Bayani project shines spotlight on Filipino healthcare workers

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  • A storytelling project aims to highlight previously unheard stories about Filipino healthcare workers at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Called Bayani (Filipino word for ‘Hero’), the initiative is being undertaken amid a resurgence of coronavirus cases, prompting concerns about a new wave following months of decline in infections.

    Leading the endeavour is Filipino BC, a nonprofit engaged in education and information, lobbying and advocacy, and campaigns and political action for and on behalf of the Filipino community and broader society.

    Evidence suggests that Filipino Canadians were overrepresented in labour sectors deemed “essential” during the height of the pandemic, which started in 2020.

    These workers include nurses, nursing aides and orderlies, home support and community aides, and other workers, like cleaners, who secured the frontlines in the fight against COVID-19.

    In an initial round of video and audio interviews by Filipino BC, healthcare workers share stories of sacrifice and fortitude as they faced an uncertain fate in caring for people affected by COVID-19.

    However, the overrepresentation of Filipinos in the healthcare front exposed them, as well as their families, to greater risks during the pandemic, exacting a heavy toll on the community.

    Walter Lumamba is a registered nurse in B.C. and an advocate of diversity and inclusion.

    “We have been lauded as unsung heroes for our dedication, resiliency, sacrifices and commitment to our work and to our employers. We often work long hours, often without adequate personal protective equipment and we endure significant emotional and physical strain to care for our patients, especially during the pandemic,” Lumamba notes.

    Lumamba adds, “The toll with our Filipino healthcare community has been heavy, with many of us falling ill even have lost lives to COVID 19. And it has a profound impact on our families and communities, as we grapple with the personal and emotional toll of the pandemic.”

    Filipino BC interviews also reveal that race matters in connection with pandemic outcomes.

    Filipinos and other racialized communities face disproportionate and negative health consequences because of social inequities.

    Factors such as low incomes, underemployment, unsuitable housing, lack of education, limited access to various public services, and racism and discrimination render racialized communities more susceptible to pandemics.

    This situation reinforces the need identified by the B.C. provincial government when it established the Anti-Racism Data Committee under the Anti-Racism Data Act.

    The committee headed by Dr. June Francis is tasked with helping the province on initiatives to identify and eliminate systemic racism in the public sector.

    “The Bayani storytelling project is important, timely and emancipating,” Francis says.

    “These stories vividly portray the ways in which Filipino healthcare and hospital workers experienced disproportionate negative impacts during the COVID-19 pandemic despite how vital their skills and contributions have been to the health and wellbeing of British Columbians.

    “These stories illuminate more than any statistics can, the inequities in the system that left Filipino healthcare workers exposed to harm, many risking and losing their lives as they served others.

    “As chair of the B.C. Anti-Racism Data Committee, I believe this project illustrates the power of stories by and for racialized communities. These stories are invaluable if we are to fully understand and address systemic racism in many institutions, including healthcare workers inequities,” Francis says.

    Filipino BC chair Rafael “RJ” Aquino has long advocated for the collection of race-based data to help governments craft policies and formulate responses to developing situations.

    “It is so critical to have these firsthand accounts captured now along with the ongoing efforts to gather race-based data so we can learn and better appreciate the full impact of the pandemic on our community. It can be gut wrenching to witness these stories but it’s our collective responsibility to listen, honour and respond so we can continue to heal and get stronger as a community,” Aquino says.

    Bayani is the first installment of Filipino BC’s Kwentuhan, a series of oral history projects that will gather stories of and by Filipinos, documenting their hopes, challenges, and contributions to Canada. Kwentuhan translates to “sharing stories”.

    Award-winning filmmaker and producer Emir Kahn Bautista notes the importance of documenting narratives through various forms, such as documentaries.

    Bautista notes that the stories being compiled by the oral history project is a “reminder of the challenges and pain COVID-19 brought us”.

    “Today, new threats are coming. We need to take good care of ourselves, so we can take care of the community and our health care system,” Bautista states.

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