In 2014, I spent Canada Day on the other side of the globe, in the Philippines.
Spending Canada Day in a different country might seem like an un-Canadian thing to do, but that trip to the Philippines actually made me prouder than ever of my national and cultural identities—all of them.
I wasn’t always proud of my Asian heritage.
Like many first generation Canadians, there was a time when I wanted nothing more than to be, "Just Canadian, no, nothing else. I was born here.” (Cue my emphatic nod and smile that said, "Please don’t ask, ‘But where are you from?’”.)
Something changed on this particular trip to the Philippines. My parents, brother and I were there to visit family, and also to visit our Compassion sponsor child who lives in Cebu City, the city where my parents were born.
We met the incredible staff at the Compassion Centre, which, like all Compassion Centres, is run by a local church and attended by a few hundred Compassion children multiple times per week. I was so inspired by the staff’s commitment to personally caring for each child in the program. Later on in the day, during a conversation I had with the Centre’s director, Precy, I saw why that individual care was so important.
Precy shared that the year before, staff at her Centre became aware that a few Compassion children had become victims of sexual exploitation at the hands of a neighbour.
Because they journey so closely with each child, they immediately knew something was wrong and quickly connected with local IJM staff.
IJM took the case and was able to ensure justice and protection for these children.
As I listened to this story, I felt stunned, angry and horrified all at once. It occurred to me then that it takes all of us to protect vulnerable children.
It takes Compassion to care for children and catch the signs of injustice and exploitation early on.
It takes IJM to ensure justice for children who are abused and exploited.
It takes the local Filipino staff to build trust with these families so they can serve them in Christ-like ways.
And there’s one other group that is instrumental in this process: Canadians.
Canadians who decide to stand up to protect and care for children in the Philippines and around the world.
I had been an advocate and supporter of both organizations before that conversation with Precy, but to see how these two organizations worked so closely together to protect and care for those children reignited my passion for both Compassion and IJM.
I had also (obviously) always been both Canadian and Filipino, but to see how both groups played key roles in standing up for vulnerable children made me so proud to identify as both from Canada and yes, from the Philippines.
It truly takes all of us to protect and care for children living in poverty. It takes partnering as organizations, and reaching across and between national and cultural identities. I am so proud of the diverse identities in my life—Compassion staff and supporter, IJM supporter, Canadian, Filipino.
It was the coming together of those identities that made the protection of those children possible.
In fact, I would guess that in some way, in some part of the world, your diverse identities come together to play a role in compassion and justice too. The work of justice and compassion takes all of us—together, tapping into every part of who we are.
If I could go back to younger Alyssa and tell her one thing, I would tell her that it would be a shame if every first generation Canadian tried to shake off their diverse cultural backgrounds.
I don’t say that just to promote diversity for diversity’s sake. It is truly the biggest joy of my life to see partnership achieve such significant Kingdom work. It did for that group of children in the Philippines, and when we continue to find strength in our diversity, it can for millions more.
So, on Canada’s 150th birthday, this first generation Canadian girl proudly celebrates diversity and partnership, and all that they achieve.
Alyssa Esparaz brings her passions for youth, justice and Jesus to Compassion Canada’s advocacy team as she works to inspire and equip the Church to live compassionate lifestyles. She is the host of Compassion’s youth curriculum, True Story: What God Wants Us To Do About Poverty. She is also the founder of Freedom Creations, a social enterprise that sells knitted products and donates 100% of profit to International Justice Mission Canada. As a speaker and blogger, Alyssa passionately encourages her generation to bring Christ’s hope to the darkest places of the world. Find her at www.godsgal4ever.blogspot.com or on social media: @_godsgal4ever.
This post is part of a series celebrating Canada 150.