[ Note : Grateful acknowledgment and profuse thanks to kabayan Ms Sheila Mariano, publisher-editor of the Filipino Migrant News for information and photo of the subject of this blog. Thanks as well to the Hamilton City Council for allowing us to quote liberally from their report . ]
TWENTY-THREE YEARS is a lot of time for many of us to build up a lifetime’s worth of achievements worthy of emulation among friends, peers and loved ones.
You could raise a family, start a career, grow a business, or here’s my favorite, open up a collection of your favorite things. Our favorite Kinoy could’ve done any of that, and be like you and me, and stay happy, normal and predictable as 30,000-plus other Kinoys in the Land of the Long White Cloud.
But Gladys Grace Stephens didn’t do happy, normal or predictable. She chose to make a difference in her community, without so much as calling the least attention to herself, which is why outside the City of Hamilton, most members of the Filipino community don’t know much about her.
Even when I asked her about what she was most proud of especially after being awarded the Queen’s Service Medal at New Zealand’s national yearend awards, she answered simply : serving as a member of the Waikato Filipino Association and serving as Justice of the Peace in her own community in Hamilton.
In truth, she has done a little more than that. Since the early 1990s, according to the Filipino Migrant News, she has “given voluntary service to refugee and migrant settlers in Hamilton.”
No less than the Hamilton City Council itself noted that Gladys went beyond that, reporting as early as 2009 that her “many years of voluntary service have been carried out wholeheartedly, enhancing the wellbeing of many people and organizations in Hamilton,” when she was selected as one of 13 worthy recipients to receive the Hamilton Civic Awards for 2009.
You’d never hear it from her, but even before this, she was already recognized the year before in 2008, when she received a prestigious Certificate of Appreciation from the New Zealand Federation of Ethnic Councils “in recognition of her valuable contribution to ethnic communities of the Waikato, an indication of how much her work has affected people in the wider community.”
Frankly, others would’ve gone ahead and trumpeted their awards and achievements, but strangely, we would never have heard about Gladys, least of all from herself, had she not been given one of the highest recognitions by the New Zealand government.
Closer to home, every time the Waikato Filipino Association in Hamilton sends a delegation to participate in cultural or sports events like the Migrant Expo in Auckland or Wellington, Gladys is the first to volunteer to man the stalls or chaperone the youth groups, despite her senior role. She is always the first to arrive, last to leave, and always, always the first to raise her hand to do the dirty work.
And incredibly, as if these feathers on her cap weren’t enough, she has since 2002 taken a lead volunteer role as Events and Programme manager for Shama Hamilton Ethnic Women’s Centre Trust, serving to this day as a Trustee on the Shama Board.
She has even found time to serve as a Justice of the Peace, “appropriate for her strong desire to serve her community” according to the awards report of the Hamilton City Council. On top of everything, she has since 2005 “directed and developed School Holiday programmes (in Hamilton) for children.” For those children who are so inclined, Gladys has for the last 10 years helped run an 8-week Tagalog course for children. Between 8-14 children attend the course, which is held once a week on Sundays. Wouldn’t you be touched by that, kabayan?
I think we could do a lot worse than holding Gladys up as a kabayan we can all be proud of.
Please join me dear reader in congratulating our dear Gladys, who is certainly my Favorite Kinoy ! Mabuhay ka kabayan!
Thanks for reading !
*Kinoy is a contraction for Kiwi-Pinoy, a non-racial term for Pinoys who live, permanently or otherwise, in New Zealand.
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