A Man for All Seasons: Tomas Avendaño

By , on January 27, 2016


Tatay Tom Avendaño
Tatay Tom Avendaño

To many, he is “Tatay Tom”, the man behind the Multicultural Helping House Society on Fraser St., Vancouver, British Columbia. He is the man who dreamt of guiding and helping new Filipino migrants in Vancouver settle in their new country; a man who is very passionate in helping our “kababayans” integrate into Canadian society and have a successful career in Canada.  He is the most visible fixture at the Multicultural Helping House what with his words “magkakasakit ako kapag hindi ako makapunta sa MHHS” in any given day.

And who is Tatay Tom?

Life in the Philippines

Tatay Tom was an educator in the Philippines prior to coming to Canada in 1982.  He was an elected Councilor at the City of Pasay for almost 12 years. He entered politics in the hope that “I could make some changes for the good of the city but then I felt that I was like Robinhood fighting alone against corruption, gambling, and other vices consuming my constituents .  I was not successful and out of frustration I decided to migrate to Canada”. 

Life in Canada

Tatay Tom described his first few months in Canada as “from heaven to hell”. His political life in the Philippines was breezy. When he came to Canada he found out “you are on your own”. 

His first job in Canada as he described was “playing hockey” which really is mopping the floor at one of McDonald’s outlets. He never regretted coming to Canada though. He said the freedom he enjoyed is priceless. “In Canada there is an equal opportunity,  what the rich can buy, the poor can also buy;  what the rich can eat, the poor people can also eat.  The only difference maybe is that the rich do not have debts. But for as long as you work and work hard, you can buy things within your means.

Challenges

When Tatay moved to Surrey, BC, the city presented to him a challenge that was –  to help them build a church. There was no church in Surrey then, mass was being held at the gymnasium and so he helped in the many activities with the support of the Filipino community who looked up to him as their leader, to raise funds to help  build the St. Matthew Church”.    

Tatay’s challenges in his early months in Canada inspired him to help the Filipinos. 

He cited that based on personal experience, his frustrations as newly landed immigrant, not knowing where to go for counsel, nor to talk to somebody for guidance for simple direction, challenged him to put up a drop in center for Filipinos to be able to connect. In 1998, he formed Filipino Canadian Support Services Society.  It was moved to its Fraser St in the year 2000 and was later renamed Multicultural Helping House Society.

MHHS is a multicultural society which provides settlement services, social programs for the youth and the seniors, various workshops for caregivers and temporary foreign workers, third party job postings, hall rentals and respite housing.  Last year, it opened its Manila, office which offers pre-departure seminar to Filipinos migrating to Canada.

MHHS Building on Fraser St.
MHHS Building on Fraser St.

Tatay’s dedication to the mission of  Multicultural Helping House  earned him numerous awards like,  Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Award and  Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Award. He was also bestowed  the highly regarded Paul Yuzyk award, which is being given to an individual or a group that demonstrates dedication to pluralism and the integration of newcomers into Canadian society. He was also awarded Banaag Award (Philippines) among others.

At 87 (to be celebrated on January 30 thru a gala, put together by his staff and the caregivers) Tatay Tom is still ready to rock the floor. In his words, God is providing him strength and good health so he can carry his duties as President and CEO of MHHS.  This gala is a fundraising event for the scholarship of caregivers and the youth. Caregivers are mandated to upgrade otherwise they might lose their job next year due to the imposed changes in the live-in-caregiver program by the government.

Message to Filipinos

“To have a good life, a good future, a peaceful life, — economic freedom, political freedom, then Canada is the place to go but you have to re program your mind.  You have to leave some of your bad habits in the Philippines.  Opportunities are here but you have to work hard for it.“

On his legacy as CEO of MHHS, Tatay said “I have been here from its formation, my main purpose aside from the service, is to unite, at least the spirit of the Filipinos into one thing that they could be proud of.  And here is MHHS, do come and use it and serve, be a volunteer because this is our legacy – aside from the building  built from an award winning design  by Filipino Architect Henry Mayuga, we are providing award winning services to people.

On succession –  should his time come to end, Tatay Tom said God will provide his successor. “I am seeing new and younger immigrants coming in who have new ideas.  Maybe in due time, one will be able to step up and fill the void.”

On Manila office  – “Pre-departure workshop are held in the Manila office.  Once they arrive in Canada, post arrival seminar is also conducted.  To disseminate this service, we connect with Canadian embassy, with our Philippine government, and with DOLE .  By next month I will be going to Manitoba, in Toronto, and in different places in order to establish our connection with different NGOs so that when they arrive here, soft-landing na sila” said Tatay.

On retiring, Tatay Tom said “I will retire when I am dead but I cannot retire while I am still breathing. This (MHHS) is my twin, which I cannot live without.”