton
Community League of your Neighbourhood: “Bayanihan para sa kapitbahay” is my simplified description of community leagues. Being helpful toward our neighbours, is the spirit of the neighbourhood Community League. Much like a people-run barangay association, your community league is a volunteer-based organization in the neighbourhood that helps plan social events, help advocate for issues in your neighbourhood, and at times they might have a hall where they maintain some local amenities. To know where you community league is, go to the website of the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues: www.efcl.org
City of Edmonton Volunteer Catalogue: The City of Edmonton, as in the actual municipal government, offers many services to everyday Edmontonians. For some of these event or programs, there are ways to volunteer and help! I personally have been a greeter for the city’s Free Admission Day in a local tourist attraction, and I have helped plant trees in a large park one summer. The link to set up your account and apply is: https://app.betterimpact.com/PublicEnterprise/9e275823-c9e5-46df-a092-b2c5b18d2526
Volunteer in the Filipino Community
Edmonton Philippine International Centre: The goal of this organization is for the Filipino community to have our own building as a gathering place, event space and place we can go for support and connection. This is a remarkable and ambitious goal and help is needed from as many people as possible. The website to learn about them is https://www.epicalberta.com/
Migrante Alberta: This is an organization that does advocacy work to help better the lives of migrants in our province. Helping hands and attendance is always appreciated in many of their activities, whether it is to lobby the government to address certain policies, events to help educate the community, or providing direct assistance to our fellow migrants in crisis. https://www.migrantealberta.ca/
Organizations under COPA and CEFA: Congress of the Philippine Associations of Alberta (COPA) and CEFA (Council of Edmonton Filipino Associations) can be an opportunity to be more connected to the Filipino community, whether it is by helping these organizational bodies, or finding an affiliate association in the group. Both organizations are searchable on Facebook.
Next Gen Men: Their mission is to have “a future were boys and men feel less pain and cause less harm”. If you are a parent, a community member or someone keen on ensuring men and boys are supported in their development as physically and emotionally healthy individuals, getting involved with them might be a good idea. https://www.nextgenmen.ca/
Political Parties and the Provincial Elections: The provincial election is next year, and volunteer opportunities are available to those who want to either a candidate running under a political party name, or a political party overall. If you do an online search for your location and for a political party you are interested in, there will be opportunities to be hands on in making the change you want to see and that’s on the ground level of election season.
Big Brother Big Sisters: For those who enjoy working with kids on helping them, this organization can be a great way to volunteer. There are different programs, from one-on-one mentorship, after school programs, and even virtual mentoring. https://bgcbigs.ca/ pexels
There are numerous ways to volunteer and the benefits are mutual, not just for the people or organizations being helped, but also for the person volunteering. Volunteering helps someone gain new skills, maintain positive mental health through socialization and positively impacting another person’s life, and can also lead to other career and learning opportunities.
At this point of the pandemic, wearing masks has been a regular part of people’s routines when going out their homes. This is not to debate the merits of wearing one or the politics surrounding mask wearing during this pandemic, but more on my experiences making them and using them.
In the spring, there are so many instructions online on how to make masks, that even as someone who sews on a regular basis, I was a bit overwhelmed. There seemed to be two major pattern types, the folding accordion type, and the front folding two pattern type. Since I have no shortage of fabric I decided to use what we have to make the masks for my husband and myself.
It took several attempts. Some are too small, and many were too tight! I don’t have a lot of experience working with elastics, and as a result I end up putting insufficient elastic for the string that is supposed to hold up the masks. I also don’t have a lot of experience with additional components that are not necessarily a fabric such as metal wires for the nose bridge. At first, I don’t even have materials that can function as a nose wire. It wasn’t until after I got some garden wire and also some pipecleaners, that I had the chance to learn how to incorporate a nose wire into making a mask.
A few months into the pandemic, when mask wearing started becoming more commonplace, I heard an article talking about the difficulties that people who are deaf or hard of hearing are facing because of people wearing masks. The challenge that they face is, it is even harder to hear people speak, and for those who rely on lip reading, they are unable to do so. I eventually stumbled upon a mask with a clear plastic transparent window and I thought that was awesome. I made a few attempts making this mask and they are a part of my own inventory of masks that I wear on a regular basis.
I really like these special masks that I made. When I have gone to retail stores wearing these masks I get a lot of nice compliments! People say that it is actually nice to see a persons smile again which obviously was covered thanks to masks. I remember attending an outdoor community event around early October and I wore one of these masks with a plastic window, and I got a lot of compliments from people who attended. One inevitable challenge is that when you talk, some fogging or moisture buildup occurs. I learned a trick to mitigate this, which is applying a very thin layer of dishwasher soap and letting it dry. Letting it dry is particularly important because it is awkward sniffing and smelling the dishwasher soap scent while wearing the mask with the window. I’m sure you can tell I learned that from experience.
During this time, I was also helping with fellow Albertans making free stuff for those in need specifically, I was helping to make free laundry fabric scrub bags for health care workers. There was another initiative running alongside this one, which is making free fabric masks for people in need. I admit, I felt conflicted for a while. I wasn’t sure which initiative I should keep on helping with. Eventually, I reminded myself that it is OK to help on one initiative only and hope that others, are willing to step up to help with the other one. It seems like that is the case! Many other people who have skills in sewing and quilting, helped to make free masks for those in need. Others turned it into a creative fundraising method. I heard that one lady made masks as a fundraiser and raised $10,000 for the Edmonton food bank and I thought that’s impressive.
I made an attempt to make free masks for those who need it, and it was good but it did not last long. I was happy to make roughly 30 masks in total. The challenge I had was, because I am not a car owner, delivering these masks was more difficult than I anticipated. I also got frustrated when people don’t respond to Facebook messages after a couple days.
I decided that chasing people and following up with them on social media after making a request for a free mask is not worth my energy. When I stopped making these masks and getting stressed out with all the logistics of delivering them I decided to focus on the fabric bags that I am making for healthcare workers and I’m able to reach making 300 of them. And that felt pretty awesome!
When my husband had to go back to the office on a more regular basis he asked me to make several more masks for him. He already has a few that he uses whenever we have to go out for things such as going for groceries. But this time he actually wanted something more special and customized for him. We went against my inclination to use fabric I already have, and we went to the fabric store to buy a brand new fabric with a design that he likes for me to make masks. He has about two dozen of these masks. He seems pretty pleased with himself and I’m more than happy to make those for him.
Just in the fall, as I started to go back to work at my office on almost a daily basis, I decided to make additional masks also. At this point, after some trial and error, I found a mask style that I’m happy with overall. So I made five more of these and I learned my lesson from last time, and I put in an additional inch of elastic.
Now that it’s getting even colder, I learned another technique that I started to do when taking public transit and having my face covered. In the past, to keep myself warm and comfortable I actually wrap my winter scarf around my face. A few times, I have actually taken public transit and covered my face using only this scarf , not wearing a mask at all. And the way I wrap my face it is pretty comprehensive, practically my entire face is covered except for my eyes. So I’m pretty confident that I have fulfilled the bylaw regulation about face coverings. But now that it’s getting even colder I even doubled up. I would wear my fabric mask 1st and then, wrap my face you seeing that fluffy winter scarf that I use everyday during winter. When I go to our office, I make sure that I have at least one fabric mask which is what I use when community or when I don’t need to talk to people, and I make sure that I have at least one of my special masks with a plastic transparent window if I need to talk to people.
The routines related to masks in my daily living has been more settled now. From handwashing them on the weekends, ensuring the stitches and seams are still intact, and providing solidarity on social media to people who had to deal with people who refuse to wear masks feel second nature now. There is a part of me that wishes that people continue to wear masks to limit the spread of the flu during flu season. But for now, I’ll continue to find small motivations and silver linings to make the pandemic more manageable.
When I first arrived in Canada, I had my first experience in having an actual process to sort out garbage. Different types of garbage are sorted according to type such as refundable like bottles and milk cartons and cans, landfill materials, recyclables like plastic sandboxes, and things you can refund for money such as wine bottles, beer containers, and soda containers. So before moving to Edmonton, I have integrated the habit of sorting my garbage. And I also have a vague idea or realization, that returning these refundable drink containers will give you money. Then, I first noticed in grocery receipts, that you get charged money for buying liquids to drink in particular containers. So if you make the effort of returning these bottles, it’s not like you earn extra money, but more like you get your own money back.
When I moved to Edmonton I have observed a similar process. The way organic material is handled is a little bit different, but the sorting process is still there. Making sure you have the appropriate bags to sort your garbage such as the transparent bags for leaves in the fall, the black garbage bags for landfill stuff, the blue almost transparent plastic bags for recyclables, is integrated in once grocery shopping routine.
However, the actual process of people or organizations collecting refundable drink containers is something I haven’t seen before. As it turns out, this can result to a lot of money! And it looks like it is a relatively popular method of fundraiser.
I personally have seen many bottle drives before, and participated in some of them as a donor of containers. This particular weekend however, I finally helped my neighbourhood community league by supervising the bottle collection drive portion of our September event, for Community League Day. It’s a pretty easygoing task, all I have to do is to physically be on standby beside the truck where people would pull over bring their containers of bottles and place it inside the truck. At the end of the day this truck, this company, will take away these bottles, process them, and give money.
Using bottle drives for fundraisers have been so popular that I received multiple requests as a homeowner different times a year. During spring and fall, like a predictable annual routine, I would get a flyer on my mailbox requesting for bottles to help the neighbourhood local children’s Scouts. A particular nonprofit organization has this as a regular part of their fundraising which is called Empties To Winn. The way this works is, they provide uniquely labelled large plastic bags where people can put in their drink containers for refund, every quarter the organization sends someone to pick up your bag with bottles and cans, and at the end of the year, you get a tax receipt.
There’s so much money to be made from collecting bottles and handing them over for a refund. Folks experiencing homelessness typically use this as a method to earn a little bit of money. I see people in parks and Transit stations looking a little bit worse for wear, reaching into the garbage bins to see if there are drink containers in them. We even have a small incident in our neighbourhood last year, for some residents were a little bit upset because they realized on garbage day their bags of recyclables is ripped into pieces causing guard pieces of garbage to be flowing and flying all throughout the sidewalks and streets. It was discovered that this is a result of a homeless person on garbage day going to each of the piles of garbage bags, ripping open the bags to see if there are any bottles. My neighbours made it clear that it’s not like they don’t want a homeless person going around the neighbourhood. The only problem is the littering it causes. Thankfully one of the residents had the chance to see this gentleman rummaging through the bags and kindly asked him to tie up the bags again after he sifted through them. Problem solved.
It’s fascinating to observe the people handing over bottles during the bottle drive. There’s the one gentleman in his red pickup truck where the back compartment is full to the brim of bags. He said he was planning to bring them to the Bottle Depot, and then COVID-19 happened, and then this opportunity came about to dump them all here. There’s the lady who had her containers in a water drum, so we had to work together to pour them all onto a plastic bag to put into the truck. There was the father of the kids who’ll be benefiting from the bottle drive. He told me that his son goes to the elementary school of the neighbourhood, and he appreciates that this bottle drive will raise funds toward’s be renovated playground for the elementary school.
For some people, they are diligent enough to collect the bottles bring it to the nearest Bottle Depot and enjoy the earnings of their diligent organizing. But for many, getting a few dollars every few months is not worthwhile, but the feeling of being able to contribute meaningfully for a charitable cause it’s definitely worth a lot more. For as long as there this system that helps collect organized and provide money for these recyclable drink containers, I think we are going to have bottle drives for the next little while and it is awesome.
It is to be expected, that in a crisis like this, many people will be put in a difficult position (or a more difficult position) and are in need of help. One incredible thing about this pandemic is that there were lots of opportunities to help, and there are different roles to fill.
It’s pretty neat to take a break from being on the organizer role (I’m talking specifically about my job), since all our programs are cancelled. My job is the main way I do something that helps people in need in a direct way. My volunteer work as a member of a board of directors is also important, and I appreciate it, but a bit more removed, a bit more big-picture.
I was not surprised that social media pages and groups were set up to help people in an efficient way. Facebook groups specific to COVID-19 that enabled the average person to have a direct way to help with advice, positive commentary on social media, and buying items online to help those with emergent need. For a Facebook page that is just barely a month old, to have 20,000 members, is pretty darn impressive. I wanna buy a case of wine for each of the founders and moderators of the page. What an incredible labour of love.
Another way I have been helping is by being in “super seamstress mode”. Since last year I’ve been making fabric bags for Boomerang Bags Edmonton, and that has proven useful during this time. Hundreds of people throughout the province started making fabric laundry bags for healthcare workers, so they can separate their dirty (and most likely contaminated) work uniforms and toss them right away into the washing machine.
In my neighbourhood, with relief, I discovered ways to do a little something cheerful right by my front yard. Sidewalk chalk art. Staying connected with community leaders. Volunteering from home.
For my workplace, I realized that disseminating information, especially online, is really important. It’s part of my duties anyways. Handling marketing and communications for work and the clients we serve who need help is a part of my daily duties as I work from home.
These are the “doer” type of roles. The soldiers in the field. The cog in the machine. I know there are hundreds of volunteers doing seamstress work right now. I know (and it’s incredible) that there are thousands of people on the Facebook group, that almost every single time someone make a post asking for help, an offer is made within an hour or less. I am seeing dozens of photos drawing positive messages of pavement or fences, even if there’s a risk of snowfall or watery puddles the next day that would wash it away.
I’d like to take a moment to give a shoutout to all the administrators, organizers, facilitators of these on-the-ground initiatives to help others. Because it’s more stressful to do it at this time, but the relieve that these gestures of support is also of a greater impact.
The time and energy that it takes to volunteer in a meaningful way is something I anticipated and embraced. I mean, that’s the whole point. To receive little or no financial compensation for doing something that is interesting and helpful to the community at large. It gives opportunities to meet different types of people, learn information and perspectives that are not always available within one’s home or work environment, and have a fun time making a project or goal a reality.
However, there are two items that I didn’t quite expect, which turned into actual additional expenses. These are travel and food costs.
Overall, I’d say I have a decent grasp of my finances, where the dollars go, how much, and under which category. As I grow older and have reached a level of stability in my life, I’ve managed to aim a certain quality of life that I’m satisfied with, hit savings targets and enjoyed the process, and find ways to be savvy with expenses. That being said, as my list of volunteer activities grew, there are times that spending a bit more to travel around places or to have a quick bite is inevitable.
As a non-driver, public transit user, who attends meetings and activities outside of “regular” transit hours, the cost of ride hailing services do add up. I’d say 90% of my taxi, Tappcar and Uber trips are related to a volunteer or community service activity. Whenever possible, when heading to the location I try to take transit, and then only take a cab going back. However, traveling from downtown Edmonton where I work, to the very far edge of Edmonton farther west from Anthony Henday, it’s just not feasible. It’s a hefty car ride as well. Such trips would likely be $40 one way. I’ve done this a few times, and given my duties in this particular volunteer board, it’s not going to stop anytime soon.
Since I started using his budgeting software and system a while back, I do have the tools to answer this questions with actual numbers.
For another board I volunteer for, the main office is on the south side across the river, around the Scona area. When the weather is good and I can leave the office from downtown 45 minutes ahead of time, taking a bus and walking for 20 minutes (if the weather is good and the sidewalks are not slippery) is feasible. Otherwise, it’s a $20 cab ride to get to the meeting. And then, since the meeting ends pretty late, no way can I take transit going home. Fellow board members had kindly offered a ride sometimes, for which I’m grateful for. However, when that is not an option, that’s another $20 minimum for another trip. One volunteer meeting, $40 expense, but I get a nice dinner, so there’s upsides and downsides for sure.
For one board I am a member of, our sub-committee meetings usually take place in restaurants. Typically it would be a bar in downtown Edmonton. Sometimes there would be two of these meetings in a month, and that’s where the expense can add up.
I was worried about this when my husband helped me put things in perspective by asking a simple question. “Is it within the budget?” Regardless of what prompted the expense, there is comfort in knowing that the expense is anticipated and that I do have the resources to allocate money for it. Since I started using his budgeting software and system a while back, I do have the tools to answer this questions with actual numbers.
I’ve managed to find a workaround to make sure this doesn’t break the bank too much. As far as eating out is concerned, I have given up on my “solo restaurant dates” that I’d have once a month. So, that’s one less restaurant meal I spend on. Whenever there is a meeting in a bar, depending on how hungry I am, I started ordering appetizers half of the time, instead of choosing an entree right away. A board member started teasing me and say “looks like you have a thing for poutine!” when he noticed that for several meetings in a row, I’d get the same thing: iced tea and a poutine.
Regarding travel costs, it looks like I spent $1,500 on cab rides last year and $1,100 in 2018. That jump is definitely directly correlated to the additional activities I’ve been attending. But I have zero car expenses because I don’t drive. This expense is the additional one I have on top of my bus pass. Thinking about how much people spend on their cars, helped me put this in perspective.
I realize that having to spend a few dollars in addition to sharing one’s time and energy while unpaid is too much for some. But I hope that for some who have a bit of financial flexibility, that it would manageable to give just a little bit more. And seriously, the conversations I have outside the actual meetings, when at the restaurant chatting while waiting for everyone else, or during the carpools after a long board meeting, they are just as meaningful as the actual volunteer activity we just had.
Many years ago, while searching for jobs not too long after finishing university, I stumbled upon a few articles online that encouraged the reader to ask this question:
“If money is not an issue, what job would you like to have?”
At that time, I answered “volunteer”. And it seems like that indeed had led me to a role that suited my skills and interests, and is quite rewarding. As a Volunteer Coordinator of a nonprofit, I have learned to appreciate the value of having the structure that enables the volunteers to focus on what they do best at their designated role, and not to worry about small details that can delay or distract them.
Lately, I have been thinking of what the future holds given that I am still considered a young professional. After all, I’m a few years away before turning 30. Retirement feels like a long time away, despite the fact that my husband diligently prepares for it through our regular savings and keeping our accounts organized.
We have a lottery pool at work, where each staff member who wants to participate can pitch in $2, a staff person goes to buy a ticket, and hope that we are the next group of employees who win a few million dollars, like the ones we hear about in the news.
I remember a comment from a former colleague Sofia about lottery winnings that stuck with me. She said “imagine how much affordable housing you can build out of all that money.” I appreciate her viewpoint since it was the first time I hear from anybody about a way to spread the winnings to those in need. Another colleague had said, with a hint of worry “I wouldn’t know what to do with all the much money.” This is also a fair point, as I heard numerous stories of people’s lives turning for the worst after winning the lottery. The troubles that the winners have come in two ways, from being reckless about spending, and from being bombarded with inappropriate request for money from distant relatives to random strangers. I guess, with great wealth comes a great burden.
Right now, if money is not an issue because somehow I have large sums of it or an unlimited supply, I imagine that I will split the money into a few different categories:
Personal financial stability
Assisting relatives in need, both in this country and overseas
Local charitable donations
Large-scale impact on certain social causes
For example, I’ll pay off our home’s mortgage and set aside enough money for an investment fund where the interest is enough to cover current expenses and occasional luxuries. And then, I’d like to find a way to provide financial assistance to my relatives in need in a way that is sustainable and has a long-term benefit: whether it is funds to start a business, house and lot, or covering tuition payment for younger kids.
Outside of the family unit, here’s how I envision huge sums of money can make an impact. There are many charitable organizations that struggle to stay afloat, and as a result, searching for funding eats up precious time that could have been spent making a difference through their programs and services. Providing stability such as through an endowment fund or a financial boost for a few years would be a good thing, I think. And then, similar to those lottery winners who would donate millions of dollars towards a cause, I’d like to do the same thing as well. Instead of just dropping a cheque though, I’d like to help build something from the ground up. Maybe a new building to expand an organization’s service and operations, or even a brand new facility to fill an unmet need.
One can dream, right? But, since the chances of winning the lottery or having a massive multi-million dollar business empire is pretty small, the realistic, real-time version of myself had scaled back these lofty dreams into manageable, small things that can be done in present time. With the income from my paycheque, helping charities and relatives and building a sense of personal financial stability is achievable in small chunks. As far as making a large-scale impact, I’m hoping that running for public office one day can fulfill that.
Either on my own, or through in-person and online workshops, I have participated in exercises to help envision the future. It’s a good opportunity to evaluate one’s preferences and aspirations, and indulge in thinking about how outlandish scenarios might just come true. The plan is to ask again this question when I officially turn 30 and periodically in the future.
There was a catchy Filipino pop song that I remember in my teens, titled “Ambisyoso” which is the translation for ‘ambitious’. Some of the writer’s outlandish dreams are pretty funny, like a kissing scene with his favourite actress, but I really like the line that talked about “a wallet that never runs out of money”. That’s what prompted this thought exercise, and I’ll likely revisit it again.
For anyone under the age of 30, particularly adults, 10 years is a sizable amount of time. For me, it’s 35% of my life! The other interesting part is, as opposed to our childhood and teenage years, young adults are likely to remember most, it not all of events that would be considered as pretty major.
This is a short summary of how the age 19-28 has been for me, as in the year 2010-2019.
Dating: I took a chance to date my ex-boyfriend’s friend, with two important premises: that us dating will not jeopardize his friendship with said ex-boyfriend, and that we’ll take it slow in our early years. That seems to have paid off! We are got married in the fall of 2019, after I took the courage (as the woman) to propose, and pulled off a lovely intimate wedding with only two months of planning. This relationship has been the most transformative in my life, where I learned how to be happy and healthy, to love and be loved, and how finding your partner is an experience that pushes you to grow and keeps you stable and safe.
Brother: The past decade started with making arrangements for my brother’s sponsorship and immigrating to Canada. He successfully arrived and I did my best (I hope) to support and guide him in adjusting and living a good life here. He just completed his diploma program at NAIT, while being relatively healthy, in a loving relationship, having a decent work ethic and also debt-free. It brings me the greatest joy that he and my husband get along really well. Being a mother/father/sister to him since we were orphans was no easy feat, but I’m satisfied with how he is doing and how my contributions played a role in its own way.
Home: Home is where the heart is, a place of rest, self-expression, recreation, stability, peace and vulnerability. It has not been straightforward, but the past decade has enabled me to have an active role in defining and shaping what this means for me and my love ones. It involved a few move-outs and move-ins, budgeting, repairing and organizing, getting comfortable making sure that the home fits my sense of self and my current needs. That is actually the toughest part, to give myself permission to tell myself “yes, this is MY home now, this is my home TOO.” Thankfully, I think I finally reached that stage.
Health: Physical activity and diet is something I haven’t paid any attention to until about 2012. It’s been a roller coaster on this one. I went through phases of having an extreme and unhealthy attitude towards tracking calories and physical activity that swung like a pendulum over several years. It is a relief to eventually reaching a more balanced approach. “Slow and steady wins the race” is the most important lesson on this journey and the fact that it is a lifelong one. Some physical ailments and a few medical procedures also took place, and as someone who felt ‘undeserving’ to get checked over by medical professionals, both due to cost and lack of attention by my legal guardians, obtaining the procedures is another significantly positive milestone.
Overcoming Trauma: I learned how to say the word ‘emotional baggage‘ without sarcasm or shame, as well as the word ‘triggered‘ in an honest and kind way. Thanks to the #MeToo movement and the other goals I was working on, I realize that I cannot move forward without addressing these. I sought out therapy for sexual assault around 2017 and I feel that I learned and transformed internally so much. I’m working on being more aware of the concept of Survivor’s Guilt, and how that can push people like me to overwork, overcompensate and be a perfectionist. I experienced burnout at work at least once and felt victorious after feeling vulnerable and courageous enough to seek therapy and actually use my work benefits. Mental and emotional health, as it turns out, is really important, in order to live an enriching life and be a positive impact to the world.
Career: In the beginning of the past decade, I was midway through my university degree, and after just a few years, I completed my degree, gained skills and discovered the current career sector that fits well at the moment. The biggest lesson for me is that in this day and age, there is no need to pick a career that I’m stuck with for the rest of my life, and this fluidity was both comforting and empowering. Also, I had a few young professional milestones such as quitting a toxic work environment, job promotions, raises, plus typical office changes like moving locations and growth in staff.
Creativity: Because of never receiving recognition in school about my artwork, as a child I though I was not artistic at all. My handwriting is nowhere as pretty as my parents, particularly my mother, who was the creative one in the family. But in the past decade, I eventually discovered the enjoyment of artistic expression in my own way, from words such as blogs and articles, upcycling, mending or re-making clothing and abstract art. Now, the decorations in my home and my personal office is 90% artwork I made. Many of our practical items are also DIY, from blankets, quits, pillows and some clothing as well. I appreciate how my husband describes them, as items “made with love”. I plan to continue to integrate this in my life for as long as I can.
Re-Connecting to my Cultural Heritage After Immigrating: Having the chance to visit the Philippines twice after immigrating was wonderful, both instances with my spouse who is not Filipino. Those were useful opportunities to sort important legal and financial matters, and retrieve a few things I didn’t get a chance to bring when I moved the first time. It also prompted within me an ongoing thought exercise on how I ought to fit or maintain, the Filipino side of my identity as I continue my life in Canada. I think that’s part of what prompted this blog in the first place. Discovering local Philippine-focused nonprofit organizations here in Edmonton is a huge help as well and I’m positive that my involvement will only grow in the future. Sharing my ‘coming to Canada’ story to the broader community was a great experience as well.
Self Love and Acceptance: Self-compassion is something I fortunately gained from a healthy workplace and a healthy romantic relationship, and with the explosion of educational tools and advocacy I discovered on social media. While the real change has to be internal and IRL (in real life), as a millenial, social media plays a huge role in making awkward conversations more comfortable. When used positively, the anonymity or the distance created from social media accounts can help people explore painful topics and also offer help. I’d say the past five years was when this exponentially increased in my life, and I was able to curate online communities to help me with this challenging and important journey. Now, I hope to maintain what I have achieved and pay it forward to others who are still starting their journey.
Contributing to the Community At Large: Volunteering in many capacities just enriched my like in a multitude of ways. My goal is to have an optimal combination of activities where my role ranges from being a leader, an equal member, a contributor, or a participant. I think, that is what I have right now. The increase in stability in my home, work and paycheque was also empowering, as I was able to share not only my time, but also my money to those who are in need. The new decade will start with getting more politically active, and diving in deep by possibly running for public office and making an impact. Even as a child, being a trailblazer held a particularly strong appeal. I hope that the past decade helped me gain the skills and gumption to pursue these ambitious goals, and that this decade will be game time, to make attempts at these goals. One thing I’m very sure of, is the comforting truth in the saying ‘when one door closes, another one opens’.
My significant other is born-and-raised in this city we call home. He hasn’t experienced living anywhere else, not counting the times he had to go out of town for work, his travels, or when he came with me to visit and tour the Philippines. Staying in those places are temporary and that was very clear, and at the end of that short timeframe, it will lead to going home again to Edmonton.
While in my case, I grew up in a small mining village in the Philippines, and even continued to live there after my parents and sister passed away. It was unexpected circumstances that prompted me to move to the nearby city to finish high school, and then I was told I’m moving to another part of the world. When I came to Canada, I thought that I will be able to build relationships and set roots in St. Catharines, Ontario, when an abrupt move to Edmonton changed things again.
We had conversations about our future. and it is established that we will be in Edmonton for the rest of our lives. This is not something I wasn’t “over the moon” about exactly, but I’m not actively opposed to it either. It is a good city to live in, with decent opportunities and ways to have an enjoyable life, and I get the benefit of being with people who have lived here for much longer than me. I know that for some couples, location and mobility are key factors in their relationship, and I’m more than happy to be swayed by his desire to build roots here, or in his case, keep and grow the ones he already had.
I guess it is good to do things from a place of love. Because I associate my spouse as being part of this city, I feel more inclined to actively love and care for this place as well.
I told him, if we are going to live here forever, might as well do something to make improvements or keep the good things as they are. In my younger years, getting involved in clubs is something I always enjoy. It is pretty rewarding to be part of a group, with a positive and productive goal, even if it sucks up part of one’s spare time. Turns out, finding ways to do community service here is very easy, given that there are lots of choices. In fact, it can be too easy to get overwhelmed!
That is what inspired me to volunteer for the community league. It is pretty neat that there is a formal organization, that has a structure, funding mechanisms and established processes, for people whose affiliation is just one thing: that they live near each other and want to do good things for their neighbours. It has been three years since I started volunteering, and my spouse and I have a specific tasks that we diligently fulfill.
That is what motivated me to find my happy medium of getting involved in my cultural community, and with the city at large. He knew that writing and journalism is an interest of mine, and he cheered me on when I started writing columns for a provincial cultural newspaper for the Filipino community. He has even helped me with topics or phrasing, when the annoying ‘Writer’s Block’ hits me at unexpected times.
Being conscious of how your significant other navigates your city can encourage you to speak out in ways you haven’t anticipated before. For example, my spouse was very concerned about the changes in the transit system because of how it will affect me, as someone who does not drive. While a typical person who drives might not care as much, he was inspired to answer the online surveys, come with me to the in-person engagement sessions, and half-jokingly asks me whether we should sell the house so I get the same frequent bus access that I currently have.
The River Valley System of Edmonton is a huge part of our relationship. A few of our first dates consisted of walking through these beautiful natural trails. A longer hike is an annual tradition for us. Naturally, when we discovered that there is a formal organization that focuses on preservation of the River Valley, I considered participating. Oh, if only I have more hours in the day! Or maybe, there will be an opportunity or schedule when this will work better in the future. For now, when we are wanting a more casual date, we’ll continue to use this network of trails and doing our best to be responsible users of this incredible natural resource. We are subscribed to the newsletter of this conservation society, and we try to keep up to date on relevant news and research.
I guess it is good to do things from a place of love. Because I associate my spouse as being part of this city, I feel more inclined to actively love and care for this place as well. I hope that more people feel the same way about where they are living right now.