Marichu Antonio and Cesar Cala


Marichu and Cesar share an enduring belief that people, whatever their circumstances, have the power to make an extraordinary difference in their lives and in the lives of others. In the Philippines they were involved in advocacies for human rights, democratic reform and grassroots organizing. They brought this belief with them when they and their two children moved to Calgary twenty years ago. In the city, they quickly became involved in community development.

Marichu worked for many years at the Calgary Mennonite Centre for Newcomers, leading pioneering work in settlement, community engagement and social enterprise. Cesar helped bring community development thinking in supporting people with disabilities and later on in the work of Calgary’s philanthropic community and neighbourhoods. Both volunteered in initiatives that fostered understanding and cooperation across diverse communities.

Today the two are beloved and well-respected Calgary community organizers by day and grandparents by weekend and holiday. Cesar works for the United Way, as a neighbourhood strategizer, while Marichu is the Executive Director at the Ethno-Cultural Council of Calgary, a non-profit that works with more than 60 different Calgary cultural communities.

“When he started at the United Way, Cesar inherited the 1000 Voices at Genesis Centre project, which was then in development. The first thing he suggested was that they ask people in the neighbourhood who were destined to use it what they wanted the place to be….“We ended up talking to more than 1,000 people in about four months, so we brought that report together. It’s called A Thousand Voices—and it became the basis for many of the Centre’s initiatives.” It also built a sense of local ownership and pride.

“Community development starts with people’s potential,” Marichu says. “You start with people’s assets rather than their deficits. You shouldn’t see them only as recipients, rather as people helping each other and helping the community—giving back to the community.” Marichu used this approach when she started EthniCity, a catering social enterprise for immigrant women, while she was still working at the Centre for Newcomers. In the same manner, she made the hiring of community members, as connectors and organizers, a cornerstone of the work of the Ethno-Cultural Council of Calgary.

The groups and causes that Marichu and Cesar have connected with span a wide swath of Calgary’s social sector. Together, they have been involved with the Women’s Centre of Calgary, Momentum, Calgary Local Immigration Partnership, Big Brothers Big Sisters Canada, Asian Heritage Foundation, Calgary Foundation, Oxfam-Canada, Arusha, the Children’s Legal and Education Resource Centre, Babae council of Filipino-Canadian Women and Fiesta Filipino.

A year ago, both were involved with programming the Calgary Filipino Festival at Olympic Plaza, where they came up with the notion of pairing First Nations drummers with Filipino drummers on opening day. It led to discovering some powerful connections between Canadian Indigenous communities and the Filipino community.

For their work, they received recognition when both were named Unsung Heroes, and they both received Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medals. Cesar also received a 2015 Governor General’s Caring Canadian Award for his work in building bridges across communities.

(Story Adapted from Stephen Hunt for the Calgary Arts Development Authority)