Communications Volunteer Enisa Hazirovic sat down with Immigrant Centre client Aida Jucutan and her daughter Jo-Aina to learn all about the amazing story that bought them both to Winnipeg.
I was very grateful when I received the opportunity to interview such an extraordinary, sincere and strong woman by the name of Aida Jucutan. Aida was born in Camansi, City of San Fernando, La Union in the Philippines. Aida came from a large, hardworking middle class family with nine brothers and sisters in total. Although Aida’s family was blessed enough to have her father a former World War II veteran receive a US pension and her mother who also received benefits from her former job in the business industry; her parents still worked very hard to support their family. Aida’s upbringing taught her valuable lessons which made her determined to finish school which she did in 1981 when she graduated from Centro Escolar University with a BS in Nursing. While Aida was successful in finding a job at Ilocos Regional Hospital in her hometown soon after graduation it was the low income and an unexpected loss of her brother; who had left behind his wife and two children that forced Aida to seek for opportunities elsewhere.
In July of 1988 Aida took a huge leap in faith and left the Philippines to move to Al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia where she worked as a Nurse in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). During her time in Saudi Aida she became pregnant and decided to keep the baby. Unfortunately for Aida, Saudi’s work policy and the fact that she did not have any family in Saudi had forced Aida to make a very difficult decision and leave her new baby to be taken care of by her family. Aida’s incredible journey from the Philippines to Saudi and eventually to Winnipeg, MB has prompted me to ask her particular questions in order to better understand her very unique life path. This is my interview with Aida:
1.) Why did you leave the Philippines to go to Saudi Arabia?
“I left the Philippines because of financial reasons, I saw my parents struggling and I wanted to help. I also thought that the experience would be good for me.”
2.) How were you treated in Saudi as a foreigner?
“I was treated well in the workplace at the King Fahd Hospital because it was a government run hospital so there were lots of rules and regulations. In everyday life however, I was not treated not so well because I felt ignored, not very welcomed and people were stand-offish; I think this was because of my ethnicity and I was viewed as an outsider.”
3.) Did you face any discrimination in Saudi?
“Yes, I did. For example when I worked in the hospital the shifts would be given first priority to the Saudis, then us foreign workers so we would have to cover most of the night shifts. Also the Saudi workers received a greater salary then we did.”
4.) Did you feel a sense of community or that you belonged to a community in Saudi?
“I did not feel a sense of community in the Saudi society for example even if they spoke English they would not in front of me and the other foreign workers, they would speak only in Arabic which would make me feel like they were talking about me and made me feel isolated. However me and the other Filipino women created our own community where we would go shopping and do such things as pray in private.”
5.) What did your job title as an intensive care nurse entail you to do in Saudi?
“I performed many tasks such as inserting IV’s, monitoring machines, assisting doctors during surgeries and carried out any other orders that were given.”
6.) I understand you worked as an intensive care nurse in the Gulf War; could you describe some of the experiences you encountered?
“I saw many different things…I saw missiles flying because the American and Canadian barracks were near our hospital. The American’s had invested interests because of the oil, so I would hear the doctors bad talking the American’s when they would come. I also saw a woman come in with her hand cut off. We were also lucky because it was a government run hospital so we felt safe being there were Western patients. ”
7.) How was being a nurse in the Gulf War changed you or your perspective, if at all?
“It makes me think that war is stupid and unnecessary. Also I know that I am not afraid to die. I knew that I had purpose to help my family.”
8.) What would you like Canadians to know about your experiences in the Gulf War or in Saudi overall?
“I would say that it was a tough experience, wondering if I would live, would I be so lucky. But also I am grateful for the opportunities to have gained experience; I had colleagues who grew to love me and patients as well, this meant a lot to me.”
9.) What helped you get through being away from your family so long?
“Knowing that I was helping my family and I would make a difference in their lives”
10.) Did you have opportunities to go back to the Philippines during your stay in Saudi and if so how did you spend your time during your stays?
“Yes, every year. They would pay for our plane tickets to go back home. We had 30 days’ vacation and also for Ramadan we would get an extra 26 days so in total we would be able to go back home for two months’ vacation. When I would stay in the Philippines I would take my family shopping, supported my niece to go to school and built two new houses for my family, this is what I did when I was there”
11.) How has being away from your family impacted them?
“I don’t think much, we stayed in contact constantly and I knew there was a greater purpose.”
12.) What was your journey like from the Philippines to Saudi then eventually to Winnipeg, MB, Canada? How did the opportunity arise for you to come to Canada?
“In 2007 I had resigned from the hospital in Saudi and then my brother had sponsored me in February of 2008 as a caregiver for his daughter, my niece.”
13.) What did it feel like to finally be reunited with your daughter and have her finally be able to live with you?
“It felt amazing, I was very excited to finally live with her. I also felt worried because she is my only child and she is almost a woman so I worry about her and sometimes I had trouble sleeping thinking about her future.”
14.) What was one of the main reasons you choose to immigrate to Canada?
“The main reason I choose Canada was because of my daughter. In Saudi I was not able to have my daughter live with me but in Canada I finally could.”
15.) What challenges did you face, if any during your settlement period in Winnipeg?
“I arrived in Febraury of 2007 and I didn’t know it was going to be this cold! I also had difficulty with paper work legalities and not completely understanding and being able to read English (Canadian) style.”
16.) Could you give me one memorable experience that has stayed engraved in your mind during your resettlement process in Winnipeg?
“The Immigrant Centre and “Saint” George who works there (Jorge Fernandez Director of Settlement Services). He helped me get settled and his kindness and generosity I will never forget.
17.) What resources were made available to you and which ones did you find most beneficial/helpful during your resettlement?
“I found Manitoba Start, Immigrant Centre, “Saint” George and Kevin Lamoureux (MP of Winnipeg North) helpful in finding housing, giving recommendations and volunteer opportunities. I also had help from Winnipeg Harvest where I would get my food because of low income I was receiving. I also think Canadian books were very helpful in helping me understand the language better.”
18.) What resources do you think are lacking or need to be made available to new immigrants coming to Winnipeg?
“I think single immigrant parents need more help with support income or where to find that extra help. I also didn’t know at first where I could take my daughter to learn English, technology, physical fitness and to preserve our religion.”
19.) Did you feel like you were embraced or part of a community once you arrived in Winnipeg? What makes you feel this way?
“Yes, I’m very happy here. In Saudi you couldn’t mingle lots because of laws and regulations. Here I can laugh out loud, people are so nice, welcoming, helpful and supportive; even though the climate is cold I love Winnipeg”.
20.) Did you know any English? If so, how much would you say you knew?
“Because of my work I learned English working in a Government run hospital in Saudi. I also learned more through mingling with others in Winnipeg.”
21.) What advice would you give to newcomers immigrating to Winnipeg or Canada overall?
“DON’T LOSE HOPE! For me praying and staying positive and remembering that there is always hope.”
22.) What do you think your next step is?
“I am waiting to write my Registered Nurse Exam and then I would like to find a nice job working as a nurse or in a care type environment. I want to do this so I can support my daughter to go to University and have our own home.”
23.) How do you think your moving to Canada will impact your daughter’s life?
“I will be able to support her not only financially but mentally as well. I will be able to give her opportunities to go to school and university and also to make sure she has faith and God in her life.”
24.) If you were given a second chance in life, is there anything you would do differently and why?
“Not really, I dedicated my whole life to helping the needy and that’s been and always will be my focus. I would want to show the world that helping people is very important and valuable.”
25.) What do you see or hope to see in your future as well as your daughter’s?
“I want to have passed my Nurse’s exam, to have a job, be financially independent and have my own house. I want to own a care home where I will be able to help in the most whole heartedly way. I want the care home to be really big so I can help as many people as possible and put the emphasis on the actual care and treating every patient in the best way possible. This is my dream.”
Aida’s story is one out of tens of thousands of newcomers that arrive in our beautiful country each year. I think Aida’s story inspires us to remember that we are all very fortunate to live in place where we can strive for a better future not only for ourselves but our family and loved ones. Aida’s sheer determination to never lose hope and that being good to others would one day be reciprocated back to her shows her courage and sincerity. This is why it is vital that we continue to foster a sense of community to newcomers and also to the rest of our population. Support and guidance from the rest of us will help Aida and others realize their dreams so they can continue to grow and contribute to our amazingly diverse society.
An Interview with Jo-Aina Jucutan
Jo-Aina Jucutan is a bright, beautiful and infectious 17 year old, who came to live with her mother Aida Jucutan, in Canada from the Philippines two years ago (2011). This was going to be the first time Jo-Aina was going to live permanently with her mom since she was born. Jo-Aina was raised by her grandparents, uncle and extended family members while her mom worked as an intensive care nurse in Saudi Arabia. This is my interview with Jo-Aina and some of her experiences journeying to Winnipeg, Manitoba.
1.) When was the first time you can recall where you were aware of the fact that your mother was working far away and you were going to be raised by family members?
“When I began elementary school, other kids had their moms around, I then realized that mine was away.”
2.) How did it make you feel at the time?
“It made me feel sad at the time.”
3.) Did you ever feel resentment or anger towards your mother because she could not be around you on a regular basis? If so, could you give me an example?
“No, I didn’t because I knew my mom was working to help me and my family.”
4.) Did you ever feel that your mother was missing an important milestone or event in your life? If yes, could you give an example?
“Yes, graduation dates in elementary and high school were hard for me when my mom was not there.”
5.) How did you cope with your mother being away as a child?
“I would cope with my mom not being there by talking to her on the phone around three times a month. We would also facebook each other all the time. Also my mom’s brother was there to support me.”
6.) Did you ever feel isolated or different growing up because of your unique upbringing? Why or why not?
“No, I didn’t because I had all my cousins, my friends, grandparents, uncles and aunts. I also had friends whose parents worked abroad.”
7.) I understand your mother would visit you annually, could you tell me how you would spend your time together and how it made you feel?
“When my mom would visit we would go shopping, go to the beach, go for picnics, we would have sleepovers and talk all night. All of this made me feel very happy and loved.”
8.) As you got older growing up in the Philippines, did it become easier or harder for you to comprehend why your mother could not live with you?
“It became easier when I was older because when I was young I didn’t understand why she had to go away to work.”
9.) Do you agree with your mother’s decision at the time?
“I did agree because life in the Philippines is hard, my mom paid for me to go to a private school and also supported the rest of my family.”
10.) How did this situation impact your relationship with your other family members?
“It made my relationship with them stronger because we spent all of our time together and they took care of me”.
11.) Could you briefly describe me your reaction when you ultimately found out that you would be living with your mother on a permanent basis?
“It made me extremely happy, excited and a little bit nervous too.”
12.) What did you envision this experience to be like at the time?
“I was 15 when I found out I was moving to Canada. I imagined me and my mom being together, playing in the snow, taking pictures, laughing and spending our time together.”
13.) How did you feel about moving to Canada as opposed to somewhere else in the world?
“I thought it was going to be amazing and I was very happy to be coming to Canada.”
14.) What were your expectations first in regards to living with your mother? Secondly your expectations of Canada?
“I thought it was going to be really fun living with my mom. I imagined that Canada was going to be really cold and there would be a lot of white people, lots of shopping, skating and playing in the snow.”
15.) How did your family in the Philippines react to the news?
“They were very happy and sad at the same time. They were crying when we found out because they were going to miss me, especially my uncle he cried the most because he raised me. I also hear from my family that my friends and neighbours are always asking about me and how I’m doing.”
16.) Could you briefly describe a few memorable moments of when you first arrived in Winnipeg?
“Skating at the forks with my teacher and classmates, also taking field trips with my class especially when we went to Birds Hill Park that’s what I remember most.”
17.) You came at a very vulnerable time in a teenagers life; what were your hopes and fears when you were about to start school?
“I was 15 at the time and my hopes then were that I would meet new friends and my fear was public speaking because English was my second language.”
18.) Did you feel welcomed when you started school?
“Yes, there were a lot of Filipino kids at my school and they were very nice and welcoming.”
19.) What challenges were you faced with?
“Learning English, being independent, adjusting to a new environment and the time it took to get used to it.”
20.) How were you able to overcome these challenges?
“Support from my mom, my new friends, and my teachers.”
21.) What resources were made available to you that helped you integrate?
“My classmates and teachers helped me with adjustments and learning English better. My mom being there for me helped a lot. Also my Ipad mini was a great resource to socialize, keep in touch with friends, family and finding information on the internet.”
22.) What resources were lacking or missing, if any at all?
“For me I had some issues getting into weekend English classes because I was not 18. I also wish there were discounted prices for fitness or gym memberships and more recreation activities that I knew about to stay active.”
23.) Do you feel like you are a part of a community here in Winnipeg?
“Yes I do, I go to Filipino gatherings and socials and at school I feel like people are welcoming.”
24.) What would you like the Canadian people to know about your particular experience?
“I want them to know it’s quite scary to come to a new place and meeting new people I would also like Canadian’s to reach out and get to know new people and ask more questions because I think it’s easier for them to reach out for me it’s still kind of intimidating.”
25.) What are your hopes for the future?
“I hope to be a successful person in everything I do. I want to eventually become a nurse like my mom and help people, tour around the world, meet new people and new cultures. Go back to the Philippines and visit my family and friends so they can see how much I’ve grown and how independent I’ve become.”
Jo-Aina will be graduating from high school in June of 2014 and will be enrolling into Maples Collegiate for six months in order to get her Health Care Aide Certificate. Jo-Aina then has plans to continue her education at the University of Manitoba where she will work towards becoming a Registered Nurse. Jo-Aina is really like any other teenager who enjoys watching movies, hanging out with friends, going to the mall and likes using social networks. However, her unique experience has taught her to be humble, a bit reserved and shy so I sincerely want to express my gratitude to her for having the courage to speak candidly to me about her upbringing and experiences. I think it is important that what we take away from Jo-Aina’s story, is that we should continue to reach out to our Immigrant communities who do want and seek relationships outside of their own cultural settings but sometimes are just a little shy and scared of the outcome and reactions of unfamiliar faces and surroundings. So, I encourage my fellow Canadians to reach out and ask a question, inquire, you might be surprised and amazed by the response that you get!
Enisa Hazirovic was born in Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina. She immigrated to Canada with her family as refugees just two months shy of her 7th birthday. Her strong interest in human rights and their protection was one of the major reasons why she chose to dedicate her studies to the new Human Rights and Global Studies program, accompanying it with a second major in Sociology at the University of Winnipeg. She is strongly committed to strengthening and supporting newcomer families in their journeys as they transit into a new life here in Canada. She thinks it is vital for Canadians to empower newcomers in order for our society to thrive and encourage them to get better acquainted with our amazingly wonderful diverse world where we can continue to learn about one another. She truly believes we are much more alike than different!