Filipino-Canadian in Focus: Elisa Zantua, Marianne Jermias, and Luisa Badillo

By , on September 28, 2014

Elisa Zantua, Marianne Jermias, and Luisa Badillo.
Elisa Zantua, Marianne Jermias, and Luisa Badillo.

For many Filipinos, immigrating into Canada and establishing a new life is a difficult enough task. Yet for a trio of Filipino ladies in Calgary, not only did they find a way to overcome the obstacles they faced as immigrants, they also managed to overcome the obstacles of starting a successful business.

Elisa Zantua, Luisa (Lulu) Badillo, and Marianne Jermias are the co-founders of the MTG Healthcare Academy. Started in 2011, the school is an accredited Healthcare Aide training center that produces around 100 graduates each October to become registered Healthcare Aide Workers.

PCI spoke with two of the co-founders, Lulu and Marianne, about their journey through Canada, the challenge of setting up their business, and their plans for the future of MTG Healthcare Academy.

PCI: When and why did you immigrate into Canada?

Marianne: My father had planted in my head from a young age that I had to go abroad, and I chose Canada because it’s a land of opportunity. I came to Canada in 1994, first based in Toronto, where I was sponsored by my ex-husband. In the Philippines, I was a registered nurse. Since I had credentials and a little bit of experience, I was confident that I would be able to find a good job quite easily. After 2-3 weeks, reality sunk in, and I had to find work. My first job was in a fast food chain.

Lulu: [My husband and I arrived] in Canada in 2008. We were working in Saudi Arabia for almost 10 years while our boys were being taken care of in the Philippines. We thought of migrating here to get the boys and come to Canada to live together.

PCI: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as immigrants to Canada?

Lulu: Once we arrived here, I wanted to pursue my profession. I’m a dentist back in the Philippines, but when we came here, I started in a cable manufacturing company—using a soldering gun, making wires for telephone and internet—while my husband was working in Safeway as a night stocker. Pursuing my dream to be a registered dentist here in Calgary was so impossible because when my international school credentials were assessed, I was told to go back to university to take a program for another 3-4 years. It was really hard to get into the university, so I had to let go of the dream of being a dentist here.

Marianne: Usually, the challenge of any immigrant is [establishing] a career here. Our diplomas and experience [acquired] back home weren’t enough to get us ahead in Canada. They have a different standard for accepting our diplomas here. So we ended up working odd jobs just to have food on our tables and [a roof] over our heads. We have a couple of medical doctors who come to our office just to take the Healthcare Aide program, and it’s very sad to see a well established doctor, a cardiologist in the Philippines, come to Canada and work as a Healthcare Aide.

PCI: What prompted the three of you to start the MTG Healthcare Academy?

Lulu: My cousin asked me if I would like to be a helper aide, and said she would help me become one. She got me into Bethany Healthcare Society. It’s a long-term care facility here in Calgary. That’s how I started being a helper aide.

Marianne: I left Canada to go back home in 2009, and I came back to Calgary two years later. In Calgary, I was looking for a job, and that’s where I met Lulu. We worked at Bethany together. I felt Lulu’s frustration of not being able to pursue her profession here in Canada. She was talking about opening a business, any kind (of business) as long as she’s out of a nursing home. I listened to her for a few weeks, and finally I said okay, I have something to put on your table if you want to do something about it. I mentioned a training program because I had experience running a training program in Toronto, and told her, “If you want, I can help you start a training school.” Then Lulu brought along a good friend of hers who is also an established dentist back home, struggling to start up here in Alberta. That was Elisa.

The three of us came up with the idea of a partnership, and from there we found out a similar goal of helping immigrants through teaching because we know what immigrants go through in starting here in Canada.

Our business planning started in a food court, right after our shifts, with our scrubs on, tired and filthy. But we had something we wanted to pursue. And that was to help immigrants through the program. That’s where it all started.

Lulu: We saw the demand for healthcare aides. The schedule at Bethany Care Society was constantly calling us to demand more shifts, so that’s how we knew. We did a lot of research because we didn’t know the laws in Alberta for starting up businesses, and we didn’t know anything about setting up a business plan.

Classes at MTG Healthcare Academy.
Classes at MTG Healthcare Academy.

PCI: How big is MTG Healthcare now?

Lulu: My husband works for us, Elisa’s husband works for us, we have a receptionist, and we have 4 instructors. That’s 10 employees total, including the three of us co-founders.

Marianne: As for students, last year we had 96; and on our second graduation, we had 94. We will have similar numbers for our coming graduation this October 3.

PCI: What’s next for MTG?

Lulu: We want to have more programs added aside from the Healthcare Aide program. But we have to create our own curriculum and [have it] approved by the licensing body here in Alberta. We’re still doing research on that because we only have a little bit of knowledge on that stuff. We’re almost starting from scratch.

Marianne: We started with one program back in 2011. We are creating more programs. Two of the programs that we are really working on are the Medical Transcriptionist and the Cardiologist Technologist program. We are still awaiting approval on those. If those will be approved, they will be the first programs of their kind in Alberta.

We are also looking to branch out to other cities where we view a need for our service. We are looking at cities in Saskatchewan and possibly in Edmonton, too. We are also looking for strong Filipino communities. We really want to help out our fellow Filipino immigrants because we know their struggle.

PCI: What advice would you give to other Filipinos and immigrants who have that entrepreneurial spirit?

Lulu: My advice is to take the risk. There is a big risk in starting a business here. You can never tell if you’ll be approved for this or that license. But you have to go for it. Never stop. Sometimes, there are lots of hindrances on your plans [like] financial issues, but if someone really wants to put up a business, go for it, and face the barriers ahead, and overcome those barriers are you go along.

Marianne: I would, for sure, encourage them to pursue their dream, and to put passion in their dream. Once they put passion and heart into something they do, regardless of the challenges they face, they can overcome that. It’s the passion that will push them toward their goal.

To learn more about MTG Healthcare Academy, visit the website at