PEI·I Live Here Now

Zheny Angeles missed 7 years of cuddles with her son to make a better life for her family

Zheny Angeles sacrificed years with her young son to come to P.E.I. as a temporary worker seven years ago. But giving up was never part of plan, and now the family is together again.

Perseverance pays off for Filipina woman who came to P.E.I. as temporary foreign worker

Zheny Angeles chose to come to P.E.I. as a temporary foreign worker with dreams of someday having her family join her. She is one of eight immigrants from around the world featured in the CBC P.E.I. series I Live Here Now. 3:38

CBC P.E.I. brings you eight stories of immigrants from around the world who have chosen to live on Prince Edward Island. Some have come to learn. Some to work. Others for safety. The series, I Live Here Now, reveals why people left their old lives, what they're doing now on P.E.I., and their dreams for the future.

Zheny Angeles has been spending the last year or so getting to know her nine-year-old son, Riverdale.

What he likes in his lunch, what kind of haircut he wants, what he likes to do for fun.

Turns out he likes to colour and play with toy cars.

He loves eggs, too, and needs no help cooking them, thank you very much. Scrambled, sunny side up, you name it.

"I didn't know what he was capable of doing," Angeles said. "I didn't know what he loves to do."

'I waited seven years'

Angeles sacrificed a lot to move halfway around the world seven years ago for a job at a P.E.I. fish plant that paid $10.25 an hour.

But no sacrifice was greater than leaving her young son behind in the Philippines to be raised by her parents.

Zheny Angeles was reunited with her son, Riverdale, and husband, Eleazer, on P.E.I. after seven years apart. (Shane Ross/CBC)

So when she got word 18 months ago that her permanent residency in Canada had been approved, allowing family members to join her, the first thing she did was call her husband, Eleazer, who was working in Taiwan. She told him to pack his belongings, pick up Riverdale in the Philippines and come to P.E.I. as soon as possible.

"I waited seven years, seven long years to be able to get them and be with them. It's a long process, it's a long journey of trials, hardships and hopes."

Making up for lost time, especially with Riverdale, hasn't always been easy.

"One of the regrets I have is that I didn't have the chance to cuddle him or to baby him," she said. "And now sometimes I want to do it to him and he's like: 'No mom, I'm grown up. I'm a boy now. I'm not little anymore, I'm not a baby anymore.' And it's sad, knowing that I missed that time, I missed those chances."

Zheny Angeles's journey from the Phillipines to P.E.I.

Still, as she sat in her modest Slemon Park home near the Summerside airport, Eleazer beside her on the couch and Riverdale playing with his toy cars, she said it's all been worth it.

"I have been through many trials and many falls in the past in my life and in my family. Coming here to Canada is one of the best plans that I have in my life because I know coming in here and becoming a permanent resident will open so many doors for me, opportunities for me and my family."

Angeles is studying to improve her English and further her education. (Shane Ross/CBC)

Angeles was 21 years old and studying to become a nurse in Batangas City, about an hour drive from the Philippine capital of Manila, when tragedy struck her family. Her 23-year-old brother was shot and killed in what Angeles calls a "nonsense death."

Brother's killing inspires new outlook

The family — Angeles's parents, two sisters and another brother — were devastated. 

"He had so much in him. He had so much plans and dreams," Angeles said. 

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      It was then, she said, that she realized she had to "live to the fullest, make our plans, make our dreams happen. Make it count, every day of our life."

      Needing to provide for her family, Angeles left nursing school and took a job in an electronics factory in Taiwan. Riverdale was just 15 months old at the time. 

      'Philippines ... was not enough for us'

      In 2013, she came to P.E.I. as a temporary foreign worker to work at a fish plant, now known as Acadian Supreme, in Abram Village.

      She didn't stop to see Riverdale before she left, for fear she would change her mind and stay.

      Zheny, Eleazer and baby Riverdale in the Philippines before Zheny left the country for work. (Jenalyn Aclan)

      "What I had in the Philippines at that time was not enough for us, not enough for our future, for his future. Knowing that he's still a baby, it was really hard for me at that time, but I had no choice," she said.

      "For about two or three months, I did not want to call home. I was thinking if I'm going to hear my son's voice or something I will go home, and that's not part of the plan."

      Emotional reunion

      Though she kept in touch through regular phone and video chats, calling herself a "ghost mom," she would not see Riverdale again in person until April 2017, on his seventh birthday. A friend on P.E.I. surprised Angeles with a return ticket to the Philippines as a Christmas gift.
      Eleazer and Riverdale arrive at the Charlottetown airport in October 2018 to begin their new life on P.E.I. (Marie Antionette Pangan)

      It was an emotional reunion when she saw Riverdale at the Manila airport.

      "He's running toward me," she said, her voice trailing off, unable to continue.

      After reuniting with her son, Angeles then surprised her husband by going to Taiwan, where he was working.

      A month later, Angeles returned to P.E.I. with renewed hopes and dreams, encouraged by recent changes to laws making it easier for temporary foreign workers to acquire permanent resident status.

      She got her status on Aug. 30, 2018. Eleazer and Riverdale arrived on Oct. 7.

      "As long as you have the perseverance, the dream, then everything, you can achieve it," she said.

      Angeles says she would love to stay on P.E.I. with her son and husband. (Shane Ross/CBC)

      Angeles, 43, still works at the fish plant during the season, now making $13.73 an hour, and collects employment insurance in the off-season. She has a big circle of friends.

      "I just love it here on P.E.I. I want to live here as long as P.E.I. loves us."

      Looking to the future

      She goes to school to upgrade her English, with hopes of someday resuming the nursing studies she gave up eight years ago in the Philippines. Having another child is also not out of the question, she said.

      Eleazer said he is blessed to have found work as an aircraft technician at Honeywell Aerospace, walking distance from their home in Slemon Park.

      Riverdale likes to cook eggs, and he's proud to say he doesn't need any help. (Shane Ross/CBC)

      Riverdale is in Grade 4 at Parkside Elementary in Summerside. He went through periods of homesickness when he first arrived on P.E.I., Angeles said, but he has adjusted well to life in Canada.

      And while Angeles and Riverdale may not cuddle as often as she'd like, she never says no to a scrambled egg made with love.

      About the Author

      Shane Ross is a former newspaper and TV journalist in Halifax, Ottawa and Charlottetown. He joined CBC P.E.I.'s web team in 2016.


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