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Group aims to empower Filipino youth

By Darlene Casten

Re-connecting or keeping cultural connections for Filipino youths living in Canada is the mission of a group already busy sharing their culture with Calgarians.

The council that brought Fiesta Filipino to Calgary three years ago is expanding to offer a youth empowerment program for young people aged eight to 25.

Beng Reyes Ong is on the program committee for Fiesta Filipino and is one of three program coordinators for the Youth Empowerment Program.

She says it was in 2016 when the committee started talking about engaging youth and working with the future generations of community leaders.

“We want to expose them to the Filipino culture and help them understand how they fit in the Canadian culture,” Reyes Ong says.

A monthly program begins in April at the Art Commons in downtown Calgary that will bring together groups and individuals to teach Tagalog, the original Filipino alphabet, music and instrument and traditional, spoken word and hip-hop dance.

There will also be a leadership class where topics like resume writing, career searches, entrepreneurship and innovation will be discussed.

Reyes Ong says the committee needs future leaders to take over community events like Fiesta Filipino.

“It’s succession planning for everything we do,” she says.

As an immigrant herself with young children, Reyes Ong has seen the adjustment and changes that happen when Filipino youth leave their country.

“We want to positively empower them so they fit well in the community as Filipinos,” she says.

That includes her own three daughters, Reyes Ong says.

“I want them still value our roots, our heritage,” she says. “At the very least I want them to speak the language, but I want more.”

Losing their language and culture is something that immigrant and first generation Filipinos face, says Reyes Ong.

For those raised in Canada, there can be a disconnect when it comes to the language, values and culture.

“We’ve heard from both sides,” she says. “Those born and raised here lack the language and get a bit intimidated when they are in the community. For those that immigrated, of course they want that sense of belonging.”

Roxanne Singlot was 19-years-old when she immigrated to Canada. Now at 25-years-old she has graduated from university with a bachelor of psychology and is working with autistic children.

Singlot is also a volunteer with the Youth Empowerment Program. She knows firsthand what its like to adapt to Canadian culture.

“It was major,” she says. “It was tough because I had family, but no one my age.”

She remembers finding out she’d have to work while attending university and how much she missed karaoke.

Singlot says she was happy to help others when Reyes Ong approached her about volunteering for the Youth Empowerment Program.

“We are looking at creative ways to engage the youth and keep it fun and interesting,” she says.

Singlot says she’s already recruited five of her cousins to join the classes.

“A lot of them are losing their Tagalog and Ilocano,” she says.

To register for the classes visit www.fiestafilipinoyyc.com/yep-youth-empowerment/

For more information on the Youth Empowerment Program and to register you can also come to the Arts Commons Engineered Air Theatre downtown between 1 and 3 p.m. for the launch of the program.

The first day of classes will be April 8.

Schedules of classes will be available March 17.