OFW stories: Coping with ‘quarantine anxiety’ in foreign land

Marje Pelayo

Battling “quarantine anxiety” is one of the most difficult things to face at this time when the risk of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is at its peak.

Stress level certainly builds-up as days of getting stuck inside the house become longer, taking weeks or even months.

And for overseas Filipino workers (OFW), it is twice the anguish to be locked up in isolation in a foreign land, miles away from their loved ones.

“Is it worth carrying on with my job or should I go back to the Philippines to see my family and be safe?” – Ken Lugtu (Singapore)

Ken Lugtu while at work at Changi International Airport. He has been employed in Singapore since October 2018.

Aviation industry workers, like nurses and doctors, are among the frontline workers around the world facing the risk of contact with the deadly coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

At 29, the young line aircraft technician Ken Lugtu is expected to be at the peak of his strength, but he said working 12 hours a day under the heat of the sun is a real struggle especially at this time when the risk of COVID-19 infection is high.

“I realize being in one of the communities that are at higher risk, we can’t complain, even if we are in a life-threatening situation, when going to work,” he said.

Kung minsan, kapag kakausap po ako ng piloto upon arrival via headset at maririnig mo sa piloto na may nilalagnat silang pasahero ay nakakapanlambot po ng sobra,” he added.

He had gone into self-quarantine at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak because one of the earlier positive cases in Singapore was among the passengers of a China Southern Airlines flight that Ken’s team handled.

During self-isolation, he came to a point of weighing difficult options – go home or stay.

Kaso nasa dilemma ako. Sa dami po na hina-handle naming Chinese flight ay pwedeng carrier na po kami ng virus na hindi ko alam na pwede ko pang madala sa family (ko) which scares me the most,” he added.

Ken decided to stay as it was the best decision to save his family from infection. He chose to sacrifice despite frequent exposures to the virus. He recalled receiving alert messages warning them not to enter the cabin as suspected positive cases were onboard.

Amid his daily struggles, Ken holds on to his faith and leaves everything to God for his protection.

“Higit sa lahat ang panalangin bago po ako mag work ang aking malupit na sandata laban sa virus,” he said beaming with positivity.

Arceli Abad, a native of Bangar, La Union works in the service sector in Italy.

“Life is precious. Don’t take it for granted.” – Arceli Abad (Italy)

Living alone and getting sick in a foreign land is a test of survival, says 50-year-old service worker Arceli Abad.

“No one pays you for self-quarantine. There is no reimbursement for products you may need, no government-paid nurse to stop by the home and help out. Self-quarantine is a hardship for both those who have families and those who live alone,” Arceli said.

Arceli explains that in Italy, all Filipinos live paycheck to paycheck and not everyone can work remotely which increases the risk of getting infected by COVID-19.

“A two-week absence from work can take an enormous financial toll on hourly wage workers who have to clock in and show up to get paid,” she stressed.

“Filipinos with no health insurance or individuals living in the country illegally, fearful of being discovered and deported, may avoid diagnosis and care,” she added.

From 10 years of working in Italy, Arceli has learned the importance of keeping one’s health always in check especially when no one else is there to look after you.

She also emphasized each individual’s social responsibility during health crises.

“We ought to have a social compact: If you’re sick, whether you’ve got COVID-19 or not, you should separate yourself from society. That’s your part of the bargain; you’re doing it for your neighbors, your family, and your community,” she said.

“Increase your faith in God through prayers and hope for the healing of our land against the coronavirus,” she concluded.

Raquel Niu works as a part-time service worker in Taiwan and is happily married to her Taiwanese husband.

“Masarap na may Dios kang inaasahan na iyong mga bagay na hindi ko kayang gawin, magagawa Niya.” — Racquel Niu (Taiwan)

Raquel Niu just arrived back in Taiwan with his Taiwanese husband days before the island state imposed travel restrictions on foreign nationals.

She said they were hesitant to pursue their flight given the increasing number of travelers getting sick from COVID-19.

To be safe, she held her bottle of rubbing alcohol all throughout the process – at the airport, onboard the flight, and until they got to their accommodation.

“Nandoon po ang takot pero hindi po nagbago ang desisyon ko na bumalik kasi po ang asawa ko may usapan ng boss nila na hanggang two weeks lang siya,” Raquel, a returning resident of Taiwan, said

Raquel recalled how difficult the situation was to be quarantined in a foreign land where they had to follow strict protocols.

She shared her experience under the 15-day quarantine protocol imposed by the Taiwan government.

She said they were not allowed to go out, not even once, during the 15-day quarantine period.

They could only ask for whatever they need through phone calls.

“Naisip ko po na sana hindi na kami bumalik ng Taiwan kasi andoon na po kami (sa Pilipinas) kasama ang buong pamilya,” she said adding that in this time of uncertainty, she could only hold on to her faith in God for the peace of mind while living away from her family.

“Pero iyon nga masarap na may Dios kang inaasahan na iyong mga bagay na hindi ko kayang gawin, magagawa po Niya na ingatan po sila doon at ganoon din po kami,” she concluded.

English teacher, Dawn Carceran makes sure she’s protected when she travels to work.

“Giving your spiritual and mental health an utmost importance is crucial in surviving any crisis.” – Dawn Carceran (China)

Teacher Dawn believes it’s more of mental conditioning that helps any person survive any form of crisis.

“Keeping positive thoughts, and believing that God will never forsake me, are what really made me cope with this difficult situation,” the English teacher said.

Schools, commercial establishments and mass transport services were suspended thus forcing workers to stay at home to curb the spread of the virus.

Being in home quarantine amid COVID-19 fears, Dawn said she makes sure to always say a little prayer and always abide by the laws.

“Always pray for God’s protection,” she said.

“Take extra-precautions when you’re outdoors and follow the community quarantine guidelines, keep a healthy diet and be updated,” she added.

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