MY 1ST ARTICLE IN THE TORONTO STAR

by alex

Juanas body is welcomed home by family and Migrante International

Juana's body is welcomed home by family and Migrante International

I had my first article printed in the Toronto Star while on this trip about the homecoming of the body of deceased Filipina caregiver Juana Tejada.  Sadly they didn’t print my photo, but it was all quite a learning experience.

I’ve had photos in the Star before but never an article.  Once I considered being a print journalist but all the interviewing drove me nuts.  I prefer to be in the field.  That said this experience has kindof reawakened that desire, but now with better knowledge of how I want to pursue it.

I’m not a fan of the 3rd person, illusion of bias-ness.  I know we all have inherent biases, and I like to think mine are quite clear.  This particular piece had to be in that third person, in the future I’d like to write more in the style I write my blog entries.

I’m thankful for the opportunity had in this trip with Kilusan to realise that I have strong opinions, and that I want to share them with whomever will listen.

I am reprinting the printed and original article below with the photos so you can see how it was edited.  They did a good job, though I wish they could have left in the information about Migrante (as they do really good work) and about the number of migrant workers that return dead every day (4 to 10).

I hope you’ll be hearing more from me in the future.

[*note: sorry about not being able to post as much lately.  I don’t have as accessible internet at the moment and have been doing alot of family rounds so my time is less.  Trust however, that I’ve got quite a bit to share in the near future…]

*   *   *

A ‘Strong Spirit’ Returns Home

by alex felipe, Special to the Star (21 Mar 2009)

MANILA – After six years, Juana Tejada finally made her long-dreamed-of-return to the Philippines yesterday afternoon.

But instead of walking into the arms of her parents, Tejada’s family watched as a forklift delivered her body, in a cardboard box, from a warehouse at the Manila airport. The nanny who became a foreign workers’ advocate died of cancer in Toronto on March 8.

That weekend, Tejada and her husband, Noli Azada, had booked a flight to the Philippines so Tejada, 39, could see her family one more time. Instead, she was admitted to the intensive care unit at Toronto General Hospital where she died.

The nanny’s other wish she didn’t live to see realized was to have Canada’s Live-in Caregiver Program changed to serve justice for the many foreign nannies trying to earn permanent resident status.

Tejada came to Canada in 2003 through the program, which grants permanent resident status to foreign domestic workers after they complete three-year assignments and obtain medical and criminal record clearances.

She was diagnosed with colon cancer when she applied for permanent residence in 2006 and was ordered deported because she was deemed a health burden.

She later won an appeal, got her permanent residence status last year and lobbied to change the two-step medical exam required for caregivers. Under the program, a caregiver has to pass a medical test to come to Canada and another when applying for immigration.

Her supporters are asking the government to exempt caregivers from the second test. This proposed amendment has been named after her, the “Juana Tejada Law.”

Joining Tejada’s body on the flight was her youngest sister, Berna Salonga, who is also a caregiver. They were met at the airport by her father, Benjamin Tejada, and her elder brother, Pedro.

Azada described his wife as a woman who “never complained about her illness. Even though my wife is dead, her memory still lives. She was able to help so many other caregivers by speaking out.”

Her father, a 65-year-old farmer from Abra province, held back tears while waiting at the airport.

“It’s been so long since I saw her,” he said. “She went abroad to help her family because life is so difficult here.”

He last spoke to her in early March, he said. “We talked about her coming home for a vacation, she was so excited, and we were so excited.”

Tejada had returned to the Philippines in 2003 after eight years working as a domestic worker in Hong Kong, but she stayed only a matter of weeks before leaving for Canada to work as a caregiver.

Her father spoke about the deep sadness this caused him and his wife Carmen, who waits in Abra.

“She is at least thankful that we will finally see her, even if only her body. We never thought we would ever see her again because she was always so far away.”

Her brother spoke of her as a family hero.

“Our sister will always be in our hearts,” he said. “She was kind and always had good advice for us. We cannot forget her, she’s our idol. She had a strong fighting spirit, and we hope that her death will have meaning.”

A gathering of family, warehouse workers, media and nanny-advocates prayed and sang at the airport.

Tejada is to be buried in her hometown of La Paz next week.

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©2009 alex felipe
All Rights Reserved.

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***The article as originally written below:

Juana Tejada and her husband Noli Azada had booked tickets to the Philippines this month to see her family after a nine year absence.  Her death to cancer on March 8th denied her that dream.  Instead of stepping off the plane to the arms of her long waiting parents, a cardboard box with her remains were fork-lifted out of a Manila airport warehouse yesterday afternoon.

Juana was the Filipina live-in caregiver that was twice denied permanent residency after being diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2006 despite having fulfilled contract requirements.  Her case was raised to a higher profile in 2008 with the support of Filipino-Canadian migrant organization Migrante-Ontario, and opposition MPs like Olivia Chow and Peggy Nash.

She won her permanent residency campaign in July 2008 and she continued to advocate for an amendment to the immigration law that would remove the requirement for a second medical exam for caregivers.  This proposed amendment has been named after her, the ‘Juana Tejada Law.’

Juana was accompanied to the Philippines from Canada by her husband and youngest sister Berna Salonga (who is also a caregiver).  They were met at the airport by her father Benjamin, and her elder brother Pedro.

Juana died on International Women’s Day, for Noli this was fitting for a woman who “never complained about her illness.  Even though my wife is dead her memory still lives, she was able to help so many other caregivers by speaking out.”

Benjamin Tejada, a 65 year old farmer from Abra Province held back tears while waiting for his daughter’s body to be brought out.  “It’s been so long since I saw her.  She went abroad to help her family because life is so difficult here. It’s only now that she is dead that we are meeting again.  It hurts, but what can we do.”

He last spoke to Juana in early March “we talked about her coming home for a vacation, she was so excited, and we were so excited.  But that day never came.”

Juana had returned to the Philippines in 2003 after eight years working as a domestic worker in Hong Kong, but she stayed only a matter of weeks before leaving for Canada to work as a caregiver.  Her father spoke about the deep sadness this caused him and his wife Carmen who waits in Abra.

“She is at least thankful that we will finally see her, even if only her body.  We never thought we would ever see her again because she was always so far away.”

Her brother spoke of her as a family hero, “our sister will always be in our hearts, she was kind and always had good advice for us.  We cannot forget her, she’s our idol. She had a strong fighting spirit, and [because of her work with caregivers in Canada] we hope that her death will have meaning.”

Immediately after the fork-lift brought out the plain white cardboard box that contained Juana’s body, a prayer and celebration of Juana’s life was led by Migrante-International, the Manila-based advocacy organization whose Ontario arm had helped Juana in Toronto.

Approximately four thousand Filipinos leave the Philippines every day to find work abroad.  According to studies by Migrante six to ten return daily in similar plain cardboard boxes, many due to unknown causes.

A gathering of family, warehouse workers, media, and members of Migrante prayed, sang, and spoke of her life and the struggle of Filipino migrants around the world.

Juana will be buried in her hometown of La Paz, Abra Province next week with her entire family in attendance.

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