People in North America often forgot how lucky they are.
For Nancy Pama-Edwards, originally from the Philippines, one of her biggest accomplishments in life was coming to Canada.
“People just don’t realize how fortunate we are being here,” she said.
“Always be positive and appreciate what you have.”
Nancy grew up in Banban, a small Philippine community in the province of Guimaras. Nancy was the eldest of nine children in the family, living in poor conditions.
Nancy fantasized of a better life for herself and the family, so when an opportunity to work in China came up while she was studying her first semester of commerce, Nancy jumped at the chance.
At 18, Nancy left the Philippines to start working in Hong Kong as a domestic helper for an American businessman who was usually out of the country.
As Nancy earned money, she began sending some home to her family.
“I had to support my siblings for their studies. It’s a Filipino tradition, especially when you’re the oldest,” she explained.
After two years in China, another opportunity arose to work in Canada.
“I always wanted to come to Canada,” said Nancy, noting the desire stemmed from Reader’s Digest.
“Reader’s Digest is a very popular magazine in the Philippines, and my aunt [had a subscription]. Every time I’d see [photos from Canada and the U.S. with snow], I told myself someday, somehow I want to go to one of those places,” she said.
And that day came three decades ago, when Nancy’s application to work in Canada as a nanny was accepted. Because Nancy was sending so much of her earnings to family, her new employer had to purchase the tickets to get Nancy to Vancouver, which she paid back with her wages after arriving.
“I came to Canada … with only $10 in my pocket,” she remembered.
While working in Vancouver, Nancy met her husband of now 27 years, Peter.
After four years in Vancouver, Nancy and Peter relocated to Haida Gwaii where Peter got a job with the school district. For the following 12 years the couple made Queen Charlotte City their home, giving birth to two children, son Jordon and daughter Carlotta.
Nancy started working for Northern Savings Credit Union in Haida Gwaii, transferring to the Prince Rupert branch when the family moved to Port Edward 12 years ago.
Nancy has now been an employee with Northern Savings Credit Union for nearly 25 years.
“I love the credit union. It’s a part of my family. They are really good to me,” she said.
Over the years Nancy continued to provide more and more financial assistance to her family members back home, and she said most of her family now lives in bigger cities in the Philippines, with her parents moving to Haida Gwaii a number of years ago.
After years away, Nancy returned to her hometown about seven years ago for a visit.
She said she noticed how little things had changed since she had left and saw an opportunity for the community to improve itself.
“I had the sense that I had to do something. I wanted change,” she said.
“Most of my relatives and friends are poor, but their kids are really deserving and smart, but there’s no chance for them to go to school. So I had an idea to plant bananas for self-sufficiency.”
Nancy initiated the Banban Banana Project as a way for community members to earn money for themselves.
“I told them that each banana they planted, I would give them a quarter,” Nancy said.
Families participating in the project grow banana plants on their properties and then sell the fruit for profit.
Because Canadian money is worth much more than Philippine pesos, a couple hundred Canadian goes a long way in the country. Nancy has been able to provide funds to purchase banana seeds and gardening items for countless community members, and six years later there have been more than 10,000 banana plants seeded in Banban, once a barren community.
Nancy has raised the money she provides for the initiative by holding barbecues during community events in Prince Rupert, such as Seafest and Cow Bay Day. Nancy prepares and sells shish kebabs, spring rolls and chow mein with help from friends, with all of the proceeds going to the project.
Through her fundraising efforts, Nancy has also been able to sponsor two children through the program, who have been able to attend and complete schooling.
Nancy is also currently fundraising to provide a bursary to one of the Banban Banana planters, a 20-year-old studying agriculture.
Nancy is extremely thankful to the individuals, businesses and organizations that have supported her Banban Banana efforts over the years, whether it be by donating their time, money or items to help out the people in her former hometown.
Nancy has also lent her hand to local groups such as the Kaien Island Anti-Poverty Society’s gardening group, and has been a member of the Canadian Royal Purple Ladies for the past year. She also volunteers for community events and initiatives such as the Salvation Army Pancake Breakfast and Prince Rupert Success by Six whenever she can.
“It makes you feel good to [do something good for other people and community],” she said.
While a piece of her heart will always remain in the Philippines, Nancy has no intentions of leaving the North Coast. Here, Nancy and Peter love spending time together out on the Skeena River fishing, or out in the bush mushroom picking. The activities are a favourite past time of the couple.
“I love nature and the fishing, hiking,” she said.
“I have a balanced life here. I have time to work, I have time to enjoy fishing and time to do this fundraising. It’s great,” Nancy said.