Canada and the Philippines both benefit from a tremendous reservoir of talent, energy and initiative in our respective civil society or not-for-profit sectors. Civil society organizations (CSOs) continue to flourish in the Philippines and are active across a range of sectors. Canada too, has a strong base of CSOs active both at home and abroad. Many Canadians relish the opportunity to volunteer and work overseas through such organizations, helping those less fortunate than themselves.
During my posting in the Philippines I have been struck by the increasing number of CSO exchanges between our two countries. These include Canadian volunteers who work on social housing projects, who take part in medical and dental missions, who give their time to assist micro and small enterprises, or help communities in building emergency preparedness.
Some of the engagement is also driven by family connections. With some 700,000 Canadians of Filipino origin, there is a strong sense of a trans-Pacific bayanihan – Fil-Canadians returning here to help their kababayans in need.
For example, in recent months, I have seen medical missions led by Fil-Canadians, travelling on their own time and expense to provide care to the less-privileged in various parts of this country. Fil-Can dentists from Vancouver recently provided free dental care to over 2,000 people in Legazpi City and surrounding areas.
Another example is Rotary World Help, run by Rotary Clubs in British Columbia, which has sent nearly 350 containers of goods to 59 countries worldwide. Communities including Tacloban, Cebu, Bohol and the Bicol region, have benefitted from over 80 containers of medical, hospital and dental equipment, sent from Canada, as well as refurbished firefighting equipment and firetrucks. The sparkplug behind this innovative program is a Filipino-Canadian from eastern Samar who has lived in Canada for over 30 years, but who wants to give back and help those in her country of birth.
Student and volunteer youth exchanges also continue to grow. Students from the Canadian University Service Overseas (CUSO), a not-for-profit development organization that works to reduce poverty and inequality through volunteer efforts and partnerships, are currently working in the Philippines with Gawad Kalinga’s poverty alleviation and nation-building programs, including its ‘Enchanted Farm’ project in Bulacan.
In the past, young people travelled between both our countries as part of cross-cultural exchanges through the Canada World Youth program, and I am delighted to see a robust network of Canada World Youth alumni in the Philippines.
Another program called Canadian Executive Services Overseas has sent retired professionals from Canada abroad for a number of years to assist the growth of small-and-medium enterprises. In the Philippines, they have helped in a number of SMEs develop their businesses, with considerable success in provinces like Bohol.
Faith-based groups from Canada also visit the Philippines regularly to help build social housing, undertake community projects, and set up schools and health clinics. Over the Christmas period, a faith-based delegation of young Canadians from Toronto helped build homes for disadvantaged families in Metro Manila. These organizations also raise money in Canada to fund other activities, including the construction of 400 homes for ‘Yolanda’ victims in Tacloban.
The impact of this collaboration has been profound. These exchanges build personal linkages between our two countries, help support the development of the Philippines, and give our respective peoples the opportunity to experience another culture, and make new friends abroad. They do us all proud.
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Neil Reeder is Canada’s ambassador to the Philippines.