Inspired by the establishment of the Kalayaan Centre in Vancouver, different Filipino migrant groups in Quebec established their own center to bring the various Filipino groups and their supporters together in working for the rights and welfare of Filipinos in Canada, and to support the struggle for human rights, national freedom and democracy in the Philippines.
BY AUBREY MAKILAN
Vol. VII, No. 46, December 23, 2007-January 5, 2008
A second home opened its doors for the Filipino community in Quebec, Canada.
Home to Filipinos
As its name suggests, Kapit Bisig Centre (KBC or Linking Arms Center) is a center that was collectively set up by various Filipino groups and their supporters in Quebec for the benefit of the Filipino community. KBC board member Joanne Vasquez said it has been modeled after the Kalayaan Centre (Freedom Center), a Filipino community center in Vancouver, British Columbia, comprising various organizations that “struggle for the rights and welfare of and social justice for Filipinos in Canada, while supporting the struggle for human rights, national freedom and democracy of the Filipino people.”
Cecilia Diocson, KBC coordinator, related the historical development of the KBC to the birth of the Philippine Women Centre of Quebec (PWC-Q) in May 2006.
“As a marginalized community with no resources, we really had no choice but to open our office there,” she said, noting that when PWC-Q first opened, it only had a small office space in a warehouse along de Courtrai, among sweatshop businesses.
“Through the hard work of our dedicated volunteers, we have now developed our skills and resources to build the Kapit Bisig Centre,” said Diocson.
KBC aims to address the needs of Quebec’s Filipino community. Its specific objectives are to gather information about the Filipino community, identify emerging issues, deepen understanding and analysis of the community, provide accessible and culturally-sensitive services, and to systematize method of delivery of services.
Vasquez said the center also plans to implement capacity building programs such as leadership training, education and policy development.
It is home to the PWC-Q, SIKLAB-Q, Kabataang Montreal-Ugnayan ng Kabataang Pilipino sa Canada, Filipino Nurses Support Group (FNSG), Philippines-Canada Task Force on Human Rights (PCTFHR), Sinag Bayan Cultural Collective of Quebec, and National Alliance of Philippine Women in Canada (NAPWC). Vasquez said these centers “represent the assertion of overseas Filipinos for their genuine equality, democracy, and liberation.”
Based on the 2006 Census of Canada released recently, the Philippines is the 3rd highest source of immigrants to Canada in the world, and has consistently been in the top 5 since 1981. With 77,880 recent immigrants to Canada from January 2001 to May 2006, the Philippines ranked third among the top 10 places of births of recent immigrants to Canada.
Meanwhile, the Commission of Filipinos Overseas (CFO) estimated there are 789,943 Filipinos in Canada as of June 2007.
Despite the growing numbers of Filipinos and their significant role in Canada’s development, Diocson said statistical data still demonstrates the marginalization of Filipinos, particularly in Quebec.
For example, she said that over 60 percent of Filipinos in Quebec reside in Cote-des-Neiges, an area known for its high poverty rate. She noted that although Filipinos are among the highest educated visible minority groups in Montreal ¾ 27.7percent of Filipinos have a university degree against the 17.7percent of the general Montreal population ¾-a large portion are working in the service sector. She added that majority of Filipinos in Montreal are women, who are part of the Live-In Caregiver Program. The Filipino youth reportedly have the third highest drop out rate in high schools.
Diocson said challenges to the KBC are numerous including coping with government cutbacks on social services and funding. Despite these challenges, Diocson encouraged all to “commit our time and energy to help our kababayans through the KBC” and join the struggle for social justice, equality, and democracy.
Despite having limited resources, the KBC is very fortunate to have several dedicated volunteers who maintain its operations 7 days a week, said KBC board member Joanne Vasquez.
“Before I moved to Montreal, I was involved in various organizations that served a larger community, but I’m now also learning more about the huge diaspora of Filipinos in Canada and the issues that they are facing. I think it’s important to get involved with an organization that supports people of my own cultural background,” says Concordia University student and new volunteer Adrienne Vicente. “I want to help out as much as I can.”
Jhastine, a member of Kabataang Montreal (KM or Montreal Youth), also volunteers at the Kapit Bisig Centre. She first got interested with the youth group upon learning that one of her friends is a sister of one of its organizers. “One day, I saw KM members rallying outside of Plamondon metro for a boy who had been reprimanded for eating with a spoon and fork. I thought that it was nice that there was a group that was fighting for justice,” she recalled.
“My mom is happy that I am volunteering in a place where there are older role models. It’s better than just hanging out at the park,” she added. “The Kapit Bisig Centre already feels like a second home. I want to help with the day-to-day activities of the centre to get more people involved. It feels good to help.”
Diocson said the center is grateful for its volunteers who answer phones, do outreach, and run workshops and training sessions on topics such as immigration, health, housing, finance, rights and employment.
The KBC is located at 4900 Fulton Street (corner Lemieux) near Snowdon Metro. It operates from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. during weekdays, and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. during Saturdays and Sundays.
Although concentrated in Quebec, the KBC works closely with other organizations across Canada. In the future, Vasquez said “it would be wonderful to have more Filipino community centers bloom across the country.” Bulatlat