Members of the Filipino community in Waterford who are on the frontline in the battle against Covid-19 recently embarked on an impressive fundraising challenge
Waterford is fortunate to have a vibrant Filipino community whose members are making meaningful contributions to local life in a variety of ways.
There are around 300 Filipinos now living in Waterford. Some moved here directly from the Philippines while others were initially living in Dublin and other Irish locations before relocating to the Déise.
Most of the Filipinos based in Waterford know one other and have developed and nurtured a wonderful atmosphere of friendship and camaraderie.
In normal times, many activities are organised by the Waterford Filipino Irish Community (WFIC) which provides an important outlet for Filipinos living and working in the area, allowing them to regularly meet and interact with each other.
Members have been active participants in the Waterford St. Patrick’s Day Parade and have won plaudits for their enthusiastic participation. They have amassed numerous Special Commendations and, in 2019, were delighted to receive recognition for their efforts by being named Best Community Walking Entry.
They have staged events to mark Filipino Independence Day and have regularly interacted with fellow Filipinos living elsewhere in Ireland. Events have also been staged for occasions such as Christmas and Halloween. In fact, Filipinos living in Waterford seem to savour every opportunity to socialise and celebrate!
In January 2020, WFIC staged a basketball tournament in the Carrickpherish Community Sports Hub which was attended by different Filipino communities from throughout Ireland. Basketball is one of the most popular sports in the Philippines and similar successful tournaments have been staged in Waterford in the past.
Last year’s event once again showcased sumptuous Filipino food lovingly prepared by the WFIC members. They received hugely positive feedback after the event from their fellow Filipino visitors who were looking forward to future visits to Waterford for upcoming events.
Unfortunately, the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic scuppered the 2020 plans of WFIC. The pandemic has also presented additional challenges given that the majority of Filipinos living in Waterford work in healthcare. Since March 2020, they have been playing an important role in Waterford’s frontline fight against Covid-19.
Like their fellow frontline workers at University Hospital Waterford (UHW), Filipino staff members have faced many daily challenges. Despite their daunting workload, an enthusiastic group decided to set themselves a further challenge by embarking on an impressive fundraiser for the Mater Foundation to raise funds for life saving equipment and ground-breaking medical research.
The Mater’s ‘100 Miles in a Month’ initiative challenges participants to complete 100 miles in a month. Some of Waterford’s Filipino frontline staff completed the challenge during February and received their medals earlier this month.
All the participants are grateful for the donations they received as part of this fundraiser which proved to be a welcome distraction amid a hugely challenging working life.
In March 2020, after completing a 10 mile run in the Dunhill/Fenor area as part of her second ‘100 Miles in a Month’ challenge, UHW nurse Lora Kiram received a phone call to inform her that one of her patients had tested positive for Covid-19.
Lora, who has worked at UHW for 13 years, described this as “a shocking moment”. At the time there was huge concern and uncertainty in relation to Covid-19 which medical staff were still learning about. As frontline staff grappled to deal with an evolving situation, there was also a global scramble to source suitable personal protective equipment (PPE).
“I got the news that I had to self-isolate and, in a way, I had half expected it would happen,” says Lora. “It’s so hard to accept when you are in that situation, especially when you have family and kids at home. Thank God I didn’t contract the virus and I returned to work after two weeks.”
Lora’s ward was initially dealing with all Covid-19 patients but UHW was then able to utilise the newly built Dunmore Wing which proved fortunate for all in Waterford.
While she acknowledges that many people are feeling distressed by the prolonged lockdown and ongoing restrictions, Lora asks that people contemplate the situations of frontline staff who have been dealing directly with Covid-19 patients since March.
Has answering the call of duty during Covid-19 been a rewarding experience for Lora?
“101 percent!” she replies. “When someone is in difficulty, and you’ve managed to help and carry out your duties and see them recover, there is a mixture of adrenaline and dopamine – a feeling of delight.”
Lora enjoys running and walking as a means of destressing and says she was delighted to support the ‘100 Miles in a Month’ initiative by taking part this year for the third time. She also encouraged other fellow Filipino frontline workers to get involved in the endeavor.
“I am not only clearing my mind, maintaining good health and fitness, but on top of that I’m also helping to raise funds for a good cause,” she says.
Lora is grateful to have received her Covid-19 vaccine and, while she welcomes the wider rollout of the vaccine, she would also like to see people take more responsibility for their overall health. She is passionate about promoting the importance of good food and exercise.
“Surely we shouldn’t be just relying on the vaccine?” says Lora. “We should also be investing in looking after our health in general. So please go out for a walk or a run (with precautions) and eat healthy food.”
Nurse Jericho Saril, who has worked at UHW for four years, also believes that his involvement with the Mater’s ‘100 Miles in a Month’ challenge has been beneficial for dealing with his daily workload. He agrees with Lora about the importance of maintaining good overall health.
“Ever since the Covid-19 pandemic swept over Ireland, frontline workers have found it tough to deal with the stress brought about by working in the medical field. Working in a Covid ward has made me realise the importance of maintaining good health and mental and physical fitness,” he says.
“On my days off, and having experienced self-isolation, I decided to pick a few productive hobbies including learning to play the bass guitar. The inspiration to play the bass guitar came from listening to music while self-isolating. I searched YouTube tutorial videos on how to play and ordered a guitar online. By then I had picked up a few songs but I needed to know more about playing it which I considered a challenge.”
With lockdown in full effect, Jericho also started running within his 5km radius.
“I started off doing 5km and then gradually increased to 10km,” he explains. “I was managing 10km well so I pushed further to reach my present limit of 16km a day.”
Jericho says the ‘100 Miles in a Month’ challenge provided great motivation.
“It was tough going with all sorts of weather from rain and snow to sun but I was able to push myself to reach my goal,” he says.
Claudine Clavo, a nurse at UHW for more than three years, also feels a huge sense of achievement at having completed the ‘100 Miles in a Month’ challenge. She describes her life during the pandemic as resembling “a rollercoaster ride”.
“You face a great deal of physical and emotional exhaustion. Living the usual ‘normal’ life feels like a distant memory,” she explains.
Claudine was upset at being unable to visit her parents in the Philippines. She admits she experienced some mental challenges throughout the pandemic, especially during the winter months.
“But I realised that I am much stronger than this and I can do something about it,” she says. “I leaned on exercise, learning how to cook and eating good food, reading books, watching series and catching up with loved ones. Patients who are sick and vulnerable need me as their nurse and it’s my responsibility to act as their advocate as they can’t see and spend time with their own loved ones. It’s hard to be their guiding light if I can’t look after my own mental health which is why it takes much conscious effort to not allow yourself fall apart.”
Claudine admits her work can be difficult but says it all pays off when she sees a sick patient getting better and eventually being discharged.
“We don’t get a lot of ‘thank yous’ everyday, but knowing how patients depend on us is already enough and it makes a whole lot of difference,” she says.
The most recent ‘100 Miles in a Month’ fundraiser was the second time biomedical engineer James Sedicol embarked on the challenge.
“In times like this you need to help yourself first so you have the capacity, physically and mentally, to help others,” he says. “This fundraiser is an excellent example of where you help both yourself and others at the same time.”
James, who is the son of a senior UHW Filipino nurse, describes the support, encouragement and motivation from others throughout the country on the specially established Facebook group page as “outstanding”. He says the “friendly competition” amongst their local group helped as well.
This was also the second ‘100 Miles in a Month’ challenge for Carol Anne Dela Cruz.
“This time was a little more challenging because of the weather,” she says. “But we survived and got there in the end.”
Anne, who is training to be a nurse, recently commenced her night duty as an intern so she had to devise a routine which would accommodate her running schedule.
“Running was worth my time as I knew it was for a good cause,” she says. “It was helping me both physically and mentally as it was getting me out and about as well as getting my mind off the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Anne says the support from members of the Facebook group and her fellow runners in their own group was a great help and made a huge difference throughout the challenge.
“My supporters who donated also kept me motivated and I knew I couldn’t let them down!” she says. “I’m looking forward to the next challenge and I’m truly grateful for having this recent challenge.”
Within the Filipino community in Waterford, it’s clear that there is a huge sense of solidarity and support. This circle of friendship provides peace of mind especially during these challenging times.
Officers with the Waterford Filipino Irish Community are regularly in contact with the Philippine consulate in Dublin which is led by Honorary Consul Raymond Christopher Garrett. The consulate office has set up a phone line for anyone who would like to talk about issues of concern during this difficult time.
Lora’s husband Don is the photo and video (media) coordinator/organiser for WFIC and also a senior nurse in UHW. He says some members of the community have suffered bereavements and have been unable to be with their family members in the Philippines due to travel restrictions.
“It’s difficult for them because they’re far away but we know what we’ve signed up for to live in this land of greener pastures,” he says.
“Although our consular office is doing their utmost to help, there are still difficulties in renewing physical Philippine passports as the main office in London is also having backlogs. We are all lobbying for our own Philippine embassy here in Ireland so it would be easier for all Filipinos to process this type of issue.”
Lifestyle vloggers Don and Lora manage an entertaining YouTube channel (‘Mister and Missis –K’) where they post videos of their travel and life experiences. Their genuine love of Waterford and Ireland is clearly evident as is their upbeat attitude to life.
In general, Don says all at WFIC remain positive and all are looking forward to reaching “light at the end of the tunnel” with the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccines to the wider public.
“We are fortunate that we got to go to the Philippines in 2019,” adds Lora. “Perhaps we’ll be back again when things go well in the near future…yes, I’m being optimistic! Stay safe everyone.”
Cllr Eddie Mulligan (FF), who has been a huge supporter of the Waterford Filipino Irish Community, praised the contributions of its members, especially the frontline workers.
“The Filipino community here in Waterford are so proud of their adoptive home and we are so proud of the huge positive contribution they make to our communities,” he says.
“So many of them are dedicated frontline workers during this Covid crisis, contributing to keeping us all healthy, safe and well during the pandemic. This is made possible with how close knit and caring they are as a community. They make a huge contribution to Waterford communities in so many ways and a huge well done to them all on a fantastic fundraiser during difficult times for the Mater Hospital too.”
It’s clear that all of these inspirational Filipino frontline workers have huge enthusiasm for their work and possess the ability to display care and compassion even in the most difficult of circumstances.
All of us here in Waterford can certainly be grateful that we have people of the calibre of these fundraising Filipino frontline friends who love their life in the Déise and are keen to continue their admirable efforts in the ongoing fight against Covid-19.
Their successful integration into all aspects of local life is truly inspirational and a wonderful example of what can be achieved by other communities.
To donate to the Mater Foundation visit www.materfoundation.ie