Kabayan health workers – Pinoys’ greatest gift to the NZ pandemic

By Noel Bautista, https://ylbnoel.wordpress.com

Photo above: A group of nurses in Christchurch (not the one’s mentioned in this article)

Kristine Dianne Balatbat, registered nurse at Capital & Coast District Health Board.

Monina Hernandez, Member of the Nursing Council of New Zealand.

Yen Canada-Wong, formerly of Hutt Hospital but now a full-time wife and mother.

WELLINGTON – I don’t think that anyone will argue with me right now when I say that the Pinoy community’s greatest gift to New Zealand in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic is our Filipino health workers, not least the 4337 (as of 2017) nurses that heal, monitor and give comfort to those suffering from the coronavirus and related illnesses in New Zealand.

Appreciated, over-achieving and brilliant as they are, our health workers are very human, and very Filipino, meaning that they need love, interaction and laughter as much as any one of us in our barangay, whether we be in the North or South Island, Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch, or anywhere else in Aotearoa.

I approached these most essential of the essential workers (but our supermarket workers, food industry workers, emergency services and IT workers are equally important) and asked them a few questions about their jobs, the situation and about fellow kabayan Filipinos.

How do we Filipinos thrive in the lockdown environment?

YEN: I think as Filipinos we are used to weathering the storm. As a migrant I’ve learned to be flexible and basically make do. It might be daunting to be stuck at home, but I’ve been trying a few Filipino recipes. I even made some homemade longganisa; it’s been going well for us so far.

KRISTINE: As Filipinos I believe that nurses like myself are resourceful and find it easy to cope with these kind of situations. I know that Filipinos are very much prepared at this time as they buy the necessities that they need for this lockdown.

As an individual who lives alone in NZ there is also worry as I am thinking about my family way back home. But I am very privileged that I have modern technology to reconnect with them with and a video call can’t transmit the virus.

MONINA: Generally speaking, we all know that Pinoys are flexible, resilient and tech savvy. I suppose that all Pinoys are thriving well socially speaking, even if they have to socialise via social media/phone/chats.

I think one thing that would be a challenge is for those who are working in essential services. I think that a huge proportion of Filipinos work in this area and they really have to be careful with how they carry on with their work, because they are exposed to the risk of getting COVID due to their work.

This means that they are also exposing their families to the risk of COVID because they have to get out of their ‘bubbles’ all the time.
Another risk that Pinoys have to face is the loss of income due to business closure or perhaps from losing a job. In these instances I suppose that our kababayan here in NZ may need some support from the government if they belong in this category.

How has Covid-19 impacted your profession and work?

KRISTINE: The current Covid-19 pandemic changed our lives as healthcare professionals. Other workers are staying at home, but we need to stay outside in order to help other people, especially the sick ones.

It has a huge impact, especially when you are going to work using public transport and there are times that some people will discriminate against you and others will highly respect you.

Each day I wake up I’m thanking the Lord for being alive so that I can serve the people again.

I know that it is a difficult part for us as health workers as we are the front-liners. Since NZ announced the lockdown the biggest worries for me are how to go to work and how to go home safely with limited time on public transport.

MONINA: Covid-19 has been a huge challenge to the nursing profession because of the risk of exposure and the demand for them to cover for other colleagues when they have to self-isolate or when they are sick.

The biggest challenge?

KRISTINE: The challenge for ourselves and our kabayan is to not to make us feel discriminated against. We don’t have the virus. We are taking care of ourselves and please during the lockdown stay home for us as we stay at work for everyone. Please be kind in the midst of the crisis. Let us not be selfish. Let us offer our help to our fellow kababayan.

The craziest or most inspiring story about your job since the lockdown?

KRISTINE: The craziest story I’ve heard since the lockdown began is about people who try to avoid you because they think that you are carrying the virus, but in fact you follow stricter safety measures compared to anyone else.

But the most inspiring story I’ve seen is when people in the hospital like me try our best to cope with the stress with diversional activities like having a good sense of humour.