Sunday, April 14, 2013

making the most of opportunities

Life expectancy in the Philippines is steadily improving [77 years compared to 99 in Australia] but, as we know, the gap between rich and poor is growing everywhere around the world.

I wonder why there are windows in Imelda’s limo, when she’s blind to what’s on the outside?

There is poverty everywhere in the world, and no one can help everyone. It is one thing to look after oneself or share just a little, but quite another to steal from hungry people.


In my two previous posts I’ve spoken about Muslim Terrorism on Mindanao in the Philippines, and about JJ, our new house guest who is here on a student visa.

After finally coming out of her shell, she’s revealed some snippets about her life back home.

JJ speaks a Spanish dialect at home, a different local dialect outside her home, another dialect from Cebu/Visaya, and Tagalog with other Filipinos when all else fails.
But I wondered how she came to have such an extensive English Vocabulary as well.

“We receive all of our tuition in English, our books are from America” was an answer that made sense. She hopes if she can migrate to Australia, her daughter will have a chance to survive, and get a good education to boot.

JJ was only lucky enough to go to school herself because the village where she grew up was sponsored by World Vision. Australian sponsors often sent postcards of “Kangaroo, Mount Uluru, and Opera House”.

She believes that she is very lucky. As a nurse back home she earns enough to pay rent and bills and buy food and necessities.

Her husband looks after their daughter, and works in a “drug store” belonging to his family. Because there is so much poverty, if the average Filipino wants an aspirin, they go to a drug store and literally buy “an” aspirin. If they can afford it.

Many of the poorer locals, she says, “eat rice, with salt as a side dish”.


TO often comes home from work, de-briefing by rabbiting on about patients, their conditions, and treatments given at the hospital up the road. At first JJ was shocked.

In Zamboanga, no one goes outside after 5 or 6 pm. When the power goes out after dark [on rotation if not because of a breakdown] you will always hear gunshots.

In Isabela City, patients are rarely over 40. No stents, pacemakers or oncology are given at the community hospital where JJ works: If someone needs a defibrillator, the patient is loaded into a dinghy with an outboard and taken to a bigger hospital.

In Zamboanga if someone is diagnosed with cancer or other serious illness, they are usually sent home because no one can afford to be in hospital. JJ says the standard illnesses she deals with are diarrhoea, pneumonia and bronchitis, knife wounds and gunshot wounds. She is an expert in gunshot wounds.

It seems many Filipino hospitals don’t provide a lot of treatments that actually cure people.


If her mother was not here would JJ have thought about migrating to Australia?

Everyone wants to go to America, she says, but it’s very hard. There are more tests to pass than for Australia, the US English test is harder than the IELT*, and they are too expensive for most Filipinos. For one of the USian tests, the closest place to sit the test is Macau, Hong Kong.

*IELT is the International English Language Test, set and controlled by Cambridge University
A pass in each of four test parts is mandatory for immigration applicants, but she needs a minimum of 7 in each category before she can do a bridging course to register as a Nurse in Australia. In one reading task she has only managed 6.5 both times she took the test at home, though her overall score has been 7.5 .


The nearest place to re-take the IELT test here is at the Clayton campus of Monash. 
While I was looking for details, I discovered Monash University run a special coaching course in Melbourne's CBD. It only costs $790, for 32 contact hours.

One of her class-mates had already signed up for a similar course at a TAFE, and it cost $3,100 - for 20 contact hours.

I guess the TAFE system can afford the pay increases recently granted to TAFE Board members.


Most mornings she leaves home around 7 am. From TAFE she then goes into the city for her IELT coaching. To kill time she visits St Francis’ church in the city.

As generations of Irish Catholics have stopped going to Church, Vietnamese and Filipinos are replacing them. I’m now a committed atheist, but Catholicism is a heritage which informs the way I think, and St Francis’ is the best Catholic Church I’ve ever walked into. 

the Ladye Chapel

It’s a community sanctuary and a great place to just be quiet.


Although she is quite independent about changing buses and working out train lines, I suggested JJ get off the train at Mordialloc when coming home so late after her English Coaching, and I pick her up from there.

She sits in the front carriage near the driver’s door, and there are still heaps of "normal" people on the train when it arrives at Mordialloc. Personally, when I’ve taken trains late at night to Franger I’ve been stressed out every time.

At first I had no idea that she would be so relaxed about late night trains, or why.

Her English is improving, but more importantly she has learned heaps of tips about how to score higher marks in the tests, and is positive and confident.
She just prays God will help her, and one way of praying is to work hard.

We are, as the USians say, rooting for her. She’s more than earned a break.

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