VANCOUVER -For the last three decades, Tomas Avendaño has helped thousands of Filipino immigrants and their families here in Canada.
Avendaño, fondly called Tatay Tom, began by mobilizing fellow Filipinos in British Columbia to mentor the new arrivals – immigrants from the Philippines seeking residence or employment in Canada. In 1990, they coordinated the first annual Filipino Festival in Surrey, British Columbia, the “Pista ng Bayan” held during the Philippine Independence Day every June.
Tatay Tom was one of the 10 founders of the Filipino-Canadian Support Services Society (FCSSS), a group that has been assisting immigrants since 1996. The FCSSS was renamed the Multicultural Helping House Society (MHHS) in 2001, which has since helped 200,000 Filipinos with its respite housing, training and counselling facilities, settlement and employment services, and special programs for youth, senior citizens and families.
“I know the challenges that Filipino immigrants undergo. My family experienced it first-hand. I knew we needed help and we did not know where to get it,” recalls Tatay Tom, the President and CEO of the MHHS. He brought his family to Canada in 1982 because of the political instability in the Philippines then.
“Coming to Canada was the best decision I have ever made. We came here to begin a new life, and the life that we found here is more than we could ask for,” says the former professor of Spanish, political science and public administration who also served as a three-term councilor of Pasay City from 1967 to 1976.
The MHHS built a 3-storey center on Fraser and 32nd Avenue to serve as a one-stop-shop for its clients in 2003, and a second office was established in 2009 to further the society’s continuous services. With financial support coming from all three levels of government, the MHHS began construction to expand its main center in 2010. A year after, in 2011, it inaugurated its expanded offices, something that Tatay Tom is truly proud of.
An office in Ortigas, Pasig City, was established to serve Filipinos going to Canada. There they are given orientations, education, and training to equip them for life in Canada. Tatay Tom also says that there are plans of bringing their services to the provinces in the Philippines to help more of his kababayans.
Tatay Tom has a roster of awards and citations: the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee medal (2002) for his contribution to supporting new immigrants to Canada; the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal (2012), where he was the only Filipino-Canadian among 60 recipients recognized for their significant contribution to a particular province, territory, region or community in Canada; the Banaag Palanca Award (2012) given to him by President Benigno Aquino III; and the Paul Yuzyk Award for Multiculturalism (2014) in recognition of his lifetime of achievement in building an inclusive, welcoming community for those starting a new life in Canada.
But the greatest legacy that Tatay Tom will leave is carved in the hearts of hundreds of thousands of Filipinos he has helped through the MHHS.
“This is the legacy I will leave – establishing the MHHS in 1996, the building constructed in 2003 under my leadership, and the present building which I know will continue expanding because we want to help more and more Filipinos,” shares Tatay Tom, adding that an office in Alberta is soon opening. He knows this because he will never forget the time when there was an overflow of immigrants and the MHHS provided them much-needed shelter.
When he finally retires, Tatay Tom wants to entrust the MHHS to the future Filipino-Canadians who will take care of it. Then he can travel to the islands of the Philippines to share about the society to Filipinos seeking a better life in Canada. #
by Robbie Pangilinan