A group of Japanese students sit dressed prim and proper in school uniforms in front of a crowded assembly at Mount Douglas secondary. The kids are shy and quiet, visiting their Canadian sister school. The quiet doesn’t last once student council president Tamiko Sianen gets up to welcome the international students.
Spicing her inspiring speech with a little Japanese (one of the five languages the Grade 12 student speaks), suddenly the crowd is roaring. Her pep is contagious, drawing everyone from classmates to teachers in with her words.
This take-charge display of leadership exemplifies who Sianen is, says leadership teacher Caroline Baldwin. She doesn’t struggle to find the right word to describes the talented student: charismatic.
“She leads with ease and she’s really good at developing leaders, because she knows when to step aside and when to empower other leaders,” Baldwin says. “She’s empathic, I think, about what other kids can take on and when they’re ready (to lead).”
Sianen connects communities and knows the power of building bridges and creating a web of friends and opportunities.
“It goes back to feeling more connected, fulfilled and rewarded,” she says. “I want to give back to everyone who helped me growing up.”
Her leadership skills likely stem from a childhood spent volunteering at the Philippines Bayanihan Community Centre on Blanshard Street. There, the line is blurry between being a member and volunteer. She spent her early years at the community centre learning traditional dance and later working the food kiosk at events throughout the region. Now she is a strong youth leader, sharing Filipino games and cooking skills with the kids.
“I didn’t realize I was volunteering,” she says with a laugh. “It was good exposure. I didn’t realize until later how much it helped me. I got to connect with the broader community. It drove me to volunteer in general.”
In Grade 8, Sianen made an intentional decision to boost her community contributions, and began volunteering obsessively at events all around Greater Victoria.
When she graduates in June, she’ll have amassed more than T-shirts and mementos from those events.
“It wasn’t items of material perks (that I got from volunteering). Those are awesome, but the coolest thing is meeting all the people who shared or didn’t share interests with me.”
Her web of friends turned out to be beneficial when she found people hankering to help during her campaign for student council president earlier this year.
“If I won, they would win, too. We were doing this together,” she says.
Her worlds – school and community – connected when Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines last November. As part of her campaign for president, Sianen passionately launched fundraising endeavours within the school, including hosting a Filipino lunch. Funds raised at the school went to the Bayanihan Centre’s relief fund, which reached more than $60,000. The money was donated to the Red Cross to provide aid in the Philippines.
“You have to be motivated to do things. Do things from your heart,” says her aunt Dominga Passmore, a longtime volunteer at the centre. “She has it in her that she wants to do something.”
Talking in tongues
Tamiko Sianen loves languages.
She started learning Japanese in middle school, as her given name has Japanese origins.
She also understands two dialects of languages spoken in the Philippines: Tagalog and Illocano, as they’re spoken on occasion at home.
At school she studies French and Mandarin.
Other stories in this series:
YOUTH INSPIRED: Turning awkward moments into positive memories (Grace Boothman, Pacific Christian School)
YOUTH INSPIRED: Making a little hello go a long way (Sage Broomfield, Claremont seconday school)