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Keeping the world cared for


Finding a vocation on home soil

Ryan Lianko has been a registered nurse for 16 years. Now 38 years old, he had dreamt of working abroad, maybe in the US or Europe, after he graduated in 2003 – a dream shared by millions of Filipinos. Almost 19,000 nurses leave the country every year, according to the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency.

But emigrating isn’t cheap, particularly with all the required tests and procedures, so Lianko found a job in the communicable diseases section of the state-owned Philippine Children’s Medical Center (PCMC), the country’s premier children’s hospital.

‘I really like kids so I stayed. It’s a good community,’ he says.

Lianko doesn’t think too much about how others value his work. For him, a simple thank you from his patients is enough: ‘Not everyone can see that I myself change the diapers or bottle-feed the children, but that’s fine.’

At the time of writing, the Philippines is the country with the highest number of Covid-19 cases in Southeast Asia. Lianko is head nurse on PCMC’s Covid ward, a 23-bed section with an average daily count of 18 patients. It is one of the biggest responsibilities of his career.

The biggest daily challenge of the pandemic for Lianko is the fact that the sick children can’t be with their parents or guardians, who are not allowed on the ward. 

‘You have to be their mother, father, brother. There’s nobody there for them but me and my staff,’ says Lianko, who leads a team of 35 nurses. 

‘Our job isn’t easy, especially with Covid, but it is our responsibility so we need to do it and do it right. My staff, they don’t give up, so how can I? We tell ourselves, “fight on”.’ 

For Lianko, the stress and the fatigue vanish when a patient recovers and ‘graduates’. He always goes to the hospital for ‘graduation days’, even if he is not on duty. These are big celebrations and the whole ward is usually there to send off the child.

Nursing is more than a duty for Lianko; it’s a calling. He is glad he decided to stay and work in the Philippines, close to loved ones. ‘To each their own. I chose to stay, others chose to leave but that doesn’t mean they’re any less Filipino.’

Interviewed by Iris Gonzales 

The secret side hustle of domestic workers 

Lena* is a live-in nanny to a nurse in Vainona, a middle-class suburb of Harare. She has managed her employer’s household in Zimbabwe’s capital for 13 months without receiving any pay. ‘Madam can’t pay my US$20 salary because hers is just $80. I sympathize, but I want to buy a winter jacket too,’ she says.

Lena’s predicament offers a glimpse into the lives of Zimbabwe’s domestic workers who, like Lena, face a dire situation in an economy characterized by a whopping 778.4-per-cent rate of inflation. Not receiving agreed wages from employers has become the norm.

‘I’m 17, nearly 18. I should be in school, not bottle-feeding kids or oiling cupboards for no pay,’ says Lena, her eyelids flicking away dust raised by the fiery winter wind.

‘The company that my madam works for is too broke to pay her decent wages too,’ Lena explains. ‘It supplements her woeful wages with 120 GB of home wifi bandwidth each month. From her $80 wages she surely can’t pay me without risking hunger herself?’

It is from this absence of wages, but abundant wifi bundles, that domestic workers like Lena have found a crafty way of making an income. ‘We now resort to selling our employers’ home wifi passwords daily, in their absence. It’s a dog-eat-dog show,’ Lena reveals, batting away her friend Melania, who is also a live-in help and a wifi-password-hawker.

‘When our madams drive out to work each morning a bevy of teenagers will mill around our gates in the orbit of our home wifi range,’ Lena explains. ‘The boys pay $0.50 for a day’s connection to high-speed wifi. I pocket around $40 a month from underhand wifi sales. This is my lifeline, a replacement for my actual wages.’

Lena finds working without pay and surviving on wifi password poaching humiliating, but is hopeful that she will be paid eventually: ‘I’m an orphan; if I leave madam’s household, I’ll be on the pavement. When life gets normal she’ll give me my backdated wages.’

* Not her real name.

Interviewed by Audrey Simango

‘Our clients never underestimate our value’

Paula Mendoza has been a geriatric nurse in Trinidad and Tobago for over 10 years. In 2015, she decided to take her work home with her, quite literally, by opening her house to the elderly. It started off with one client but today Paula owns a compound in the north of Trinidad that is home to over 20 elderly people.

In her career as both a nurse and caregiver Mendoza says she has always known the inherent value of her job and is pleased that, compared to when she began her career, she now sees a greater appreciation from others. ‘Now people respect what I do, both clients and co-workers,’ she explains. ‘They understand that it is a lot of work.’ However, the monetary value of her job is still not recognized by all. ‘People don’t understand the cost of it,’ she comments.

Mendoza’s own understanding of the expense involved in running a care home has grown exponentially since becoming a care-home owner. Her priority has always been to create a home-like environment for her clients, including employing long-term and devoted caregivers. ‘If clients see different people coming to care for them it makes them feel like they are in a hospital which this isn’t, it’s their home,’ she explains.

A large portion of Mendoza’s budget goes on salaries for her 10 employees, who work shifts of up to 12 hours. Care workers usually earn an hourly rate of between TT$25 ($3.69) and TT$35 ($5.17), which is a little above Trinidad and Tobago’s minimum wage. Not all employers understand the need to pay the higher price. But Mendoza sees this investment in her team as an essential element that makes her job easier, allowing her to spend more time with her family, as well as keeping the residents happy. ‘The appreciation we get from our clients is more than the money the family pays.’

Interviewed by Jada Steuart

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