The Wabush Recreation Centre gymnasium was packed with fans celebrating the first Labrador West Filipino Basketball League game last Monday.
Crowds cheered on as teams went head to head in a heated night of basketball.
Arnold Lequin, who initiated the league start-up alongside Luisito Samson, Matilde Samson, Norman Ocampo, Joanne Ocampo, Boggs Dischoson, Ronnie Ramos, Vicky Ramos, Lino Lintag and Jimmy Sabandal, said they wanted to see the Filipino community involved in more than just their employment.
“Everyone has to do daily tasks or work, but we need to feel comfortable here in town. And we want to show Canadians that Filipinos aren’t just workers; they’re sporty people and can provide this type of event.”
So far four teams make up the league with the players chosen by raffle, but Lequin wants to see the league grow from here.
“We have newcomers from Taiwan, Philippines and Canada. All are welcome. It’s a friendly game, and we’ll accommodate whoever wants to join.”
As the second gathering of the large Filipino community in Labrador West since June 12’s Philippine Independence Day, Lequin said he wanted to see Filipinos become closer.
“Not everybody is close with everyone. We’d like it if everyone knows everyone. There are over 90 million people in the Philippines, so it's not like we know each other when we move here.”
The Filipino community has grown to approximately 200 in Labrador West, each person coming to Canada for a better way of life they can share with loved ones.
“Canada is one of the first-world countries. Moving here is a big opportunity, a big break for us. We can help out families back home.”
Lequin, an analyst and the Filipino to work at IOC in Labrador City, said it’s not an easy process.
“It was very difficult for us to get here. Most of us spent a lot of money just to process all the papers, plus it takes time. Unfortunately some people who spent money will be denied, but some of us are lucky.”
Hopeful residents first pay an agency $5,000 to find an employer in Canada, but the fee does not guarantee employment. Skilled workers, which make up most of the Filipino population in Labrador West, have the fees paid by their employer.
“The very best thing here is there is no personal discrimination. All people will welcome you. They don’t say, ‘Oh, there’s this Filipino person. We can ask him to do this and this like a dog.’”
Although many Filipinos hold a bachelor degree or have their own expertise they need to wait for their permanent residency before they can practice, as well as feeling comfortable to move on.
While working in a restaurant Lequin earned many credentials in the Philippines such as a bachelor degree for accounting and undergraduate in master’s degree for business administration, as well as holding the titles of project manager, senior business analyst and senior research analyst. Despite the achievements Lequin arrived in Labrador to work for a restaurant for two years before moving on to IOC.
“I needed to accept that it was a stepping stone, and I tried to adjust myself to be part of the company. Lab West has given me the opportunity to be a part of one of the famous companies in town and I'm so glad to be one of them.”
The accomplishment hasn’t come without a price.
“The hardest part of being a Filipino worker is you really don’t know what’s happening with your family. You just see them through a computer or on a phone call.”
Lequin recalled the recent flooding in the Philippines and felling helpless for his family.
“All you could do was watch on TV and cry by yourself, ‘Oh my God, what’s happening to my family?’ It’s really hard for us to be away from them, but we’re away because of them. We have a lot of plans for them.”
Providing for family back home requires sacrifices, such as living arrangements. Lequin currently lives with ten others, including two couples and a child.
“It’s really hard to find a better place to stay because the apartments are very expensive. Some want to move to another apartment but they cannot because of the money they're going to save if they stay put.”
But Lequin said even though housing is expensive there are still other benefits to counter it.
“A great thing is we don't need to spend money on our hospital. You bring in your MCP card and it's all free. Compare that to the Philippines where you'll spend too much money if you're sick or on a medical check up. It's very, very good.”
And despite the frigid winters Lequin said he and many others in the Filipino community are here to stay thanks to the courtesy of Labrador West residents.
“This is a very cold spot here, but we feel very warm because of the people. They welcome us. It's a pleasure for us to be here.”