Bittersweet Dream
/ Author: Lisa Pranger
/ Categories: Guide magazine /
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Bittersweet Dream

For many immigrants, coming to Canada is not just about what lies ahead. It’s also about what they’ve left behind

By Lisa Helder and Geoff Dueck Thiessen

NOVEMBER 8, 2013, TYPHOON HAIYAN strikes Tacloban City with unprecedented violence. Within days, the once-vibrant provincial capital in the Philippines is transformed into a zombie land filled with dazed survivors and reeking of garbage and cadavers.

Some survivors begin looting stores and relief trucks—trampling others in a desperate bid for limited rations. Others frantically search for their lost loved ones. The city is full of water, but none of it is safe to drink. Without power, complete darkness covers the land at night.

When Typhoon Haiyan—known as Super Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines—ripped through the country, it flattened cities, villages, forests, and fields. The category 5 typhoon—one of the most intense on record—claimed the lives of over 6,300 people in the Philippines alone.

Local 306 member Eubolo (Ed) Co and his family were at their home in Tacloban City in the centre of the storm when it struck. At the time, Ed was a deputy regional project manager in one of the largest poverty reduction projects in the region, assisted by the World Bank and Millennium Challenge Corporation and implemented under the Department of Social Welfare and Development of the Philippines. His wife, Analyn (Ann), was a program unit manager with Plan International. When the disaster struck, they ran toward the danger—rather than away from it—and spent months during its aftermath helping to put their country back together. 

Worried about the safety of their family, Ed and Ann began discussing the possibility of emigrating from the Philippines to Canada, even as they were busy with disaster relief efforts. They struggled with the decision. They would be leaving when their country needed them most. They would be leaving important positions to begin an uncertain future in a new country. 

In the end, they decided to leave the Philippines and start a new life in Canada—a decision that, as it turns out, proved bittersweet.


ED AND ANN KNEW all too well the danger that staying in the Philippines meant. In the days and weeks following the typhoon, their positions as community development managers gave them inside knowledge of the threat that future typhoons presented to the country’s inhabitants.

“I did not feel safe in our city or region after that disaster because there was a series of typhoons coming toward us,” says Ed. “As part of the disaster response team, we were shown on the map where the safe areas in the Philippines were. Almost no areas were safe. Everything was vulnerable. I really wanted my family to be safe.

“The night before the storm struck, we did not sleep. Being on the disaster response team, which operated 24/7, I was waiting for them to call me in. After the storm passed, I tried to get to my office, but everything in the city had crumbled. The storm surge had covered the whole city up to the second storey of buildings. 

“Luckily for us, we lived on higher ground, and the water did not reach our house. But the city was covered in water. I was looking for a way to get to work where there was no water, but the roads were blocked because of all the downed poles and trees.

“When I finally got to the office, there was no means of communication, no light, no electricity. We had a vehicle and gasoline, but the roads were not passable. We didn’t know what to do, so for a while we just sat facing each other in silence. We were shocked—we were victims of the storm too.

“Two of my colleagues who lived close to the coast did not survive the storm. Other colleagues lost their homes or family members.” 

The magnitude of the casualties—human, structural, and economic—was overwhelming. It is estimated that 90 percent of Tacloban City was destroyed. 

“After two months, the rubble still wasn’t cleaned up,” says Ed. “The amount of garbage was incredible. They bulldozed and bulldozed and there were mountains and mountains of garbage.” 

During that time, Ed and his children were separated from Ann. 

“My wife was in another part of the province working with Plan International to help with relief efforts there,” says Ed. “I didn’t see her for two months. Communication was very difficult—we could rarely speak to each other because most of the communication systems were down.” 


IT WAS DURING THAT TIME through their intermittent communication that Ed and Ann began to discuss leaving the Philippines. Citizenship and Immigration Canada had announced shortly after the disaster that applications for immigration of those who self-identified as being affected by the typhoon personally and significantly would be prioritized.

Ed began the paperwork for this special refugee program. But because he did not have all of the documentation required, he needed to fly to Cebu and Manila to apply.

“The airline would not accept reservations, due to the disaster,” he says. “Everyone who wanted a flight lined up very early, and we could not leave the line. There was no airport left—it had been wrecked. We were all standing in line for hours by a table outside waiting to get on the plane.”

After all his efforts, his family learned that they couldn’t apply under the special refugee program set up following the disaster—they would have to apply under the standard program, which they did. They got the news that they were accepted in February 2015. On June 30, 2015, they left for Winnipeg, where Ed’s brother, their sponsor, lived. 

“We had to leave then,” says Ed. “I would not meet the age qualification after that year, because I was going to be 49 the following year. After that, it would have been much harder for me and my family to come to Canada.

“But it was very hard to leave. The hardest part was leaving the community development organization where I worked. I was having second thoughts of coming to Canada, because we were at the peak time of implementing the rebuilding program. We had received a huge amount of money from the World Bank and other financial institutions for rehabilitation and disaster response. But I did it for our family.” 

In Winnipeg, there is no fear of ty- phoons—only the bitter cold of Canadian winters. Ed and Ann and their children have adjusted to their new life and are doing well. Their son is enrolled in the civil engineering program at the University of Manitoba. Their daughters are halfway through grade 5 and grade 9.

Ed and Ann both landed jobs with Save-On-Foods at the western retail giant’s Northgate location in Winnipeg. While not their dream jobs, they’re grateful to the company for the opportunity to get established in their new life in Canada. They work diligently, Ed in the sushi department and Ann in the online shopping department filling orders for customers.

“I value work and being principled in my work,” says Ed. “Save-On-Foods is a very good company. But I chose this job because I didn’t want one that I will be chained to. I am still looking for a job that fits my passion and experience.

“Back in the Philippines, I managed the region- al operations in my community development organization. I was a manager and my wife was also a manager in her organization.” 
As managers, Ed and Ann had dedicated decades of their lives to training, supervising, and directing poverty reduction programs to empower poor communities and strengthen the capacity of local governments in delivering basic social services.

“Here, we are a restaurant clerk and an order filler for online shopping,” says Ed.

In the Philippines, they had a house on a hill, and they were able to hire a housekeeper. In Winnipeg, they live in the north end of the city—an area known for being a bit rough around the edges. 

To fulfill his passion to serve and help others, when Ed isn’t working, he is volunteering with the Salvation Army, the Winnipeg Harvest food bank, and World Vision Canada.
“That is the kind of work that I really like to do,” he says. “That is where my heart is.”

His heart for serving others is also the reason he recently became a steward for his fellow members working at the store. 

Ed and Ann’s story will be familiar to thousands of immigrants in Canada. Many come seeking safety for their families. But to do so, they had to sacrifice good careers and ties to their communities back home.

While they work hard in their jobs, like thousands of retail workers, they’re always searching for new jobs—ones in their field of expertise, ones more in keeping with their true passion. But in the meantime, they take comfort in knowing that they are making a home and have good, steady employment. They know that here in Canada, they and their children have a chance to prosper and to fulfill their dreams. And most importantly, they know that they are safe.  


Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda)

  • Category 5 super typhoon
  • Formed: November 3, 2013
  • Dissipated: November 11, 2013
  • Peak winds: 314 kph
  • Storm surge: 5.2 metres (Tacloban City)
  • Damage: $2.86 billion (US)
  • Death toll: 6,329 confirmed, with over 1,000 people listed as missing
  • Displacement: 1.9 million people left homeless 
  • Areas hit: Caroline Islands, Philippines, South China, Vietnam

The names Haiyan and Yolanda have both been retired from typhoon naming lists.

Sources: CNN News, ABC News, Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Britannica


Categories of Danger

According to the National Hurricane Center, “the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale is a 1 to 5 rating based on a hurricane’s sustained wind speed. This scale estimates potential property damage. Hurricanes reaching Category 3 and higher are considered major hurricanes because of their potential for significant loss of life and damage. Category 1 and 2 storms are still dangerous, however, and require preventative measures. In the western North Pacific, the term ‘super typhoon’ is used for tropical cyclones with sustained winds exceeding 150 mph.”

Category   Sustained Winds Damage
 1 119-153 km/hr "Very dangerous winds will produce some damage,” including damaged shingles and siding. Large tree branches will fall and power lines will be damaged.
 2 154-177 km/hr "Extremely dangerous winds will cause extensive damage.” Well-constructed homes may sustain major roof damage. Shallow-rooted trees will be uprooted. Power outages will last several days. 
 3 178-208 km/hr "Devastating damage will occur.” Many trees will snap or be uprooted. Small buildings will sustain structural damage. Mobile homes will be destroyed. Near-total loss of power. Water systems will likely be contaminated. 
 4 209-251 km/hr "Catastrophic damage will occur.” Well-built homes will sustain severe damage, with the loss of roofs and exterior walls. Most trees and power poles will be downed. Power and water outages will last weeks or even months. Much of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or even months. 
 5 252+ km/hr "Catastrophic damage will occur.” Most framed structures will be destroyed. The roofs on most buildings will fail. Total power and water outages will last weeks or months. Flooding will flatten coastal buildings. 

Source: National Hurricane Centre, Wikipedia

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