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Alfe Roder: A Filipino-Australian’s journey from rebellious teen to lawyer

Finding her way up to the top

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The road to success is not without rough patches, but this determined migration agent/lawyer did not stop nor quit to get to where she is now

Most of us have heard stories about rags-to-riches stories, particularly from big names who tend to eclipse everyone else. People don’t realise that even behind those shadows, there are individuals thriving in their successes, mostly unknown to society. The same can be said of Alfe Roder, who has built a strong reputation as an expert in immigration law in Australia.

But how did a native Filipina make it out from the Philippines, establish a career in the Land Down Under, and make people like herself see the greener pasture overseas?

Alfe (nee Ladao) was not necessarily your typical poor kid from Mindanao. Born into a working-class family with a buy-and-sell copra business and a general merchandise store, she lived a relatively privileged life by Filipino standards. Her mother was a teacher, and her father was a municipal councilor. But while she had lived quite a comfortable life in her early years, a single mistake put her entire household under dire financial constraint. His father’s attempt to pursue a political career unfortunately failed. 

Throughout her high school years, Alfe was a consistently good student. Although she had always placed herself in third place, a massive effort in school performance ultimately pushed her to graduate as a salutatorian. Despite what would have been her ticket to being admitted at the Ateneo de Davao University, Alfe ended up at a different school in Mati, Davao Oriental. The university she enrolled in was not the one she had envisioned.

Unhappy with how life turned out, compounded by the difficult phase of teen rebellion and anxiety, Alfe would do worse in college. She would soon venture into a different college while pursuing a degree in Accountancy at the University of Mindanao in Davao City. Having learned from her mistakes in her previous school, she managed to maintain high grades here. However, the poor grades she accrued previously have negatively impacted her exemplary academic performance. Expectedly, she graduated college without a Latin honour to her name. 

After returning home in 1994 with plans to start a business, her life took another unexpected turn when she found herself employed by the government. She would simultaneously see herself pursuing another study when she returned to her Alma Mater as a student of Law. Having to work as an employee during the day and a diligent student at night had not been easy for her as it would often imply sacrificing sleep over studies.

Life continued for Alfe after leaving her Alma Mater once again—this time with another degree under her name. But it would soon hit a turning point when she decided to build her own family and migrate to Australia to give a good life for her future children. 

“Life went on for me until I decided to get married and move to Australia in 2000. I was desperate to have a more comfortable life and provide a good life for my future children. I left the Philippines for Australia with only a drop of hope in my hand. In 2009, I decided to pursue a law degree, but the closest university was an hour away from the family I had nurtured for years. Leaving my husband and two young daughters was one of the most painful decisions I had to make. I’ve been an absentee mother for several years. I am a risk taker, and it was worth all the risks; looking at where I am today,” she told The Philippine Times.

In 2007, she graduated from the Australian National University with a Certificate in Migration Law and Practice. In the same year, she started her career as a Registered Migration Agent. Six years later, she completed her Juris Doctor Degree from Bond University in Gold Coast. 

After receiving her Postgraduate Diploma in Legal Practice at Bond University, she was later admitted to the legal profession as a lawyer in the Supreme Court of Queensland in 2015.

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Not an easy ride 

Alfe admits that being in a land of milk and honey does not mean those good opportunities are just served on a silver platter. 

“Becoming a lawyer in Australia was not an easy ride for me. I had to battle several storms in my personal and professional career to get where I am now,” she said. 

The painful journey led her to write a book titled “Unknown Benefits of Failure: Reshaping the Future”. The book chronicles her struggles and how she managed to overcome them. 

“It was me opening my life to the public so that, in my own little way, I could be of some sort of assistance to those facing the same challenges I’ve been through. My husband was unable to read the book because of his sudden demise on 23 May 2016, which happened to be our youngest daughter’s birthday. But he was aware that my book would be published on 28 May 2016,” said this quiet achiever who has been granting scholarships to law students at Rizal Memorial College in the Philippines.

Alfe admits that despite the degrees and her professional success, her personal and career life has always been a battlefield. 

“Even up to this point, I am still learning and re-learning things in life. But I am proud of my battle scars because they are a constant reminder of my resilience,” she said, having made a leap in her career at the height of the COVID pandemic by moving from Cairns, Queensland, to Melbourne, Victoria. 

Victoria, she said, offers more opportunities for legal practitioners like her.

Finding a silver lining when COVID hit

At the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, everything was suddenly halted, and even face-to-face meetings were not allowed. Businesses have suffered as a result of the spread of the disease worldwide. Still, Alfe found a silver lining when she tapped into a resource that links people worldwide—the internet. The social media platform enabled her to reach a broader client base, demonstrating her 15 years of experience in the trade and easily earning the trust of those looking to emigrate. 

“During the pandemic, people turned to the internet for almost everything—food, groceries, job applications, payment of bills, and the list goes on. Everything has become automated. So, I took advantage of the internet, specifically social media, to advertise my services and communicate with my clients. With that, the business went smoothly despite the pandemic wreaking havoc on everything,” Alfe said.

Pick your battle and persevere

As a Filipino-Australian lawyer, migration agent, and her most cherished role as a mother, Alfe would want her children and future grandchildren to develop resilience, determination, patience, and humility. 

“If you possess all those values, everything else will follow. Those four values helped me master the ability to bounce back from all that life has thrown at me. So, I hope my children will eventually apply them one day. Even if I am no longer around, they can triumph against every adversity that will come their way,” she explained. She hopes her children will never forget their mother’s unconquerable spirit despite challenges and setbacks.

Alfe recalled the day she was unable to afford a train ticket and was hoping to find someone who would give her a free ticket at the next station. Rather than give up, she turned the experience into inspiration. And she did it gracefully and with flying colours! 

“I believe that the legacy I can pass on to my children and the community is not money; it’s what’s woven into the hearts and minds of others. It is not something that will be written on my tombstone when my time on Earth passes; it is the character I left behind—and that would be my service, goodwill, reputation, and resilience.” 

Her advice to those who are hopeless and fearful, weak and abandoned is to “continue to pick your battle and persevere!” Now that she has overcome the difficult battles and crises in her life (though not resting on her laurels and life’s big blows), her regular mission is to assist clients and represent them in their journey to migrate or live in Australia.

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