The Current

My First 150 Days documents hardship of immigrant life in Canada

A new documentary, My First 150 Days, looks at what happens when families that have spent years apart from each other are reunited — but feel like strangers.
Jeah, 14, with her mother Melona Banico who moved to Toronto without her children to create a better life for her family. Their story is documented in the film, My First 150 Days. (90th Parallel Productions)

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It's a decision that many women in the Philippines are forced to make.

Melona Banico left her three children, Judelyn, Jeah, and Jade behind and moved to Canada to work as a nanny — hoping to build a better future for herself and her children.

It took eight years, sometimes working three jobs at a time before she was able to sponsor her children — along with her grandson — to join her.

But when the family reunited, the cost of their long separation was hard to ignore.

The reunion of the Banico family and the hardships adjusting to life in Canada are documented in the film, My First 150 Days by filmmaker Diana Dai.

Dai says the story of the Banico family will be familiar to many immigrants who had to leave family behind and then stuggle with loneliness and financial issues.

"From the first year, it's not easy. It's very difficult to leave my children," Melona tells The Current's Friday host Piya Chattopadhyay.

"Imagine taking care of other [people's] children and then my children [are] left over there," she says.

When Melona finally saw her children at the airport, she says she was full of happiness and tears. She had only seen the children once during the many years they were apart.

Jade, 25, recalls meeting his mother as an exciting moment.  

"The first time that I arrived in Canada, [I was] so excited to see my mom and to see Canada, to see Toronto, what it was really like because in my imagination it's different."

After a long separation, the first few months of living together were challenging for the family.

"We had a huge adjustment period," Melona tells Chattopadhyay.

"For the first time that we have conflict … I said to myself that I better cancel the sponsorship because I felt we can't get along."

Filmmaker Diana Dai (centre) with the Banico family. (Courtesy of 90th Parallel Productions)

Jade admits that in those first few months, he and his sister wanted to go back to the Philippines, but they just didn't have the money to finance the trip home.

And money became an issue for the family. The kids were used to not working and just receiving money from their mother in Canada.

But shortly after their arrival, Melona lost her job when the shop she was working at closed. She had to teach her kids that life wasn't easy just because they were in Canada.

"You have to work in order to get money. And then if you want to buy something you have to work for it," Melona says.

Jade admits he had unrealistic expectations of living an easy life when he arrived in Canada

"But it's all wrong, I must sacrifice before I get that better life."

Now he and his sister are both working full time at McDonald's and Melona is going to school to be an Early Childhood Assistant and working on the weekends. Life has settled down after a rough couple of months.

Melona and Jade admit that reconciling was difficult. But the key was communication.

"Try to communicate, talk, in order to [deal with] all the problems," Melona says.

Jade calls Canada his second home now and no longer wants to go back to the Philippines.

"I love Canada now."

My First 150 Days airs April 12 on TVO and will also be airing on CBC's Documentary Channel soon.

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Liz Hoath.