From the Philippines to the Australian of the Year Awards Finals – Dante Maribbay’s story of drive and determination

  • 26 July 2022

The idea of moving to Australia is an exciting one for many, no matter where their story started. Our country’s standard of living, job opportunities, climate and environment are so appealing that people all around the world choose to leave their current life behind to start a new one right here.

Dante Maribbay’s story goes a little against this narrative. While the 2022 WA Senior Australian of the Year Finalist has created a great life for himself and his family, living in Australia was not actually the plan nor plain sailing from the beginning.

“I was teaching in Secondary Public school in the Philippines for 18 years when we migrated to WA on September 13, 1988. We were sponsored by my sister in-law and brother in-law, who included us in their application when they arrived in 1985. We didn’t know they had included us – we just received a letter from the Australian Embassy that our sponsorship was approved. Within three months, we sold all of our belongings and moved to Australia.”

Before Dante left the Philippines, he was the President of the Federation of Quezon City Teachers Association with 30,000 members. He was also the Secretary General of Transport Service Cooperative all over the Philippines. Trained in the UK, Holland, France and Switzerland, he set up various pre-schools for underprivileged children using the Montessori approach, which is now copied by all public schools in the Philippines.

Once in Australia, Dante, his wife Elsa and their two young sons lived with their in-laws, before moving to Maylands and then West Leederville, with help from Initiatives of Change. During this time and once they were settled, Dante was looking for work. While he had spent almost two decades working in and contributing to education back in the Philippines, finding a job remotely similar proved impossible.

“I applied for any job, but preferably a teaching job. Since my qualification was not fully recognised, I had to streamline my job hunting. I joined the Job Search Course at North Perth Migrant Resource Centre and I studied Certificate IV in Childcare – I knew that I had to grab any training opportunity. I wrote 100 applications, but none were successful.”

After volunteering at Gladys Newton School, Dante got a job as a Grant-in Aid Social Welfare Officer funded by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs. By no means did this make him complacent in his professional development. While working full-time, he enrolled at Curtin University to complete his Certificate IV in Community Work, in night courses to achieve an Advanced Certificate in Aged Care, and then in an Occupational Therapy Assistant Course.

From then, Dante proudly states that every application he sent was accepted.

“Now, l get to choose what I want to do in my life.”

Following three years with Family and Children’s Services, he was employed at Perth Immigration Detention Centre, which saw him travel to locations such as Broome, Port Hedland and Christmas Island. Finally, he worked as an Occupational Therapy Assistant in Aged Care.

Despite his training and employment keeping him busy, Dante found time to involve himself within the community – not forgetting his roots.

“I had the opportunity to get elected and serve as President of Damayang Filipino, where I started to set up various support groups, create sporting and social groups and any interest groups that new arrivals need. I then became elected as President of the Filipino Community Council of Western Australia for four years and finally elected as President of the Filipino Communities Council of Australia, Inc.”

Through his community work, Dante has directly improved the lives of many. He advocated for the equality of Centrelink payments between partners, as well as for the International English Language Testing System scoring to be adjusted to take into account competencies such as carpentry and mechanics, so that skilled migrants can contribute to the Australian economy. He has also assisted with community grants and collaborated on the Migrant Pavilion project at Lake Vasto in East Perth, which incorporates barbecues and a children’s playground for the multicultural community to enjoy the outdoors. Dante is often asked to speak at events to inspire fellow migrants with his story, and, to this day, he helps new arrivals with finding accommodation, opening bank accounts and embracing the Australian way of life, so that they can enjoy it just as much as he does.

“Australians are a very caring and affectionate multicultural community, especially to the environment and the animals. I’m proud to be an Australian as I enjoy the freedom, safety and good governance of our government. The majority of Australians are law-abiding, sociable, sporty, respectful, adventurous and friendly. I now call Australia home, a land full of opportunity for those who are willing to seek a good life.”

Since being recognised as a Senior WA Finalist in the 2022 Australian of the Year Awards, Dante has continued to look at how he can increase his positive impact. He’s currently looking at fundraising opportunities for different causes, while promoting English and digital literacy programs to migrants. He never misses an opportunity to network at an Auspire event and he’s looking at starting a magazine for seniors called ‘Senior Moments’, which would highlight the contribution of 100 Filipinos to Australia.

For someone who did not plan on living in Australia, Dante Maribbay is an example of someone doing it very well!

Nominations for the 2023 Australian of the Year Awards close 31 July. Nominate here:

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