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PHOTOS: The faces and the colours of the OneWorld Multicultural Festival

A couple thousand Okanaganites journeyed around the world Saturday without ever having to leave Penticton.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

The occasion was the 11th annual OneWorld Multicultural Festival, a celebration of all things international and the immigrants who've ultimately made the South Okanagan home

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

The place was the bright and spacious East Ballroom of the Penticton Lakeside Resort, and the joint was packed not long after the official 11 am start time. It was quite likely the busiest opening in event history.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

One of Saturday's vendors, for the second year running, was downtown Penticton specialty store Edsa MiniMart.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

Edsa, named after a renowned Manila-area highway where a series of celebrated protests unfolded in February of 1986, focuses on Philippine products and groceries. And it's run by Filipino immigrants – and wife and hubby – Michelle and Elgene Golifardo.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Michelle and Elgene Golifardo

It was back in the mid-2010s that the Golifardos made the decision to leave their lives in the Philippines and come to Canada.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

They weren't poor and they certainly weren’t destitute. Indeed, Elgene worked with Mitsubishi Motors. Michelle was involved in the restaurant industry.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

But the Philippine health care system worried them, especially with one child already in the family and another potentially in the future.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

Plus, the country was crowded. The traffic was harsh. And the government was corrupt.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

It was time to try to improve their lives. So in 2017, Michelle came to Canada, alone. She settled in Osoyoos.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

She spent the next year and a half in Canada, on her own, working at the local Tim Hortons. After an appropriate amount of time had passed, her hubby and daughter joined her.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

"It was hard being here by myself," she said. "I literally cried myself to sleep every night. Then in November of 2018 my family arrived.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

"It was such a huge decision. We sold everything to come here. House, furniture, everything."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

Once the three were reunited, it didn’t take long to hatch a plan.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

"When I arrived," said Michelle, "I had a vision of owning our own business – sharing our culture, our food in this community. So when I heard Edsa in Penticton was selling because the old owners were retiring, we grabbed the opportunity."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

The Golifardos could have used their money for a downpayment on a house. But they reasoned the business opportunity was the smarter choice.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

"You do your thing, you work you’re a** off, and you'll do good," said Elgene. "But if you sit down and relax, it's not going to work."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

Three years ago, the couple took charge of Edsa MiniMart. Then they moved to Penticton, to a rental house a half-kilometer away.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

"It's been good," said Michelle. "Everything we need is here and the community, not only the Filipino community but the town itself, is really supportive. People like our store. They like our food. Our snacks. Our frozen meat. Everything."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

Now they have plans for a kitchenette. It's challenging financially, they say, but they want to share their cooked/heated food with their customers.

Saturday at their table, they served goodies like pork rolls, steamed buns, a "Filipino version of dumplings" and spring rolls. They hope later this year they'll have that ability at their store too.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

Along the way, they've become big fans of event host SOICS (South Okanagan Immigrant and Community Services).

"They were the first organization that contacted us when we became owners of store," said Michelle. "They were very interested in how we got here and they've been so supportive.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

"We got our FOODAFE and first aid courses through them, for free. I've been endorsing them to all our customers who are newcomers."

We couldn’t let the day go without chatting briefly with SOICS executive director and someone who's become irrevocably linked with the event, Cherry Fernandez.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

Fernandez was all smiles as the day wound down and the SOICS entourage posed for some feel-good pics.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> The SOICS crowd

"What's important about this is that we get to see the diversity that exists in the South Okanagan and Similkameen," she said. "Too often we look to Toronto and Vancouver as examples, but we're also diverse here. It just may not be as readily visible.

"For example, SOICS represents over 110 countries and territories. This festival showcases only about 35 of them."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

Fernandez called the day an opportunity to share and learn together, and maintained as she often does that it's even more important post-pandemic.

"During the pandemic we know there was an incredible increase in hate-related incidents," she said. "It's gotten a bit better since, but there's still a lot of work to done.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

"And I hope this is one more step towards creating a fully welcoming an equitable community. It doesn't happen in one event. It's an ongoi-ng journey.

"There's so much strength we have as a community when we celebrate diversity."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>



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