Caring for the world

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Caring for the world

Three workers from the Philippines, Trinidad and Tobago, and Zimbabwe tell their stories. They talk about Covid-19, ways to make enough money to live, and more.


Finding a job at home

Ryan Lianko has been a nurse for 16 years. Now he is 38 years old. He dreamt of working abroad, maybe in the US or Europe, after he graduated in 2003. Millions of Filipinos have this dream. The Philippine Overseas Employment Agency says almost 19,000 nurses leave the country every year.

But emigrating isn’t cheap, particularly with all the tests and procedures you need. So Lianko found a job in infectious diseases in the Philippine Children’s Medical Centre (PCMC). It is a state hospital and the country’s best children’s hospital.

‘I really like children 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 nappies 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. It has 23-beds with usually about 18 patients every day. It is one of the most important jobs of his career.

The biggest problem of Covid-19 for Lianko is that the sick children can’t be with their parents or guardians. They are not allowed on the ward.

‘You have to be their mother, father, brother. There’s nobody there for them, only me and my staff,’ says Lianko. He 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 don’t give up, so how can I? We tell ourselves, “fight on”.’

For Lianko, the stress and the fatigue go away when a patient gets better. He always goes to the hospital for the days when patients leave and even if he is not on duty. These are big celebrations and everyone is usually there to say goodbye to the child.

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

Iris Gonzales interviewed Ryan Lianko.

The secret way domestic workers make some money

Lena (not her real name) is a live-in nanny to a nurse in Vainona, a middle-class suburb of Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. She has looked after her employer’s household for 13 months without any pay. ‘Madam can’t pay my US$20 salary because hers is only $80. I understand, but I want to buy a winter jacket too,’ she says.

Lena’s situation tells us something about the lives of Zimbabwe’s domestic workers. Like Lena, life is difficult for them in an economy with 778.4 per-cent inflation. It is usual now for workers not to receive pay from employers.

‘I’m 17, nearly 18. I should be in school, not bottle-feeding children or cleaning cupboards for no pay,’ says Lena.

‘The company that my madam works for does not have enough money to pay her well,’ Lena says. ‘It gives her 120 GB of home wifi each month. From her $80 wages she surely can’t pay me without risking hunger herself.’

It is from the wifi that domestic workers like Lena have found a clever way to make some money. ‘We now sell our employers’ home wifi passwords every day when they are away,’ Lena says. Her friend Melania is also a live-in help and sells wifi passwords.

‘When our madams drive to work each morning, teenagers come to our gates in our home wifi range,’ Lena says. ‘The boys pay $0.50 for a day’s connection to high-speed wifi. I make about $40 a month from wifi sales. This is my lifeline, in the place of my pay.’

Lena finds working without pay and selling wifi passwords humiliating. But she hopes she will get her pay in the end. ‘I’m an orphan; if I leave madam’s household, I’ll be on the streets. When life gets normal, she’ll give me the pay she owes me from before.’

Audrey Simango interviewed Lena.


‘Our clients always value us

Paula Mendoza has been a geriatric nurse in Trinidad and Tobago for over 10 years. In 2015, she decided to open her own house to the elderly. It started with one client but today Paula owns a care home in the north of Trinidad for over 20 elderly people.

In her career as a nurse and a caregiver Mendoza says she has always known the value of her job. And she is happy that others also see the value of her job now. ‘Now people respect what I do, clients and co-workers,’ she says. ‘They understand that it is a lot of work.’ But not everyone sees how much money her job is worth. ‘People don’t understand the cost of it,’ she says.

Mendoza now understands the expense involved in running a care home since she became a care-home owner. For her the most important thing is to create a real home for her clients, including employing long-term and good caregivers. ‘If clients see different people coming to care for them, it makes them feel like they are in a hospital. But it isn’t a hospital, it’s their home,’ she says.

A large part of Mendoza’s budget goes on salaries for her 10 employees. They 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). This 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 important and it makes her job easier. It gives her more time to be with her family, and keeps the residents happy. ‘The thanks we get from our clients is more than the money the family pays.’

Jada Steuart interviewed Paula Mendoza.


(This article is in easier English so it is possible that we changed the words, the text structure, and the quotes.)