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It's All History by Jon Malek

Supporting our IENs

and celebrating our teachers

by Jon G. Malek

The Manitoba government recently announced that a “delegation is heading to the Philippines next month on a recruitment drive to pave the way for hundreds of qualified internationally educated nurses (IENs) and other health-care providers to move and work here.” The mission will visit the cities of Manila, Cebu, and Iloilo. Advocates for the plan cite the large Filipino community in Manitoba and strong bilateral ties with the Philippines as being “selling points” for Philippine-based nurses and other practitioners. The history of Manitoba recruiting Filipino nurses has also been suggested as a reason to justify this mission to the Philippines. However, a lot of questions remain.

The first, and most obvious in my mind, is what about all the Filipino IENs already here? Those who have been trying to get their credentials and work experience recognized so they can work in province. Why can’t we tap their skill and education? Why is there the need to go on a costly overseas mission to screen a new wave of Philippine nurses? It’s not a matter of whether or not more Filipinos would be welcomed in the community – they would be and with open arms. But what about those already here who have been forced into other professions? The Manitoban government has the opportunity to help those already here re-integrate into their profession. In my research on the Filipino community in Winnipeg, I’ve heard many stories of Filipino nurses being forced into other career paths, leaving the province to find work in other regions of Canada where it is easier to get licensed, and even returning to the Philippines. It seems a better investment for the government to support the IENs that are already here by funding their bridging programs or whatever upgrades are necessary so they may work in the Manitoban healthcare workforce. If Manitoba wants to be a “destination of choice for trained health-care providers from around the world,” much more needs to be done to integrate those already here who have hitherto been denied. Word of how difficult it is to get credentials recognized does travel. It is not secret that we have this potentially rich resource, and in our healthcare system’s time of need, it is a win-win for the province to focus on these IENs.

I was also curious about the “long history of recruiting health-care providers from the Philippines,” which has been used as a justification for this project. The 1960s and 1970s saw intense recruitment of Philippine nationals who were practicing as nurses in the United States, and later directly from the Philippines. I’ve even written elsewhere that this helped change Canada’s xenophobic and racist immigration policies that prevented Asian immigration by law. But that was a very different time than now. Canada, and Manitoba in particular, could not train enough nurses locally to fill the immediate demands and so turned to other countries for supply. Now, however, we have a rich supply of nurses in Manitoba who are not able to practice. So, again, it seems that the better investment would be in the Manitoba Filipinos who are already here and wanting to work in their chosen profession and to help Manitoba in its current healthcare crisis.

On January 21, 2023, the Manitoba Association of Filipino Teachers, Inc. (MAFTI), in which I serve as a board member, celebrated their 45th anniversary. Today, the organization supports the integration and professional development of internationally trained teachers, offers community cultural programming such as after-school heritage classes and adult Filipino language courses, and engages in community events across the city. The following is a copy of a memoir of MAFTI, which I delivered at that celebration.

Filipino teachers were among the first members of the Winnipeg community, settling alongside doctors, nurses, and other professionals. As teachers, this group has for long taken up the torch of Filipino culture and heritage by spreading it through programming and advocacy.

In 1977, the Filipino community organized a conference titled “The Role of Filipinos in the Manitoba Mosaic,” which called for the formation of a Filipino teacher’s group. Shortly after the conference, the Manitoba Filipino Teachers Association was founded. The intentions of the organization were to provide classes in the Filipino language, to develop teaching aids for culture and language classes, and to advocate for credential recognition of Filipino teachers.

After its formation, MAFTI petitioned the Winnipeg School Division to hire Filipino teachers in schools with large Filipino student populations. Thanks to the efforts of MAFTI and parents of Filipino students, more and more Filipino teachers found work in the Division. This advocacy was not only meant to assist Filipino teachers find employment, but also recognized the importance of youth to have close contact with members of their community. These teachers would have been able to respond to the needs of Filipino youth, while taking opportunities to engage with fellow Filipinos.

Throughout the late 1970s and the 1980s, several members of the Filipino community advocated for the importance of expanding Filipino cultural programming to preserve the heritage in Filipino youth. This was a common topic in the community newspapers the Silangan and the New Silangan. MAFTI often led these endeavours with cultural and language classes for youth. In 1982, MAFTI members set out to establish a Filipino language curriculum in John M. King and Tyndall Park Schools, and regularly conducted Filipino language proficiency exams at the high school level. In the 1982-1983 school year, one hundred students enrolled in Filipino language classes at Daniel McIntyre Collegiate, dating back to 1978 through financial support from government funding.

Many of MAFTI’s successes have relied upon such government funding to support the activities of multicultural communities. For decades, the Filipino community has been proud of its place within multicultural Canada, being a founding member of Folklorama in Manitoba and using its cultural programming to foster understanding of the Filipino community.

In addition to cultural and language classes, MAFTI has offered professional development sessions to teachers to help acclimatize them to professional life in Canada. In the last few years, MAFTI has offered after-school heritage programs, adult language classes, provided performances by its Rondalla band, and has been a major presence at cultural events in June of each year. When the pandemic closed down in-person gatherings, MAFTI’s programming quickly shifted to online teaching. Last year, there were 118 students enrolled in five different classes, with ten teachers.

Generations of MAFTI leadership and membership have been motivated by the idea of a better world through education. Their youth programming for Filipino and non-Filipino students introduces the language, customs, arts, and culture of the Philippines to a new generation of Manitobans. Its adult classes have continued its multicultural mission of educating others about Filipino culture.

Today, MAFTI offers all its services to Filipino and non-Filipinos alike, striving to help teachers trained outside of Canada adapt and succeed in life in Canada. As we gather here to celebrate 45 years of MAFTI, let us not only reflect upon this Association’s long history of service, but anticipate the next years of MAFTI’s accomplishments.

Jon Malek received his PhD from Western University and currently teaches history at the University of Manitoba. He is working on a book manuscript on the history of the Winnipeg Filipino community.