Surrey is a large city with an incredibly diverse culture, and I constantly meet many new immigrants and youth who find it a struggle to feel a sense of community and belonging. I mean, at first, isn’t it generally difficult to immediately immerse yourself in a city with people from different cultures and walks of life?
Well, I had the opportunity to interview a woman who believes her purpose is to help alleviate that issue and to provide a home for youth from different backgrounds and circumstances.
Buenavida Tupe, otherwise known as Buena, is a passionate youth director, founder of People of Grace International, and educator. If I had to describe her in a nutshell, she is indeed, a strong-willed woman with a big heart.
Buena was already a high school teacher at the age of 20, and soon after, became a university teacher at the renowned Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines. She eventually decided to give up her secure job placement in order to be a youth director here in Surrey, B.C.
In her lifetime, she has already gone on mission trips to Hong Kong, Tibet, England, Ireland, Cambodia, India, and Vietnam to name a few. Another cool fact? She had her M.A. thesis on using metacognitive strategies for comprehension published in an education journal, and with this knowledge, is continually able to help youth understand themselves better and their approach to learning.
Krystele: You have such an international perspective and have travelled all over the world. What made you decide to come and stay in Surrey, BC?
Buena: I am currently employed as a Youth Director at the Fleetwood International Church, and I handle all the programs. I decided to stay in Surrey because it is a booming multi-cultural community, and I have the opportunity to cater to these students and these youth and their families as well.
Through her work, Buena’s mission is to also reach out to the local community outside of the church by creating a fun and enriching environment:
Buena: We have what we call ‘Wednesday Drop-Ins’ where students can come for homework help, games and also career support through helping them build resumes and having our youth leaders in to mentor their school success and planning for the future. It’s my desire that youth will be occupied with meaningful, fun and character-building activities year round. We also have Friday after school activities, retreats, camps, bootcamps and overseas outreach experiences.
Krystele: It’s great to see how active you are within Surrey and to see the sparkle in your eye when you talk about youth. I’m curious to know your perspective on the education system here.
Buena: Well, I deal with different students: those who excel in school and are motivated in academics, those in French immersion that perhaps struggle in English or struggle in being excellent in one language, and those who just take it easy and just want to get over school.
I think that in general, we have a good education system but just as in any society, the parents’ role in educating children should not be ignored. Parents should be encouraged to participate in making sure their children get the best education. They can participate by keeping their children accountable in their school work, sending them to good after school programs, giving them the assistance they need in classes they struggle with, and play the main role in value and character shaping. Parents should also speak up when they feel that the system is trying to manipulate their children to follow a certain value system or educational system they do not agree with.
As we continue to converse, she goes on to share her passion of nurturing, enriching and empowering youth of different nationalities by fostering their emotional, social, cultural, intellectual and spiritual growth.
Buena: I get inspired when I see youth coming out of their shells, smiling, beaming, growing, reaching their potential and recognizing their value. I love seeing them have clean, meaningful fun and seeing them use their time and abilities for things that matter.
Incredibly poised yet candid in all her answers, I asked Buena whether there was a moment in her life when she realized that this was her purpose:
Buena: One major moment was when I was at a big youth conference and I committed to share the blessings I have. I was a junior in university, so I think I was 18 years old at the time. From then on, I was traveling the world and sharing what I had with others when given the opportunity.
Aside from leading various youth initiatives in Surrey, Buena is also founder of People of Grace International, a registered agency in Canada and the United States with the aim to give the less fortunate a chance by opening doors of opportunity through quality education.
Buena: We need to be proactive in reaching out to nations experiencing turmoil. Are we doing anything to help those who have no chance at life because of poverty or political turmoil? I founded this nonprofit with the objective to provide hope and vision to the young and youth by giving them educational opportunities so that they can fulfill their God-given destiny. It’s time to be proactive in reaching out and helping those in need.
Krystele: Yes, I believe that too. A small amount of money, time or effort can go a long way in giving someone a hope and a future. How can the community support the amazing work that you’re up to?
Buena: Donating towards a child’s education or donating towards an outreach trip in the poor and developing nations I reach such as Philippines, India, and soon in the Middle East, and other countries in Asia, will be very helpful!
Krystele: You carry a long list of job titles – entrepreneur, founder of your organization, Youth Director and mentor to all these individuals. How have you been able to balance it all?
Buena: My main work and focus of course is youth and mentoring leaders. In the past, I was both teaching high school, university and doing youth work and mentoring leaders. I was raised in a home whose drive was to serve others and educate them to be the best they could be through faith in Christ. I am used to multi-tasking. I came to Canada not for myself but to serve the youth here and to help those in need.
Krystele: What has been the biggest challenge so far?
Buena: Well, I strongly believe that immigrants who come here are blessed to be a blessing. That is, we should pay it forward. I feel that people really need to understand that we should not forget our loved ones in our respective countries, and throughout the world, who are going through political turmoil, who are deprived of basic comforts, who have no chance at life because of lack of opportunity and because of the injustices in their society.
After my interview with Buena, I started to contemplate more about the issues prevalent in our society today. For example, the government plays a role by providing easier ways for people at risk to find a safe haven here; however, are we doing anything to help those who are new in Canada to feel at home? Are we doing anything to support youth from different backgrounds, families and social situations?