The monthly Community Champion feature is submitted by Respect Works Here, which is an initiative of the Social Planning Council of the North Okanagan. It is also the host agency for the Local Immigration Partnership Council and the Thompson Okanagan Respect Network.
Cheryl Bannoya is a study in contrasts. At first glance, she appears shy, naïve and unassuming. Once you get to know her, you quickly see the strength that has taken her thousands of miles from her home in Kalinga, Philippines, all on her own, to Vernon. She has also been nominated for a provincial Multicultural Award for her advocacy work as part of the Local Immigration Partnership on behalf of the Filipino Society.
It wasn’t an easy road, but along the way she learned that she had to speak up for herself and this has empowered her to help others to find their voice and their courage.
Coming to Canada in 1999 as a live-in caregiver was originally intended as a stepping-stone. She planned to move along to meet up with a friend in the U.S. after her contract finished, but once she actually went to visit her friend in New York, she quickly decided that Vernon suited her much better.
“When I moved here, people were friendly, people were more relaxed and it was more like what I was used to,” said Bannoya. “I grew up in a culture where the village is like one family and Vernon was more like that than bigger cities. It had community spirit still and that was more relatable to me.”
Already a registered nurse in the Philippines, Bannoya began the long process to be certified in Canada while she worked as a caregiver first privately and then at VJH.
She learned the hard way that some of the challenges she faced were because of the way she had been raised and that she needed to change some of her cultural upbringings in order to succeed in her new world.
“If you recognize where you are from, it’s easier to move forward,” she said.
Bannoya is an advocate for building this kind of cultural awareness for both the newcomer and the existing community.
“When I first came here, people didn’t understand where I came from. I was shy. I was naïve. I was intimidated. I lacked confidence. I did not speak about where I came from. But now that I have more understanding, I can look back and see why I had a hard time. People didn’t understand where I was coming from. They didn’t understand my culture and I didn’t understand theirs.”
As her two daughters, now aged 12 and 15, started growing up, she wanted them to understand their cultural heritage. And that desire has extended beyond her family to encourage all newcomers to step forward and share their stories and histories to help build a more welcoming community and breaking down the isolation and barriers newcomers may feel.
Another example of Cheryl’s dedication to sharing culture is her volunteer work with the Local Immigration Partnership Council in promoting multiculturalism and diversity. Cheryl also successfully advocated for Vernon to become host of Amung 2017, the International Festival of Kalinga Arts and Culture. There is a public cultural performance at Kin Beach at 2 p.m. today.