Kelowna family seeks help to pay mounting immigration debts

Updated: June 8, 2020, 9;12 PM

GoFundMe started by mother who was taken care by aunt in Hong Kong

GoFundMe story as written by organizer Karine Ng.

Berly Mabalot and her family are in urgent need for financial relief, as she works hard to establish stability for her ten-year-old son, Rupert.  He suffers from developmental disabilities and has recently been reunited with his parents in Kelowna amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.  The special care Rupert requires, the reunification process, and the exorbitant travel expenses incurred recently due to the pandemic have amounted to a total debt of $20,000.   Again, due to the pandemic, Berly and her husband, Rommel, lost their housekeeping jobs at a hotel where they had been working since they set foot in this country.


Berly Mabalot with son RupertTen-year old Rupert suffers from a developmental disability

Your generosity will not only help alleviate this family’s immediate, overwhelming stress exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, but a successful campaign will also help to raise the profile of many Filipinx and migrant workers in their common struggle for justice regarding immigration policies, labour rights, and educational provisions for special needs children.


“Stress na stress ako,” sabi ni Berly habang lumuluha. Ang sagot ni Rupert, “Nanay, hindi pa po ako handa, huwag ka po munang pumasok sa trabaho.“

“I am so stressed, Berly confided in tears, Rupert replied, “Mommy, I am not ready yet, please don’t go back to work'”.

Rupert, aged 10, has only recently been reunited with his mother Berly after five years of separation. Berly had been working in Kelowna, BC first, as a housekeeper at a local hotel, before picking up a second job as sanitation staff at the hospital in town.  The first three years, Berly worked and lived alone without her family, in an entirely foreign town and country.  When her husband, Rommel, joined her from the Philippines to work at the same hotel, the burden was lifted somewhat off her shoulders for the first time.  The remaining piece was their son, Rupert, who remained in the Philippines in the care of a relative.

Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP)

Berly’s story is typical of many workers who come to Canada through the Temporary Foreign Workers Program. Economic conditions back home are tough, with a chronically high unemployment rate. Rupert was born with a developmental disability that affects both his physical and intellectual capabilities.

“I needed to find a way to provide for my family, especially Rupert.  He was falling behind in school without therapy and special educational supports like an assistant to help him learn.” 

Like many women from the Philippines, Berly looked overseas for opportunities, which consisted mostly of domestic, health care and hospitality work — sectors that capitalize on cheap female labour from the Global South.

Over the course of the last five years, Berly has accumulated debts amounting to $20,000 — half of which is owed to an immigration consultant firm based in Kelowna.  At every step of the bureaucratic process, Berly had to fork over hefty fees, regardless of whether the outcome was positive or not.  The government does not provide reasons why an application is rejected.

“You just have to wait and try again, but meanwhile you still have to pay the consultant his fees and interest charges for late payments.”  

The remaining half of her debt is an interest-free private loan owed to a friend who has been supporting her in reuniting with her family in Canada.  While Rommel’s work visa application was approved at first try, Berly suspected that the reason why Rupert’s visitor’s visa had been declined twice before she became a PR (permanent resident) was due to his health condition — a perceived drain on Canadian resources.

The cultural richness, labour, service, and taxes contributed by workers like Berly and Rommel are rarely acknowledged in mainstream discourse.  The housekeeping and cleaning work they perform are thankless, poorly paid, and inherently high-risk due to exposure to pathogens.  Reports of recent outbreaks in long-term care homes and food processing plants are silent on the fact that many — if not the majority — of the workers affected in these facilities are racialized members of society.  B.C. public health authorities do not collect race- or ethnic-based data as part of their normal practice.  At times like these, calls for the collection of such data are becoming louder.


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The couple traveled home to pick up Rupert in February 2020.  “We were so excited when Rupert was finally given the approval to join us here.  We began to plan and save for our trip to the Philippines to bring him back with us. It had been five years since I was last in my home country,” Berly explained.

When Berly booked their trip,COVID-19 had yet to be declared a pandemic. There were no official advisories warning against travel at that point. They departed Kelowna on February 18, with March 30 being the planned return date.  Berly mentioned, “We saved up enough to cover rent for March and April.  We had no idea that the pandemic would prevent us from resuming work until May!”  As soon as the Philippines declared a country-wide lockdown in early March, Berly immediately tried to shorten their trip and to return to Canada as soon as possible.  It was a huge challenge trying to change their flight.  “We were essentially in limbo, on the phone constantly with Philippines Airlines who didn’t know when international flights would operate again.”  Seeking help from the travel agency in Kelowna — where the original airfare had been purchased — was not successful either.  “They replied to my initial inquiry and said they would get back to me.  But they never did and even stopped answering the phone.”

Tickets bought on credit

With an indefinite delay ahead and frontline jobs to return to, Berly and Rommel bit the bullet and bought, on credit from their friend, plane tickets on a chartered flight scheduled for April 17 that had been organized by the Federal Government to repatriate Canadians from abroad.  However, because they are not yet Canadian citizens, they were not eligible to participate in the $5,000 Emergency Loan Program designed to help Canadians return to Canada.

Drove five hours to Kelowna

To make their way home to Kelowna, Rommel drove five hours in the dark after the long international flight which landed in Vancouver. Traveling on a connecting flight would have incurred more expenses (therefore debt) and presented more challenges as many domestic flights had been reduced or cancelled. Since their safe arrival at home — a small, affordable apartment secured through a social connection — the family has been in quarantine.  “It is so hard for Rupert to understand why we cannot go outside.  He was so excited and curious, he wanted to explore!”

Fortunate to be Reunited but Your Support is Needed

As pleased as she is to be finally reunited with both her husband and her son, Berly faces yet more challenges ahead.  In addition to the $20,000 worth of debt, the couple has lost an entire month’s income due to the 14-day mandatory quarantine and travel restrictions that prevented them from returning earlier in the first place.  They have both been laid off from their jobs at the hotel. While there is plenty of work at the hospital, Berly and Rommel have little seniority to guarantee being able to hold opposite shifts, which would allow one parent to always be available to take care of Rupert.  Any child in a similar situation would need extra support at this time, during a pandemic, adjusting to a new environment and social context;  Rupert’s needs are further compounded by his disabilities.  His safety and well-being are Berly’s primary concern at this moment.

Naiwan na kaagad and anak

On May 3, when this story was written, the prospect of Berly resuming work immediately was dim, even though the family was then out of quarantine. Being laid off from one job and with Rupert being here now, she can no longer clock in the 100 hours typical of a pre-pandemic work week.  Rupert has to be registered in the Central Okanagan School District, where he will hopefully receive in-school childcare service very soon.  Meanwhile, Rommel is returning to work right away.  “I expect there to be a transition period before Rupert can settle into a routine” said Berly.  “It breaks my heart when Rupert cries and begs me to not leave him.  But the reality is we must go back to work as soon as possible.  Rent needs to be paid and we have to keep up our monthly instalments — otherwise the immigration consultant firm will charge us more interest.”

When asked whether she would consider a crowdsourced fundraising campaign, Berly tentatively agreed.  She is worried that her family’s immigration status would be jeopardized.  She also fears media attention and backlash.  When I suggested setting the fundraising goal at $20,000 to meet her current needs, Berly was taken aback at how ambitious it was.  “Isn’t that too much?”  She asked.  It is too much, I countered,  too much for anyone who has worked as hard and selflessly as you have, just so that your family can be together and for your son to have the opportunities that any child deserves.

Five years and $20,000 in debt

As a final thought, Berly took a few moments to contemplate quietly.  She then sighed and said, “After five years of hard work and living frugally, I am still not ahead at all.  Instead, I am $20,000 in debt.  But I am grateful to at least have my family together now — that is the only thing that keeps me going.”

Karine Ng who is organizing the campaign to help the Mabalot family was taken care of by Berly’s aunt in Hong Kong.The aunt worked as a caregiver for the family for 12 years. The family then moved to Vancouver in 1990 where Karine now works as a teacher.

Please consider donating to help Berly, Rommel and Rupert. Your generosity will  provide a clean slate for them to start fresh.  More importantly, even if you cannot contribute financially, please share with others Berly’s story and the plight of workers experiencing similar situations due to oppressive immigration and labour policies.  Social problems require collective solutions. Let’s be a part of the solution!

DONATE and help Berly, Rommel and Rupert by visiting their GoFundMe campaign.


Updates (1)

  • JUNE 5, 2020
    by Karine Ng, Organizer
    YOUR GENEROSITY is already making a huge impact in Berly’s current situation. OUR DEEPEST GRATITUDE to all of you who either donated or shared her story with others to increase awareness and funds.
  • In two days’ time, we have raised over $5700. It is no small feat, given that many have lost their income or seen it reduced due to the pandemic. The community and solidarity this campaign have gathered are humbling and heart-warming.


  • Berly received $500 by a private donor who did not want to donate through GoFundMe. This platform does charge a transaction fee, so the full $500 arrived in Berly’s account yesterday, to help her pay June’s rent. As soon as GoFundMe releases more funds, it will be transferred directly to Berly’s account. 
  • Rupert, Berly’s son, is still waiting for a school placement in Kelowna. He has been assessed by the school district there, but due to his special needs, they have not yet been able to place him yet. Berly and Rommel are coping by bidding for opposite shifts so one of them can stay home with Rupert. Fingers crossed that they will get the shifts they need!

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