“Migrants are facing uncertainty that is why it is imperative for them to organize themselves not just to protect their rights and welfare but also to understand and link their issues to the socio-economic problems of Philippine society.”
Edmonton, Alberta – Sol’s heart for the poor and downtrodden did not lose flame throughout these years. It had always found her wherever she was – from her native Iloilo City, to Hong Kong and finally in Toronto, Canada.
Fifty-year old Maria Sol Pajadura was elected the new chairperson of Migrante Canada during its fourth congress on February 10 held in Vancouver, British Columbia. The congress saw some 100 participants from all over Canada, including local Canadians who are active supporters.
Pajadura, who came to Canada as a caregiver, vowed to ignite further militancy in the group in the face of “Canada’s economic neoliberal policy” and the “Philippine government’s raging fascism and ever-intensifying labor export policy.”
Sol’s eyes were opened to the realities of Philippine society early in her teenage years, thanks to her involvement in church and organizing for Basic Christian Communities (BCC) in her rural hometown in Janiuay, Iloilo.
“That was where I got exposed to the sufferings of poor peasants, “ she said. She witnessed first hand deaths of children of peasant families who could not afford hospitalization. “It was heartbreaking to see the injustices done to the peasants by the landlords,” she said.
In her college years, Sol remained active in organizing the youth. She was an organizer for the progressive League of Filipino Students (LFS) and continued to organize the youth in the communities in the city after finishing college in 1987. She helped form the Kabataan para sa Demokrasya at Nasyonalismo (KADENA) in Iloilo.
As a licensed secondary education teacher, it led her to work for the Urban Poor Day Care Center in 1989, while teaching part time at San Jose Parochial School in Iloilo City.
A year later, she worked as a treatment and rehabilitation coordinator for Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC) in Panay.
Becoming a migrant
Sol found the shores of Hong Kong as a domestic helper in 1999 in order to support her daughter who was suffering from a congenital heart disease.
“My husband and I were both NGO (non-government organization) workers so we couldn’t support our family and our daughter’s medical needs with our meager income,” she said.
In Hong Kong, she experienced long hours of work, verbal abuse from her employer and loneliness from being away from her family.
Despite her hardships, she found ways to rekindle her activism and became involved in organizing Filipino migrant workers in Hong Kong. She was an executive committee member of the well-known United Filipinos in Hong Kong (UNIFIL-HK).
“I learned from friends that if I work as a live-in caregiver in Canada, I will have the opportunity to become a permanent resident and could sponsor my family to come to Canada too,” she said. Hence in 2005 after six years of working in Hong Kong, she landed in Toronto, Canada as a caregiver.
Canada’s picture as a land of better working conditions for migrants was immediately shattered by Sol’s first-hand experience with abuses.
“I thought that working as a caregiver here is different from domestic work I was doing in Hong Kong,” she said. Sol had hoped that Canada would have better treatment of migrant workers and more protection of their rights.
“Because of the conditions in my work permit, I was vulnerable to abuse and exploitation,” she said, explaining that she also experienced working long hours with no overtime pay.
“It is lonelier here than in Hong Kong. I often did not have the chance to go out and meet fellow caregivers in grocery stores or parks, unlike in Hong Kong that Filipinos are everywhere,” she said.
“I was able to connect to migrant’s organization here in Toronto through Migrante Hong Kong,” she added.
To regain the teaching skills that she has lost through the years of working as a domestic helper and caregiver, she went back to school in Toronto and completed a certificate in Early Childhood Education at George Brown College while working as a supervisor at a coffee bar.
Canada’s federal government has recently announced a deadline for caregivers under its new caregiver program to obtain permanent status before the program’s review date on November 29, 2019, despite the fact that Canada has been accepting foreign caregivers even with less than two years to meet the set due date.
“With Canada’s neoliberal economic policy which encourages cheap and disposable work, it won’t be surprising if the government puts a stop to granting permanent status to caregivers,” she said.
“Migrants are facing uncertainty that is why it is imperative for them to organize themselves not just to protect their rights and welfare but also to understand and link their issues to the socio-economic problems of Philippine society,” she added.
“More work has to be done in terms of raising awareness among migrants who don’t see what is happening in the homefront,” she said.
“In the face of creeping dictatorial rule of a relatively still popular president and a large portion of our Kababayan outside of the Philippines still trusts the current regime to deliver substantial changes in our society, this would require extensive education to break this false view,” she said.