Filipino-Canadian In Focus: Eleanor Campbell

By , on November 6, 2013

Eleanor "Beng" Guerrero-Campbell (Photo courtesy of Eleanor Campbell)
Eleanor “Beng” Guerrero-Campbell (Photo courtesy of Eleanor Campbell)

Promising author; definitely one to watch out for. Recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal and the Mayor’s Medal. High-powered corporate city planner turned community development consultant.

The road has had many turns, forks, and bends for Filipino-Canadian Eleanor “Beng” Campbell. One thing, however, is certain: Each fork in the road has led this dynamic, passionate, and compassionate woman to higher ground.

The iffy immigrant

Eleanor, her husband, and their son (who was only 6-months old, at the time) migrated to Canada in 1978; by sponsorship of Eleanor’s sister-in-law.

She candidly recalls being a tad iffy about the move, seeing as she was right-smack in the hubbub of corporate city planning, but admits to having recognized the opportunity at hand.

“I was not sure whether I really wanted to come to Canada as my work planning Metro Manila was very interesting. However, it was a valuable opportunity, and I thought that we could always come back if we didn’t like it,” she said.

So they relocated to their new home in Edmonton, where biting cold and overwhelming homesickness proved to be the biggest challenges they faced as new immigrants. It took a year for her to adjust to being without her large circle of family and friends in dynamic Manila, and to grow reasonably accustomed to the harsh change, weather-wise. She admits, however, that moving to Vancouver – where temperatures are more forgiving – was like “moving to Paradise.”

Eventually, Eleanor adjusted to life on Canadian soil and set forth on a journey to help other immigrants adjust, as well.

Inspiring others

Among the inspiring and treasured stories Eleanor shares is one gem from her work with the Multicultural Helping House Society.

A Filipina newcomer, a computer programmer by profession, had come in for assistance. The woman had been advised by people around her to apply for a cleaning job, and had received a dressing down from a senior leader for being “too proud” to take on such a job.

Eleanor, who was in earshot of the conversation, couldn’t help but intervene.

“As the newcomer was leaving, I pulled her into my office at Multicultural Helping House to talk with her about her options, how to find jobs in her field, walked her though the process. I told her that she owes it to herself to use her skills and education in Canada. I reminded her that if she started cleaning, she will lose sight of her goals, will become depressed, will have no time to do the proper job search,” she recalled.

Offering her more than mere words, Eleanor helped the newcomer put her resumé together and taught her some crucial interview skills. Some time and a phone call later, Eleanor happily discovered that the girl had landed a job as computer programmer at BCAAA with a salary of $50,000 a year.

“When she phoned the office to tell me she got offered, I felt so happy and inspired! There was much rejoicing in the office! Imagine the difference in her life made by that critical intervention!”

Stories like this abound within the Bamboo Network program, which Eleanor started at the MHHS. From its inception, many Filipinos have participated – and continue to do so – as mentors to newcomers, teaching them to become strong and resilient; just like bamboo.

Eleanor credits the success of the programs initiated at the MHHS to the vast experience gained from her time as Director of the Looking Ahead Initiative at Mosaic, where she was witness to the complexities of underutilization of skilled immigrants. She was thrust into the unique position to help in the integration of skilled workers into the labour market; a mission she has carried with her ever since.

She also acknowledges her role as city planner and planning manager for various cities in Metro Vancouver, Alberta, and Metro Manila with helping her hone her skills at facilitating common goals among diverse sectors in communities, identifying issues and problems, and coming up with well-rounded solution to these; skills she now employs in helping newcomers – kababayans and those from other ethnic communities, alike – to realize their Canadian dream.

Empowering women

Eleanor’s rich professional background includes a post with the Minerva Foundation for BC Women, an organization committed to helping women develop their leadership capacity and find meaningful work.

“It was an interesting experience to be headhunted to be the CEO of the Minerva Foundation for BC Women, a prestigious organization dedicated to empowering women through leadership, education, career development and other programs. Working with Minerva exposed me to excellent women leaders, how corporations and foundations worked, high level leadership programs, and sustainable governance in the not for profit sector,” she shared.

Enriched by others

In keeping with the cycles and laws of the universe, enriching the lives of others with the help that she extends has, in turn, enriched Eleanor’s own life.

Her encounters with a diversity of people have provided personal growth and fulfillment – even the occasional touch of humour (she recalls the time a newcomer turned down the “graveyard shift,” thinking it entailed working at an actual graveyard) – in ways she barely expected.

Despite the obvious risks of shifting from a high-income career in corporate city planning to one in consulting in community development, Eleanor shares that following her passion to help others has proven very rewarding.

“My path since the change has been very satisfying: it seemed resources just fell into place for the causes I helped, it felt great seeing lives of people you help become markedly better; awards kept coming, and all these experiences have enriched my life,” she shared.

So great is the overflow of her spirit from this enrichment that it has translated into a “surprising amount of artistic expression” in her retirement years, enabling her to write about things that have moved her in life.

Chronicles of life

The corporate city planner, turned community advocate has now also taken to writing as a medium of expression, and tool of upliftment and empowerment. Her first full-length novel, tentatively entitled Stumbling through Paradise, shares a broader perspective of the immigrant experience by contrasting the events in the lives of different generations within the fictional del Mundo family.

The story is woven throughout three books, chronicling how “the later generations do better, atone for, and redeem the sacrifices of the first generation.”

“The novel flips back and forth between the Philippines and Canada and highlights some of the cultural practices and characteristics of Filipinos, including our intense Catholicism and our love for food. The novel also focuses on the multicultural theme in Canada, describing some of the racial challenges in Vancouver neighborhoods through the seventies, eighties and nineties as they affected the del Mundos, and, through one of the del Mundo children, offers a new kind of “Canadianism,” Eleanor revealed.

She shares that she sees herself in the major female protagonists of each book; having imbued them with qualities reflective of her own story: Josie’s independence and survival spirit in book 1; Sonia’s advocacy for newcomers and her search for home in book 2; and Manolita’s quest for true leadership and drive to make a difference in book 3.

Following your bliss and giving back

Ever on the go, Eleanor takes time to read, walk and cycle the city, watch movies, cook, and travel whenever she can.

Top on her reading list – which she does not hesitate to recommend to other bookworms – are “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle, “Out of Africa” by Isaak Dinesen, and all the short story collections of Alice Munro.

She says the best advice ever given her is that “it’s alright to make mistakes, just learn from them, and never do them again.”

As for her own nugget of wisdom she wishes to impart to others?

“It’s not about you, but what you can offer the world, follow your bliss, give back what you receive, and everything you do will be blessed,” she said.

Words to live by; ringing loud and true from the heart of one who has proven them out, time and time again.

Interview with Eleanor Campbell conducted by Atty. Melissa Remulla-Briones, Editor-in-chief, Philippine-Canadian Inquirer
Article synthesized and written by Angie Duarte, News and Features writer, Philippine-Canadian Inquirer.