My Journey from Struggles to Strength: A Graduation Reflection
My Journey from Struggles to Strength: A Graduation Reflection
October 12, 2023
By Leny Rose Simbre
Today is a significant milestone in my life, – a day filled with immense gratitude and humility as I graduate from York University with the academic distinction of Magna Cum Laude. I stand before you, sharing my story of determination and resilience, as a member of the Dean’s Honor Roll in The Faculty Of Liberal Arts, holding an honor degree in Human Rights and Equity Study. My journey to this moment has been challenging, marked by struggles, emotional and mental hurdles, the heartbreaking loss of loved ones, and the relentless trials of a global pandemic. Yet, here I stand, a living testament to the power of faith, resilience, and the unwavering support of those who believed in me.
My Path to Academic Success
My path to academic success wasn’t what I initially envisioned; it was filled with uncertainties and fears. I faced setbacks and betrayals that led me to doubt myself. However, I knew that my son, Brady, deserved every opportunity life had to offer. His well-being became my driving force, pushing me to rise above my challenges and self-inflicted wounds.
The Decision to Leave My Homeland
My journey began with a courageous decision – to leave my homeland in search of a better life for myself and my family. It was a leap into the unknown, filled with unpredictability and fears. My story resonates with many families striving for a decent life, facing the push and pull factors of migration.
The Struggles of Filipino Migrants
For over five decades, Filipinos have sought refuge in Canada due to conditions of poverty, unemployment, landlessness, hunger, low wages, and a lack of job security in the Philippines. The Philippine government, driven by the Labour Export Policy (LEP), exploited its own people, treating them as commodities to prop up a semi-feudal, semi-colonial system. The Live-In Caregiver Program (LCP) in Canada, designed to attract mainly women to work as nannies and caregivers, further fueled this migration. As one of the Filipino women forced to leave my homeland out of sheer necessity, I understood the dire circumstances that pushed us to migrate. The neoliberal policies and the influence of US imperialism, alongside Canadian mining companies, exacerbated the situation.
Globalization’s Impact on Filipina Women
The dynamics of our globalized world economy explain why Filipina women like me, lacking decent livelihood opportunities after university, seek migration to Canada and other countries. Sadly, globalization has failed to deliver on its promises of development for the majority. Unemployment, landlessness, low wages, and job insecurity persist due to privatization, deregulation, and liberalization. Neoliberal globalization has let down the working class and impoverished nations.
Becoming an Advocate
Upon arriving in Canada, I held onto the hope that Filipino workers, especially caregivers, would find a better life for their families. However, I soon encountered cases of exploitation and abuse that ignited a fire within me. I joined migrant workers’ groups and became an active advocate for better working conditions, equal opportunities, and the rights of migrant workers. I currently serve as the Chairperson of Migrante Ontario, a migrant-led organization that fights for the dignity and rights of Filipino migrant workers.
Challenges of Activism
Being an activist is challenging; some associate us with terrorism, causing fear among some migrants. We are sometimes perceived as aggressive and disruptive, creating a negative impression. We’ve been red-tagged and faced harassment and threats. But the hope of a better future for migrant workers sustains me. Transforming lives, empowering individuals, and advocating for better working conditions is deeply rewarding and enriching.
My Academic Journey and Personal Growth
So, I decided this academic journey was not just my personal endeavor but for the collective. My sister Jeramie pushed me to improve myself not only for my son but also for my comrades and co-workers. The challenges were daunting, and there were moments when I questioned whether higher education was attainable. But my unwavering determination, fueled by the belief in the transformative power of education, carried me through.
Balancing Multiple Roles
Balancing academics, work, advocacy, and motherhood as a single mother took an emotional and psychological toll. However, my son remained my source of inspiration and hope, as well as my family and “ kasamas”.
Faith and Community Support
Amidst the darkest moments of my life, I found solace and strength in my unwavering faith in the Almighty. Prayer became my refuge, and I learned firsthand that faith can move mountains. My community at the IFI church, IFI Parish of the Holy Child, GTA headed by Fr. Dante Coloma provided more than just spiritual support; they extended love, care, and a profound sense of belonging during my most challenging times.
The Impact of the Pandemic
The advent of the pandemic added an unforeseen layer of adversity to my journey. But I remained resolute in my determination not to be defeated. Instead, I viewed it as an opportunity to demonstrate the resilience that had brought me this far. Alongside my Migrante family, we continued to advocate for the rights and welfare of fellow migrants, channeling my personal experiences into a powerful force for change and amplifying the voices of those who often go unheard.
In this journey, I must extend my heartfelt thanks to many individuals and groups who played important roles. Professor Ethel Tungohan, your unwavering support from the moment I set foot at York University was instrumental to my success. To my Matatag Team, who not only provided me with confidence but also enriched my academic journey with invaluable experiences. The remarkable faculty of the LAPS department, thank you for imparting your knowledge and wisdom. To the Academic Integrity and Petition panels, I am grateful for the opportunity to represent students with integrity.
Equally deserving of gratitude are my professors in the Equity Department, who not only contributed to my academic journey but also shaped my perspective on the world. I am deeply indebted to the Herrera Family, particularly Tita Loreta, for their consistent support, ensuring that my son and I were always cared for. Auntie Norma and Uncle Leo, whom I could turn to any time, offered unwavering love, and support every time I needed to. Debra Aronson and Dr. John Molot, my first extended “family” from the beginning, have been steadfast in their support to pursue my studies and always there to lean on. To Possibility Life coach Julie Star, who taught me to become my own hero and always gave me good vibes, thank you.
Of course, I offer all this honor to the Almighty God, who is always there to give me the strength and power to rise above all the challenges. This honor is dedicated to all my loved ones, especially my son Brady, who deserves all the opportunities in life – I love you so much! To my family, especially my sister Jeramie Ardi, thank you for the love and support. To my ever-supportive Auntie Maharlika De Guzman Lopez , To my mother, Mama Wata, my brother, Carlo Simbre, and to my dear father, Msgr. Arturo P. Simbre, who is no longer with us – I know you are so proud watching me from above. This is for all of you. Thank you all for believing in me!
A Commitment to Advocacy
My MIGRANTE family and your unwavering support and understanding have been a cornerstone of my journey. I pledge to continue being part of an active movement, engaging in collective action to organize, mobilize, and combat exploitation and abuse against migrant workers in Canada. My commitment to fighting for better opportunities and a higher quality of life for those who dream of a brighter future remains unwavering.
A Message to All
Finally, I want to convey this message to everyone: Our journeys may vary, but our dreams and aspirations unite us. Life’s challenges are not designed to break us; they are meant to mold us into stronger, more compassionate individuals. With unwavering faith, the love of our families, and the support of our communities, we can overcome any obstacle that crosses our path.
I am Leny Rose Simbre: A Magna Cum Laude, PROUD TO BE A MIGRANTE ACTIVIST!
Together, we rise, we inspire, and we create a positive impact in this world!
Short summary of my journey
The Philippine Reporter interviewed Leny Rose Simbre for a background of her remarkable journey from a hardworking caregiver and migrant worker advocate to become the 2023 Magna Cum Laude graduate in Human Rights and Equity Studies of York University. Simbre’s inspiring story is on page 20 of this issue of The Philippine Reporter. The following is her interview response, in summary. –Ed.
By Leny Rose Simbre
I left the Philippines in 2006 after working as a data encoder and a private caregiver. I was compelled to leave due to the challenges of supporting my family with low wages, precarious contractual employment, and the absence of job security. I spent a year working as a domestic helper in Hong Kong while processing the necessary paperwork. In 2007, I arrived in Canada through the federal Live-in Caregiver Program.
In 2007, I became actively involved in migrant workers’ groups, particularly Migrante Canada. I also played a pivotal role in founding the Independent Working Women Association (IWWA), dedicating myself to advocating for improved working conditions, equal opportunities, and the rights of migrant workers, with a specific focus on women.
In 2011, I embraced motherhood, but due to personal circumstances, I found myself separated in 2013. Nonetheless, I remained an active member of the advocacy group. In 2019, after a decade of working as a care worker, I decided to return to Humber College, where I pursued a Community Justice Diploma, and I was recognized as one of the honor students in December 2020.
In January 2021, I seized an opportunity to earn a scholarship and an award at York University, which allowed me to undertake a four-year Bachelor’s degree with Honors in Human Rights and Equity Studies. Remarkably, I completed this program in just two years, benefiting from credits earned through previous courses while maintaining full-time student status. During this time, I also worked as a Research Assistant and continued my involvement in care work.
My dedication to research earned me a Dean’s Award for Research Excellence under the guidance of Dr. Ethel Tungohan. I received several awards, including the Continuing Scholarship, Advancing Women Mentorship/Scholarship Program Award, and Provost Award during my last two years at York University.
Presently, I hold the role of Research Coordinator at the York University Centre for Asian Research immediately following the completion of my program and continue my role as Migrante Ontario Chairperson, advocating for migrant workers.
This journey has been a testament to my dedication and commitment to making a positive impact in the community and advancing the rights of migrant workers.