The Philippines got an extra loud shout-out when Muheim students in First Nations dress drummed in the 22 nations represented at a citizenship ceremony last week.
That’s because Niklaus Cometa, a Grade 5 student at Muheim, was sworn Thursday along with his parents and siblings.
“We’re really happy that we’re here,” said Niklaus’ mother Lourdes. Back in Greater Manila, where 25 million people live in 16 closely packed cities, Lourdes said her older children had to wake up at 4:00 a.m. just so they could travel the two kilometres to school by 7:30.
“It’s crowded,” said her husband Aladdin, adding that most homes in Manila have a window that looks into their neighbours’ apartment.
“If they fight and throw pots and pans, you’ve to close the doors and go inside,” he added with a laugh.
Today, Aladdin can get to work at the NewPro mill in five minutes. His Manila commute took three hours. And workers are paid much less in the Philipinnes, he said—public school teachers, for example, earn less than $3,000 CAD to teach two classes of 60 students each.
“I’m going to say it’s an easy life,” said Aladdin. “If we were to go back, I don’t think we would find a job—even for our kids.”
At Thursday’s citizenship ceremony, Mayor Taylor Bachrach noted how lucky the Bulkley Valley is to have 66 new Canadians here when the vast majority of immgrants chose big cities like Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.
Lourdes said Smithers was a bit of a shock at first, with its tiny mall and quiet streets.
But the Cometas have settled in well. Young Niklaus is “totally Canadian” Aladdin said. He himself is looking forward to learning how to snowboard with his older son Richard.
Becoming citizens hasn’t been easy—Aladdin came to Smithers four years before Lourdes and the kids, and they met with plenty of corruption and delays while trying to get documents from the Filippino governemnt.
But from the first time strangers waved hello to him on Smithers Main Street, Aladdin said he has felt welcome in Canada.
“My feeling was, ‘Whoa—there’s some good people here,’” he said with a hand on his heart.