Jun 24, 2024

Poignant reminders of loved ones left behind are among those featured in the photo exhibit Matatag.

A photo exhibit created, researched, participated in and maintained by a group of Filipina nurses and health care workers opened at Toronto’s A Space Gallery Windows and runs until January 29, 2022.

Dubbed Matatag: Filipina Care Workers During COVID-19, the photo series documents the daily struggles of Filipina nurses, personal support workers, and in-home caregivers during COVID-19 pandemic.

Led by Dr. Ethel Tungohan, Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair of York University, the “Filipina Care Workers and COVID-19” research team worked with frontline care workers beginning in July 2020 in identifying their needs, concerns and aspirations amid the pandemic.

In an exclusive with Canadian Filipino Net (CFNet), Tungohan relates that during the early days of the pandemic in 2020, members of the non-profit group GABRIELA-Ontario noted an increase in the number of Filipino Canadian essential workers, particularly personal support workers and live-in caregivers, who were getting exposed to COVID-19.

“We also noticed that there were many newspaper accounts celebrating the heroism of medical professionals, which was great, but which we felt omitted the experiences of direct care workers,” Tungohan tells CFNet. “We wanted to develop a project that would allow women to express their feelings during the pandemic, and also that would give them the space to meet each other and act as each other’s support networks.” She praised the collective efforts of agencies like GABRIELA-Ontario and the Migrant Resource Centre Canada who provided resources for care workers who needed support.

Through kwentuhan (talk-story) sessions, 78 research participants highlight what it is like to navigate work, immigration processes, and family separation and reunification. Though lauded as heroes, the lived realities of Filipina care workers make a meaningful impact on Canadian labour and immigration policies that affect most Canadian Filipino immigrants.

In an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser and Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, the project and research team together the research participants outline their calls for action for the rights and protection for all care workers during and after COVID-19. The advocacy is joined by members of Migrant Resource Centre Canada, Migrante Canada, Migrant Rights Network, and Decent Work and Health Network.

The project’s partners hope that the policy recommendations outlined in the open letter could be considered by the government but if there was only one that would be prioritized, Tungohan said that they would ask government to “eliminate requirements such as IELTS (English Language Testing System) and credentialing requirements for in-home caregivers applying for permanent residency.” She adds, “We are in a time of a pandemic, when we need care workers more than ever, so it doesn’t serve Canada's interest to make it harder for care workers to get permanent residency.”

To sign the petition, go to Matatag’s website: https://filipinacareworkers.com/#act--mirror

A Space Gallery is located at 401 Richmond Street West (and Spadina Avenue) in downtown Toronto.

About the Author
Rachel Ramos-Reid started writing for magazines and newspapers when she was still a junior at the University of the Philippines’ Communication degree program majoring in Journalism. She continued to write in a public relations/corporate communications capacity in various private and government offices until moving out of the country in 1997 to work as Programme Officer for the arts and culture branch of the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO-SPAFA) in Bangkok, Thailand. At the end of her term, Rachel found herself immigrating to Canada in the year 2000 and again searching for new beginnings. Currently she is the Executive Assistant to the North Island College’s Board of Governors in a part-time capacity.

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