Our beloved Consul General Neil Ferrer is about to complete his term at the end of 2017. Here are some of the highlights of my interview with him where I got to know our ConGen a little bit deeper. We talk about his passions, his family, and of course, the community he’s been serving.
The Man Behind the Title of Consul General
Neil spent more than half of his life in government service–four years in the Foreign Service Institute followed by 21 years in the Department of Foreign Affairs. We talk about the reasons why he took up this career as well as his passions and interests.
What is the story behind becoming a diplomat and following a service-oriented career?
It all started in my undergraduate studies in UP Diliman. It is a government-funded university, and it is where my mind was opened to public service and giving back the privilege I was given as “Iskolar ng bayan”. To me, it’s not necessarily about the title or position you hold; when you enter government, it’s always about public service. And, as a Filipino diplomat, we essentially work to promote and enhance our country’s national interests vis-a-vis other countries, as well as protect the rights and promote the welfare of overseas Filipinos.
What is something you love and hate about the position of being a ConGen?
In a busy post, like here in Vancouver, I engage in a host of activities, including numerous cultural and community events. In this job, you have to love interacting with people but should remain focused on your objectives – such as promoting trade and investments or tourism to the Philippines or sharing our country’s culture and heritage to the public. While I enjoy interacting with people, at times it could be exhausting, especially when you have to go to three or four events in a day and deliver speeches in all the events; many weekends are taken away from my family because I have to attend functions or conduct consular outreach services in remote areas. But overall, it has been a very enjoyable and productive stint for me here in Vancouver. We have a vibrant Filipino-Canadian community here, who are proud of our heritage; very generous in helping our kababayans and supporting medical and dental missions and other projects in the Philippines; very supportive of various projects and activities we conduct at the Consulate; and volunteering and actively engaging locally in the community.
Tell us something that most of your constituents don’t know about you.
I like the outdoors. I enjoy walking and hiking; and Vancouver or BC is a very good place to do these because there are plenty of green spaces, rolling hills, and mountains. Going out to experience nature is one of the things I try to do when there is an opportunity and time, especially now na nagkaka-edad na (that I’m getting older). My youngest daughter is only four years old – so it is still some more years before she becomes an adult; I wish to stay healthy for my family, which is not always easy because of the demands of the job.
ConGen and His family
Being in the foreign service, one is assigned a 6-year tour of duty outside of the Philippines. After which, they go back to the Philippines and stay there for about 2 years (or more) before another 6-year assignment overseas. Congen Neil and his wife Miriam have four daughters ages 20, 11, 9, and 4–the first was born in Manila, the two in the middle in London, and the youngest in Ottawa. ConGen Neil and Miriam tell us how they keep their family close and their kids grounded despite their unique situation.
We’ve just learned that the life of a diplomat is always moving locations. Once you feel like you’ve already taken root in one country, you will be assigned to move again. What are the struggles your family faces given the nature of your job?
Neil: We experienced how hard it is for our children – to constantly move over several years and to uproot them from where they grew up in and adjust to a new environment. My eldest daughter, for example, had to go to several schools during my first foreign assignment in Beijing and London. When my tour of duty ended and had to go back to the Philippines, it was not easy for her to say goodbye to her classmates and friends; and adjust to a new environment. So Miriam and I have to be there for her and really support her emotionally and psychologically. We are very thankful that it has been a positive experience for her; she is a very strong and intelligent girl. Now, she is on her senior year at the University of British Columbia here in Vancouver, taking up international relations – and probably might pursue a career in the foreign service in the future.
Miriam: Before quitting my job in the Department of Finance, I was also very career-focused. But thru the years, I saw that we will have to adjust to a new environment all the time, and it’s not easy for the kids. I stopped working in 2009 when we came back from Neil’s post in London. Because of it, I can engage with the kids’ teachers, classmates, the other parents and with the community–especially in Canada where community engagement is very important. We volunteer and attend different kinds of events in school, and we also enroll the kids in different activities. So in that sense, the children do not feel alienated in the place, they feel more integrated into the community, and that’s how they adjust, that’s how they feel more at home.
Are your kids well-adjusted now? What happens when you return to the Philippines next year?
Miriam: We are always transparent and open to our kids. We remind them that we’re going back to the Philippines; they always know when and where we are going and make sure they know that our stay is not permanent.
We try to tell them, they are in a privileged position. It may not be easy transferring from one place to another, from one school to another but they are actually experiencing something that not all children get to have–living in different countries, experiencing multiple cultures. And as a whole, when they grow up, like what we see in our eldest daughter, the sum of their experiences will be good for them. Neil and I assure them that they have our support. We are fortunate, we feel very blessed that we are able to say together. Not every family can do that. And because of this, our family is very close–after all, it’s only the six of us who are always together.
The Milestones of the Filipino Community
The Filipino community in Metro Vancouver and all across our jurisdiction continue to grow. In fact, for the last four years, the Philippines has been the number one major source country of immigrants to Canada and Tagalog has become the fastest growing language in the country.
In Metro Vancouver, the Filipino community hosts various festivities during the month of June every year to celebrate Philippine Independence. Because of this, we at the Consulate initiated (way back in 2014) the month-long celebration not only of Philippine Independence but also the friendship between Canada and the Philippines every June, culminating with our participation in the Canada Day Parade on 1 July.
During the last national elections in the Philippines, the Filipino community within our jurisdiction recorded the highest number of overseas voter registration and actual votes cast during the election period, in the whole of Canada. We are also among the top 10 Foreign Service Posts in terms of overseas voter registration and voter turnout during the last elections.
Indeed it has been a good run for our ConGen Neil Ferrer and for us, his constituents, in last four years or so. It’s back to the Philippines for his family early next year until he will once again be assigned a duty overseas. Let’s all wish him continued success and a bountiful career in public service.
Article originally published in Absolutely Filipino magazine in December 2017.
Photo credits to Dwight Simon.