Restrictions have now been eased across the UK and many of us have now started to enjoy the things we missed during the lockdown: visit family, meet friends, go shopping and eat out. As we slowly begin another phase of this pandemic in 2021, Tinig UK wanted to gain an insight to the experiences of Filipinos on what the past year has been like for them. We were particularly interested to hear about the brighter side of things in spite of the anxiety, chaos and grief that this pandemic has brought upon all of us.
Nelson Turgo, Tinig UK contributor and a researcher at Cardiff University, spoke to a young mum, a hotel room service manager and an operating room nurse to ask how they coped with the lockdown in the last 12 months.
Rinna Puno-Levett is a mum to two young boys aged 3 and a half and 4 months. She used to work as a teacher before becoming a fulltime mum to raise her young children. She lives in Reading with her family.
Arwin Bunac arrived in the UK in 2015 to work as a nurse with the NHS. After a stressful time working in the intensive therapy unit (ITU) and operating room during the pandemic, he has now left the NHS and currently works for a private healthcare provider.
Dennis Dimaculangan is a hotel room service manager for a boutique hotel. He has been in the UK since 2004 and lives in London with his wife, Amy, who works as a nurse for the NHS.
Dennis: Starting a YouTube channel while on furlough
Dennis was put on furlough by the hotel he was working for. Hotels were among the businesses which had to close when Covid hit the UK last year. The furlough scheme was set in place by the government to allow employers to keep their staff, even when lockdown means there’s nothing for them to do.
As his furlough was extended a couple of times since March, “I realised I think I should achieve something cos kung hindi, ma realise mo pagdating ng mga taon…’Ano ang na achieve ko?’
Tapping into his creative side, he started his own Youtube channel: Britangueno in London! Originally from Batangas in south Luzon, Philippines, Dennis gets into his Batangueno accent to introduce Filipino viewers to interesting places in and around London.
Arwin: Singing away the stress of hospital work
Arwin was deployed in Covid wards at the very start of the pandemic. This left him physically and emotionally drained when the pandemic reached its height in 2020. To cope with the stresses of his work, he decided to join the award-winning Haraya Choir, a Filipino choir.
“I like music, I’m into singing before so I joined a choir in the UK. It’s a Filipino choir, it’s called Haraya Choir. I found new connections cos most of the members are Filipinos and we are mostly healthcare workers…You do something you’re passionate about kahit naman there’s a pandemic happening, you should still do something you’re happy doing para naman ma-ignite yung sense mo on a very depressing time.”
Rinna: Caring for her kids and an elderly neighbour
Rinna’s next door neighbour is an elderly lady in her 70s who lives alone with a 14-year-old dog. She immediately thought of her and how she was going to cope with the situation.
“I wrote her a card and posted it through her door to say, ‘If you need anything at all, let us help you…for instance, we could walk your dog Jake’ kasi she…walks with a cane.”
But walking her neighbour’s door was in turn a favour for her young son, Leonardo, who could no longer meet up with friends and go to his toddler classes. It gave him a chance to go out and interact with a furry friend which kept him going for months!
What positive things came out of Covid for you?
I learned to simplify my life
“Kung dati magba-bus ka, isipin ko lalakarin ko na lang to save me from using my bus pass,” Dennis shares. He added that he makes sure not to waste food by using up the food in the fridge.
Arwin takes the same view, reflecting that you begin not to take for granted basic items like loo roll, rice or pasta, which have been restricted by shops during the peak of the lockdown.
“Yung little things, akala mo they’re always there but at some point, they won’t be there for you. So you have to be thrifty, you have to be wise even if little things lang yan,” he adds.
Dennis also organised one weekend for a family variety show! “Nagpa-games ako, nagpa Tik-tok challenge ako. Para syang little variety show ng pamilya.”
Grateful for life, for good health
“Many times when..pagka may desperate feeling…there is no reason to complain. We are alive and God has been very, very gracious. As long as we are alive and we are healthy, we can get through this,” Rinna says.
She is also grateful for all NHS staff who have been “extra sweet” to her whenever she and her boys went for a medical appointment. But she admits that when they needed to bring her baby to the A&E because of a cold and a temperature, she was so grateful to have been assigned to a Filipino nurse!
“Girl sya na ma-chika! It was like a fountain in the middle of the desert.” She met two or three more Filipino nurses during her hospital visits and says “I’m very grateful for their presence in the UK…They have been very, very sweet.” But she acknowledges that everyone in the NHS has been great.
Most important lesson out of Covid
“Nothing is forever. No one is untouchable and anything can happen to everyone,” says Dennis.
For Arwin, “Your greatest wealth is your health. Look after yourself. Be close to your family and the people you love because nothing is permanent in this world.”
Rinna says, “To find your happiness, it needs to be intentional – you don’t wait for it to happen.”
Huge thanks to our panellists for sharing their time and their stories. As Nelson has summed at the end of the interview, “The pandemic has taught us many things. Indeed, life is fleeting but it is also gloriously wonderful. And we should come out of this experience more convinced of the beauty of life – no matter what.”