Samantha’s childhood story plays like an episode from a dramatic TV series, but there is no fiction to this tale. When Samantha was 12, her mother was killed for standing up for the rights of indigenous people in the Philippines. Her parents were driving her sister to school when they were ambushed by three gunmen.
Her father and sister managed to flee the scene unharmed. Wanted by the government for being a human rights activist as well, Samantha’s father made the decision to move his remaining family to Canada and Victoria, BC in March 2007. Once they arrived, they claimed political refugee status because they feared for their lives back home.
Just 13 and entering Grade 8 at the time, Samantha was insecure about her language skills. She found it hard to fit in. She was looking for a group to call her own – a community of youth that could understand the challenges she faced as a newcomer and help her transition into her new hometown.
Samantha found such a place at the Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society (VIRCS) and the Enable Program, funded by United Way. Her first introduction in Grade 10 was through the Youth Strides summer camp. Samantha was instantly hooked. Next, she joined a theatre project for newcomer youth to explore issues of transition. She also participated in life skills training workshops.
“VIRCS is a launching pad for immigrant youth. It allows you to express yourself and share common experiences with others,” says Samantha. “It builds connections and links hands together knowing that you can support each other.”
After graduating high school, Samantha turned her sights on post secondary school. Now 21 and a third-year biology student at the University of Victoria, she hopes to become a doctor, like her father.
Never forgetting her roots, Samantha and her family with some friends started a community group in Victoria to keep the Pilipino tradition alive and well with current and future generations. What started with 60 people two years ago has now grown to include 150.
“It’s hard to do it alone when you move to a new country so don’t be shy. Step out of your comfort zone to get the support you need,” shares Samantha. “Be courageous and immerse yourself in the culture, explore your personal traumas and share them with others because they will listen.”
In January 2015, Samantha received her Canadian citizenship and is proud to say she voted for the first time. Next on the horizon is a trip to back to the Philippines after nine years of being away.