Merycel Morales, of Neepawa, visited the Philippines in May and returned earlier this month.SUBMITTED

Original Published on Jun 29, 2022 at 13:53

By Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

After years apart due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Westman Filipinos are returning to their homeland for a long-awaited visit.

By the time the pandemic had made itself known in Canada, with the first wave beginning at the end of January 2020, the Philippines had also reported its first suspected case of the disease.

In the weeks, months and years that followed, people from both countries had to adapt to living in a pandemic. Manitobans dealt with school closures and hospitals operating over capacity. Meanwhile, amid community-wide lockdowns in the Philippines, Typhoon Vongfong led to tens of thousands of people being locked out of their homes in Samar Island, making evacuation more difficult.

Once the pandemic finally began to wind down in recent months, it’s no wonder countless Filipino-Canadians were eager to visit their ancestral home. Connections with loved ones, which were such an integral part of getting through the pandemic for many, prove extra difficult when families are separated by 11,000 kilometres.

For Elma Verano, a Filipina mother and grandmother who lives in Neepawa, seeing her family for the first time since 2017 was worth all the hassle of travelling under new pandemic-era guidelines.

“I had to prepare a lot before my travel. I had to do an antigen test before my flight. There’s an app that you download to be able to go to the Philippines where you enter the result of the test and your immunization record,” Verano said.

“I got to eat all the food that I missed and meet up with family, relatives and friends. I visited the graves of my dead family members, and I visited the beach almost every day.”

Merycel Ramirez, another Neepawa resident who works at HyLife Foods LP, landed in the Philippines on May 20 and arrived back in Canada on June 15. She said she noticed a change in the way things are done in her country of birth, from greater reliance on online shopping, to schools using virtual classrooms in the education sector. A lot of people are still working from home.

Returning to the Philippines was bittersweet for Ramirez. “For me, I was so grateful to be in Canada during the time of the pandemic, because I knew we were safe here in terms of medical assistance. But I felt sad for my family, who got sick in the Philippines.”

It’s a sentiment that Mary Rose Camposano, who works for Prairie Mountain Health, can relate to. Camposano landed in Canada in 2019, and had no plans to travel back to her home province of Cavite, Philippines. When her father became ill with Stage 4 colon cancer, her plans changed and she flew back to her former home in December to be with her family over the holidays. When she was there, she saw the way people in the country were struggling due to the pandemic.

“The Philippines is a Third World country. Many people lost their jobs … Goods like fuel for transportation and lots of things are getting pricey and expensive.”

It was stressful to be in Canada and worry about how her family was faring overseas, Camposano explained, but she was happy that the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) meant she was able to help her family as much as she could.

“In this pandemic, you’re always thinking of your family back home,” she said. “I was able to help my family by sending them money or purchasing online groceries to deliver to them, such as rice, canned goods or basic commodities, which they also shared with some of our neighbours.”

Camposano also prayed often and tried to focus on the good things in her life, which helped her mental health during the pandemic. Now, she said, things are slowly getting back to normal in the Philippines.

“We just needed to wear a mask in the plane and in some places like the hospital or any other medical facilities.”

The Canadian government advises that COVID-19 preventative measures and restrictions are still in effect in some places in the country, including curfews, movement restrictions or lockdowns, mandatory mask use, required proof of vaccination or a COVID-19 test to access public and private services and spaces.

The government also warns travellers to the Philippines that they may be subject to entry or exit bans, quarantines, suspensions or reductions of international transportation options.

This item reprinted with permission from The Sun, Brandon, Manitoba