By Gagandeep Ghuman
Published: May 12, 2012
The lullaby was in Tagalog, the official language of Philippines, but Jonie Palabrica knew it would work in Squamish.
It was the one she used to sing to her Gillian, her three-year-old son in Philippines.
It’s the one she sings as a nanny in Squamish.
She hasn’t seen her son in three years, and it’s in these moments she yearns to hold him, to play with him, to sing the lullaby to him.
“It’s very hard to be away from him. I miss him so much,” Jonie says.
More years will pass until she sees him.
But she is ready to make the sacrifice as long as her son gets what every mother would want for her child.
Good education, and a better future.
It’s what brings her—and many moms like her from Philippines—to Canada, where they work hard in low-paying jobs to send money back home for their children’s education.
There are currently around 500,000 Filipino Canadians in Canada, most of them living in or around Toronto or Vancouver.
More than 400 Filipinos are said to be living in Squamish, although no hard data is available.
Many Filipino women come to work as nannies, as live-in care givers, or as temporary foreign workers at Whistler hotels.
Jonie works 14 hours a day at two low-paying jobs, as a nanny in the day, and at a fast food restaurant in the evening.
She sends back $500 every month.
One of her first instruction to family was to remove Gillian from an inept public school and enroll him into a private school.
She tracks his life on Facebook almost every day, waiting eagerly for photos and videos her brother posts. He’s very good at singing, and her brother keeps updating new videos of Gillian singing at school.
“I miss him, but I’m happy he’s in a good school,” she says.
There is another element to this poignant, yet empowering story.
The Jonies of Philippines aren’t just helping their kids back home.
They also help Canadian women keep a career, which is increasingly dependent on affordable child care.
“It is one of the biggest untold stories of this century,” Purnima Mane, deputy executive director of the United Nations Population Fund, told the New York Time last year.
“These women make a huge contribution but their contribution doesn’t show up in an official database and so too often we ignore it.”
Foreign worker remittance builds better future for not just a son or daughter, but for entire countries.
Philippines is the fourth-largest recipient of remittances in the world, after India, China and Mexico. It received $21 billion last year.
That accounts for about 13 per cent of its GNP, crucial life line for countries that struggles with high unemployment.
Although World Bank hasn’t broken down remittances by gender, informal surveys suggest remittance money is best used by women.
Men tend to buy land or squander away the money in drinks or other vices.
Women tend to invest in their children’s education, or rebuild their home.
Jonie has done both.
Since she came to Squamish in 2006, she worked for long hours and saved until she had enough to go back in 2009, and build a home for her family.
“That was such a proud moment for me,” she says.
Her only worry, shared by sociologists who have studies the subject, is she buys him stuff to compensate for her absence.
Her son, now nine, knows her as her mother, but also as a person from Canada with the power to buy him things.
Her relatives, who claim to shower extra care on her son, are also more demanding now.
“They think money grows on trees here,” she says, contemptuously.
Yet, she has no other option but to keep them happy.
She is aware of the sad irony of her situation: To take care of her son, she has to leave him.
Her absenteeism riles her the most when he wins an award at school.
Absentmindedly, she can narrate a list of occasions she would have never missed if she was there.
“His first day at school..his first award in kindergarten..when he first sang at his school,”
When she went back three years ago, he approached her gingerly, egged on by his grandma, who told her repeatedly it was mom they had come to receive.
She feels guilt about it.
“I didn’t even recognize him when I went back this time,” she says.
She has applied for his permit, and hopes that he will be in Canada soon, at least well before he enters teenage.
Meanwhile, she will keep singing the lullaby to Canadian kids, in whom she sees a reflection of her Gillian.
The lullaby is called Sa Ugoy ng Duyan in Tagalog. Here is how it goes in English.
Those good old days, I pray won’t fade
When I was young and in Mother’s care
Oh, to hear dear Mother’s lullaby again
The song of love as she rocked my cradle.
In my deep and peaceful slumber
The stars watch over me in vigil
Life was like heaven in the arms of Mother
Now my heart longs for the lulling cradle.