Something important is always inside the 18-by-18-by-29-inch boxes that Liza Padrones sends to her family in the Philippines: shampoos, hand lotions, clothes and sponges.
“And any snacks that I can find on sale,” said Padrones. Sometimes she sends treats like Pringles, Oreos and jars of Nutella.
It’s a tradition she started after leaving home.
Padrones was working at an office in the Philippines until she left for Hong Kong in 2002 to see the world. She was 36. Padrones cared for three families there before coming to Canada in 2008 under the live-in caregiver program.
When Christmas came, she and other caregivers got together for a party, and she won an interesting prize: a balikbayan box.
“And that’s how it all started,” said Padrones. “From then on, I sent one every year.”
Balikbayan is a Tagalog word that means to return (balik) home (bayan). Filipinos overseas send the boxes to family and friends, filled to the brim with local items from the place they’re living, mostly everyday things. Last year, Padrones sent her mother cooking oil.
“It’s important because we take a lot of our day-to-day things for granted, but they see this stuff as gold,” said Alanna Hunter, 24, a Vancouver-native whose family sends boxes to relatives in the Philippines. Hunter’s mother likes to include school supplies.
Ten million Filipinos live outside their homeland. Jobs are scarce in the Philippines, and many send money back home to their families. But the boxes from overseas offer a different kind of joy: a taste of the lives of loved ones who have left the islands.
Read the full story in the Vancouver Courier here.