The grueling life of a Filipino immigrant in the U.K., creating a pathway for her children

In a foreign land, I struggled for months to find a house for us. A family of four, nothing suited my budget. When I finally secured an unfurnished property, I slowly began acquiring basic necessities, appliances, and furniture. Weeks passed with barely a bed to sleep on.

  • 1 year ago
  • March 9, 2023
5 min read
Kara Mallonga, a mother of three, with her two youngest children. Kara Mallonga, a mother of three, with her two youngest children. | Photo courtesy of Kara Mallonga
Kara Mallonga is a registered nurse and a midwife. She gained a post-graduate Critical Care Certificate from the University of the Philippines General Hospital in 2010 and acquired her Occupational Health and Safety Practitioner qualification in 2017.
It was very difficult to make ends meet with a healthcare workers’ salary in the Philippines. She graduated at a time when hospitals actually made you pay to get work experience. She immigrated to the U.K., leaving her children temporarily behind, to create a better life for them. Eventually they joined her in England.
In the UK alone, more than 18,000 Filipinos are said to be working for the National Health Service (NHS). One study found that the Philippines also provides more nurses and clinical support staff than any other country outside the UK. The Philippines tried to cap the exit of its nurses in 2021, but the cap didn’t last long and was lifted.

ENGLAND, United Kingdom — For years, I struggled to make ends meet in the Philippines. After my partner and I got separated in 2019, we faced constant financial difficulties. I worked as a nurse but barely made enough to sustain us. I needed a solution. When I moved to the United Kingdom in search of a better life I went first, leaving my kids with their grandmother. With plans to send for them, the Covid-19 Pandemic struck with ferocity. I found myself separated from my children for far too long.  

Without my children, a piece of me vanished

Leaving my children behind tore at my heart every day. I knew I had no choice if we wanted a better life, but I felt like a piece of me vanished. The COVID-19 Pandemic only worsened these feelings. As parents, we make sacrifices for our children and my sacrifice was to leave them temporarily. We could not sustain the constant stress of poverty in the Philippines.

I felt my only remaining option was to move abroad and send money back to them. A fear nagged away at me. “Will they grow up resenting me,” I wondered. “Will they feel as though I abandoned them?” The idea that my choice could turn us into strangers and destroy our bond forever terrorized me.

Read more stories from the Philippines at Orato World News

Healthcare in the Philippines remains privatized, so we pay for everything. Yet, hospital nurses earn close to nothing. At one point, the government even suggested we work for free as volunteers during the pandemic, despite the risks we faced. As I searched for solutions, many people advised me to go abroad. It became apparent I could not make it as a single mother in the Philippines.

Countries everywhere experienced a shortage of medical aid during the Pandemic, and I had an opportunity to do my part while also putting food on the table. The decision to walk away proved the hardest one I ever made. Helpless and heartbroken, I prayed every single day for my children’s safety and called every time I could. I knew my mother took good care of them, but the worry tormented me.

As an immigrant, I slept in an empty apartment, sending money back home

Months before my flight to the U.K., I did my best to explain the situation to my children. I needed to go first and raise enough money to find us a home. I repeated that sentence constantly to reassure them. Though I intended to leave in 2020, I delayed the trip a year because I could not pull myself away from my kids. When I finally left, every single day, the tears streamed down my face. I ached to hold my babies. Before the departure, I worked extra shifts, slaving away to make sure I had a nest egg for the U.K.

In a foreign land, I struggled for months to find a house for us. A family of four, nothing suited my budget. When I finally secured an unfurnished property, I slowly began acquiring basic necessities, appliances, and furniture. Weeks passed with barely a bed to sleep on. Alone in a strange place without my kids, I soon felt the pain of my unprocessed trauma. My last relationships caused great harm and fatigue set in as the pain came back in volumes. I worked to distract myself.

As my paychecks arrived, I sent money home to my children in the Philippines, while saving some for future flights, rent, and necessities. The pressure of sustaining two households on one job by myself carried immense weight. Every day, I struggled through my responsibilities. With a thousand things to do every day, I found myself always out of time.

When my son walked out of the airport, I could not believe my eyes 

Particular challenges arose at that time, being a nurse in the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic. The staff tried to keep up with the workload the best we could, but it piled up. I had to adjust to the British Nursing Standards, which boasts a more collaborative approach toward patient care. In the Philippines, as nurses, we relied heavily on doctors, only carrying out the specific instructions they gave us. In the U.K., nurses-led wards and units exist. As nurses, we held more power in advocating for our patients and relied less on doctors. I entered a whole new world.

I also faced a disturbing trend. Some people, and even patients, believed the conspiracy theories about COVID. They thought it was a hoax and sadly, refused our help. I pushed on. With all the pressure and challenges, relief came when something thrilling happened in July 2021. My eldest son, Bryce, who is now 19 years old, joined me in England. I broke down in tears the moment I saw him come out of the airport. I could not believe my eyes. For hours on and off after his arrival, I held him in my arms.

My two youngest children remained in the Philippines for a while longer, eventually joining us in May of 2022. The reunion felt surreal. We spent the 24 hours a day together catching up, sharing stories, and visiting our new home. In the countryside of England, we found ourselves surrounded by clean air and wide open, green spaces. I always miss the Philippines and its warm, passionate people, but England feels like home now. At the same time, I keep our culture alive by speaking Filipino at home, cooking authentic meals, and revisiting our traditions.

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