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In Canada, Filipinos worry about relatives back home

A Filipino man uses a shovel to clean up mud inside St. Joseph Parish church, which was badly damaged by Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban, Philippines, Monday, Nov. 18, 2013.

Dita Alangkara/AP

Every morning for the past week, Nilda Lamoridan would take her employer's children to school and then hurry home to watch the latest news from the Philippines.

For days, she scanned the images, looking at bodies, peering at those on foot or searching for food and water, wondering if that might be her own daughter, Maybelle. She was too anxious to sleep. Her daughter lives just outside Tacloban, the coastal city that was nearly wiped away by Typhoon Haiyan. The last she heard from her was an exchange of text messages before the storm's 300-kilometre-per-hour winds whipped through the area on Friday, Nov 8. Finally, she persuaded a cousin to brave a treacherous six-hour journey by motorcycle to find out if her only child is still alive.

Ms. Lamoridan works as a live-in caregiver in Toronto. She is employed by a middle-class family and helps raise their children. Like many other Filipina women in Canada, she came here alone, leaving her daughter in the Philippines to be raised by a cousin. She describes it as a painful choice. It's like a wound that never really heals, she said. While being so far from her daughter makes her anxious even in good times, it's almost unbearable at a moment of crisis.

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"It's like watching while they're drowning. It's so far away. What can you do? You can only pray," Ms. Lamoridan says. "It's helpless."

The Philippines is now Canada's largest source of immigrants. Somewhere between a quarter and a third of Filipinos in Canada come either as caregivers or their dependents, according to geographer Philip Kelly of York University (just 44 per cent of Filipino Canadians are male). There is significant demand for their labour. As an aging society with uneven access to daycare, there are a great many families and communities that need caregivers. And the Philippines produces them. It encourages its young graduates to go abroad, hailing them as heroes and building training academies and recruitment agencies to facilitate migration. The remittances they send back every year, including $2-billion from Canada, are the equivalent of 10 per cent of the national GDP. Every family needs at least one foreign worker just to bear local prices for education and real estate, Prof. Kelly said. But the consequences are borne by the children left behind. They usually live without a mother until their teen years. When the children eventually arrive in Canada, they tend to show lower levels of academic achievement than the children of other immigrant groups, Prof. Kelly said, as well as enduring other adjustment struggles.

Ms. Lamoridan's experience is common to many Filipina women in Canada. After graduation, she couldn't find work that suited her qualifications. She got a job at an orphanage in Manila and then at a pineapple processing plant, earning $3 a day.

"I needed to go find money to feed ourselves," she said.

In 2002, unmarried and with a seven-year-old daughter, she left for Hong Kong on her own. She worked there as a nanny until 2009, when she came to Canada. She sends her earnings home to support her sister and her daughter, whom she sees once every two years, typically for a month. It has been that way for 11 years. This year, Maybelle graduated from high school. The plan is to bring her to Canada once Ms. Lamoridan receives permanent residency, but her application, like thousands of others, has been mired in backlogs and delays.

The children she cares for in Toronto are like family to her. They call her Tita and rush into her bedroom to wake her in the morning. They don't know much about the tragedy that has hit her home country, she said. She tried to hide her anxiety as she waited for news of her daughter. The reports said thousands were killed around Tacloban.

"My boss, he cried. When he looks at me I can see his eyes and he wants to cry and I don't want to cry in front of him," she said. "When I'm alone and the kids are at school I look at the news. Then I burst out," she said.

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Her cousin finally returned from his 12-hour journey to the area Tuesday morning with news that her daughter had survived, as had the cousin who looks after her. They were wet and hungry. Their house has been destroyed, the roof torn to pieces, their food gone. But they are alive, she said. She still hasn't spoken to her daughter, but she feels a sense of relief.

Now she's hoping to get her to Canada before the situation gets any worse. Canada has promised to fast track some visa applications from those areas hardest hit. It's not clear what that will mean for someone in her situation, still waiting for her mother's application to be processed.

Arlie Hochschild, a sociologist at the University of California, Berkeley who has studied what she calls the global chain of care, said governments should address the impact of the current system on the children of caregivers.

"If we want their labour, we should permit them to bring their children," Prof. Hochschild said.

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About the Author
Demographics Reporter

Joe Friesen writes about immigration, population, culture and politics. He was previously the Globe's Prairie bureau chief. More


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