by Leila Castro

Last June, I attended the Psychological First Aid training session at Norwest. During the self introduction, someone mentioned about volunteering for 204 Neighbourhood Watch. It was Ponz Mapuyan. We did not know each other but I was happy that he knew about the initiative. I just started the 204 Neighbourhood Watch at that time. It was like a tiny flame on a match stick, there was uncertainty if it would set a big fire, or it would just easily be extinguished by challenges.

Ponz reconnected with us after two months. It won’t be proper to say that our group found him, because it is the other way around, 204 Neighbourhood Watch is very fortunate that Ponz found our group and decided to devote time as volunteer in our weekly patrolling. Ponz directed us to opportunities of collaborating with community resources. His ideas and inputs helped shape 204 Neighbourhood Watch.

Ponz discovered his passion for social services and community volunteering early in life. His father was a military man. Both his parents were community leaders inside the Basa Airbase camp in Pampanga. Having the same leadership quality, he took care of his siblings and supported one of the barangays in the camp as the Kabataang Barangay Chairman. Ponz completed post secondary education at the Philippine Air Force. He was always a scholar and took advantage of every opportunity to learn. He went to College of Law at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila.

Prior to migrating to Canada, Ponz was a corporate executive, and a teacher of English and Philosophy in a university. He often gets invited as a motivational speaker. Ponz arrived in Canada in 2013 with his wife Cristina, and four children Maegan (19), Kean (17), Frankie (13) and Leilan (10).

I told Ponz that I’d like to interview him, as it will be nice for the community to know what fuels his passion for helping the community.

How did you start your career in social services here in Winnipeg?

“I was originally a volunteer at Rene Deleurme Centre, the St. Vital and St. Boniface Neighbourhood Immigrant Settlement Program – Support for New Comers under the Louis Riel School Division. I have contributed a lot to them. Because of my knowledge of the English language being a graduate of Bachelor of Arts with major in English, I have helped them with my English conversation class. I have also helped them with my cooking and nutrition class. Because of my involvement with my socio civic organization back in the Philippines, I was also able to assist them in starting a program for the First aid and CPR. At the same time, I was also responsible for starting their women driver’s program over at the south.

At present, I work as Skills Development Worker with Norwest, a non-profit organization for health and social services. I am based at Blake Gardens Community Resource Center. “

You work as a Skills Development Worker, and after work you continue helping the community through volunteering. What motivates you to devote a lot of your time to helping people?

“When we were new immigrants, things were a bit easier for us. Adjusting and integrating ourselves was actually not difficult because we’ve got everything. We were lucky because we were connected with the proper resources (the St. Vital and St. Boniface Neighbourhood Immigrant Settlement Program – Support for New Comers), where I was also volunteering my knowhow. Any question that I asked, we were given access to it for free. The social services and community volunteering that I do right now, why am I doing these? Because we’ve been fortunate. I am actually returning everything now, paying it forward.”

As Skills Development Worker in north of Winnipeg, you are immersed in a community where there are many Canadians including immigrants and refugees that are experiencing life challenges, such as homelessness, joblessness and substance abuse. Prior to coming here, was this your expectation of what Canada is like?

“Personally, I did not expect Canada to be the place where there is homelessness, joblessness and drugs problems. When we came here we were thinking, it is not for me and my wife; it is for our kids. We have gone past the stage wherein we still want to get somewhere. My wife and I would always say ‘been there done that’. So, when we got here, we were not really expecting anything for ourselves. We came here for our kids. We have observed that in terms of the baby boomers or those raising kids, Winnipeg has a good reputation with kids. Relatively quiet compared to other highly organized cities. We spent quite sometime over at Vancouver as tourist before we proceeded here. We just stayed in a hotel. That is why I know about the problem on drugs at downtown east side of Vancouver.

Here we find syringes on the playground. There, they are on the streets. So, what did I see when we got here. It is no different. My wife and I have also travelled a lot as she used to be a flight attendant. We’ve seen the bad side of most of the countries we’ve visited. It is no different.

Canada compared to the Philippines, we have resources here. Here in Canada we talk of legalizing certain drugs like marijuana, because they know that they (the government) are capable of regulating it. In the Philippines, we do not even talk of regulation, more so there is no control. Here it is much better. There are organizations which people could actually join in order to address various concerns. In the Philippines, if I start talking over the radio, the TV or the newspaper, I will have death threats for breakfast. Here, I have been a member and have been fighting for the rights and concerns of the new comer refugees, and here the government listens. In the Philippines they don’t. they threaten you when you speak for or on behalf of a certain marginalized underprivileged people. Here the government provides funds. People support it, you can even do fund raisings here. Just state what your purpose is and the people would help you. Back in the Philippines it is zero.“

Why do you think Canadians are experiencing the mentioned problems?

“Laxity of most Canadians in disciplining their children, so the latter can experiment on the things that they are not aware of or not familiar with such as drugs and alcohol. We have lots of cases here of drug dependency as well as alcohol dependency. While they are still young, children should be well grounded. We talk of discipline, we talk of what ails us, or Winnipeg or Canada as a whole. But it is how people were brought up.”

What do you think we can do as a community to help alleviate these problems?

”As a community, we should have the initiative to start something and keep it going. Let’s be part of a group that is doing something relevant. The time to do it is now, we don’t have to wait to die. I believe in M.A.D. which is Make a Difference. You know me, I am fond of acronyms. As we all observe, monthly there are initiatives in the Filipino community like gatherings and events. Look at the influence of the 204 Filipino Marketplace social media group. These are venues to initiate shift of paradigm. It is about time to take care of our community because it is our home now. As my Dad said, ‘We only have one life, make a difference’; while my Mom often asked, ’Why are you doing that?’ as a way of sanity check.”

Ponz said he once asked himself, “If I am taking care of others, who will take care of me?” He came to the realization that it is what his wife Christina is doing. Actually, the entire family is taking care of him. He sleeps better because his needs are being met. Despite feeling complete he still volunteers because it is his way of paying forward. As Ponz mentioned, “As a volunteer, it is a good feeling when you do something good for the community without expecting to get paid.”

Ponz’s oldest daughter Maegan said that when you do something and inspire other people; those who think the same replicate what you do. Maegan has also been doing volunteer works. She was the champion of the Huntington disease initiative in high school. She is also a volunteer at the Canadian Cancer Society.

A tiny flame we are, but I believe it has started to spark fire inside many people. For us 204 Neighbourhood Watch volunteers who stepped up to make a difference in the community, we are happy that we made the choice to volunteer. We maybe are small for now, but as Ponz said, our endeavor is like this line in a song – “It is better to light just one little candle, than to stumble in the dark.”