Calgary·Filipino Bureau

Everyday COVID heroes recognized in their community

Calgary Filipino organization Fiesta Filipino wants to celebrate and encourage people on the front lines of the pandemic.

Two nurses and a teacher talk about being recognized for their efforts

From left: Winston Gaqui, Rinna Lamano and Rosman Valencia were recognized as essential worker heroes by their local community. (Submitted by Winston Gaqui, Rinna Lamano, Rosman Valencia)

What does it take to be a hero?

Well, in the past year, as the world struggled with the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems maybe we're redefining what we think heroism is.

More attention is being paid to what many call everyday heroes.

Out go the capes and tights and super powers. In comes the surgical mask, the price tag gun and the virtual classroom.

Liezel Pilarca, a board member at Fiesta Filipino, one of Alberta's largest cultural festivals and Filipino organizations, wanted to see those folks get some recognition. So, she put out a call on her organization's Facebook Page — a chance for people to nominate someone they see as a hero.

She wanted to recognize some of Calgary's essential workers.

"I thought, why can't we do something for those who are going out every day, going out in the field, making a living by exposing themselves and making our life easier," says Pilarca.

Since launching the campaign, Pilarca says a couple dozen nominations have come in. While anyone can be nominated on Fiesta Filipino's page, so far it's been members of Calgary's Filipino community who have been recognized. 

"I don't think they need a trophy or gift cards or anything like that … I think they just needed acknowledgement, to perk them up or to keep them going, because I know it gets tiring."

As part of CBC's Filipino pop-up bureau, we wanted to chat to a few of the nominees. Below is our Q&A. You can also listen to the audio.

The conversations have been edited for length and clarity.

Winston Gaqui, nurse clinician at Foothills Medical Centre. (Submitted by Winston Gaqui)
The COVID-19 pandemic has redefined heroism for many - as those who've worked long days in hospitals, grocery stores or schools have helped to keep things going. Now the team at Fiesta Filipino have decided to use their Facebook page to let Calgarians nominate what they're calling "COVID Heroes". Winston Gaqui is one of those nominees. Here he is speaking with the CBC's Paul Karchut.

Paul Karchut: Tell me about your work.

Winston Gaqui: I'm a nurse clinician at the Foothills Hospital on the pulmonary medicine thoracic surgery unit. 

So, we get quite a broad amount of lung problems — and it kind of causes a little bit of stress on the unit. So small things like this COVID Heroes have definitely brought a smile on my face. And it meant a lot to me personally because it was my two grandparents who nominated me. 

You know, working in the hospital all the time, the long hours — in the Filipino community it's really customary to have these big gatherings, and during COVID it's been all cancelled. And that's been hard to tell my grandparents, "No, you can't go out. You can't do these gatherings." 

It was quite a big struggle with them. And the nicest things they said were about how I cared for them and how I care for the community. 

The day that I saw the notification, our unit was so full and I was just so stressed out. And then on break I got a notification [that] my grandparents nominated me, and it just made me feel so much better. 

PK: You don't become a pulmonary nurse clinician thinking I'm going to be dealing with a pandemic 10 years from now. Are there moments where you're just thinking, man, I didn't sign up for this?

WG: A hundred per cent. But, you know, I take this as a learning experience. 

It has been so rewarding, meeting all the different types of patients, staff and the amount of knowledge that we've gotten throughout this pandemic. 

You always have to think on the positive side, definitely, especially as a leader on the unit.

You are kind of like those persons who are pushing other people and making sure things get done and keeping that unit positivity always up. 

We always had to make sure that we had a good morale on the units. 

And seeing the patients and the gratitude that they have — and also from the Filipino community — it's been so lovely to see everyone back us up. 

I'm actually very proud of the Filipino community. It shows how hard working we are, no matter where you are. 

A lot of people have moved from the Philippines by themselves just to provide for their family members overseas. I know my grandparents kind of came here as well many years ago just to get a better life for their kids.

So I feel like it shows how hard the Filipinos have been working and what they'll do, not even just their family, but for others as well. 

From the hospital to the local Subway, grocery stores to our education, they've always been there for our community.

Rinna Lamano, a health-care worker. (Submitted by Rinna Lamano)
The COVID-19 pandemic has redefined heroism for many - as those who've worked long days in hospitals, grocery stores or schools have helped to keep things going. Now the team at Fiesta Filipino have decided to use their Facebook page to let Calgarians nominate what they're calling "COVID Heroes". Rinna Lamano is one of those nominees. Here she is talking with the CBC's Paul Karchut.

PK: What a job to be doing right now. You're going into the safe space that people have during a time when they feel extremely vulnerable, I'm sure. What's that like for you? 

Rinna Lamano: It's been really, really tough. 

We look after vulnerable seniors that, the majority of the time, they're isolated already. And when this whole COVID thing hit, a lot of them were really, really worried about what's going to happen to them. Because the majority of the time, they rely on our services to get them up in the morning, to have their medication and whatnot.

But the fact that we could still go in and do the services and the help that we do for the seniors, they're just really grateful for that help. 

PK: Has it been the hardest year in your time in this role? 

RL: Oh, definitely. 

When the pandemic hit, there were just too many anxious questions popping inside your head: how you can look after your population, your seniors? And it has been really a struggle. And not only just that aspect, but protecting yourselves, as well as your family. 

You know, like with Filipino community, there's this tight-knit family. And I'd say that would be the most challenging thing, not being able to see my family. And, as well as that, not having that support when it comes to tough times when dealing with a pandemic. As well as the stress of the job, for sure. 

PK: All three of you (nominees) are working essential jobs right now. And if we look at the people who are on the front lines, regardless of what sort of field we're talking about, so often it's people within the Filipino community.

RL: I think you'll see a Filipino community everywhere you go.

For us, we like to work. Given an opportunity, we do the job. And that's why you'll see Filipinos in most essential jobs wherever you go. It's just we're happy to help. We're happy to do the job. And especially in the health-care setting, a lot of Filipinos. 

And I think, most of you will actually agree, that we're actually pretty family-oriented and we're very caring. So that's why we choose the health-care profession. 

Rosman Valencia, teacher at Bowcroft School. (Submitted by Rosman Valencia)
The COVID-19 pandemic has redefined heroism for many - as those who've worked long days in hospitals, grocery stores or schools have helped to keep things going. Now the team at Fiesta Filipino have decided to use their Facebook page to let Calgarians nominate what they're calling "COVID Heroes". Rosman Valencia is one of those nominees. Here heis talking with the CBC's Paul Karchut.

PK: Tell us about your job.

Rosman Valencia: I am a Grade 3 and 4 teacher in the morning, and then in the afternoon, I am also the music teacher. So every two days, I meet 300 students. 

My circle or my bubble is bigger than any other teacher in that school. So when class started in September, it really gave me that fearful feeling because I don't feel any security at all, just thinking about that. But luckily my administration from the school where I work, you know, we have a pretty solid plan and that gave me a little bit of hope. 

However, being with the children also really boosts up the stress level that I am feeling, although I really do miss my students. Having that recognition made me realize how important the work of a teacher is in the social life and education of the children.

And with that nomination, it just legitimizes it, and also knowing that the community is behind you, cheering for you because you are facing this daily battle, a huge battle to make sure that your kids are safe. But not only that, that they feel welcome and also safe at school. 

PK: How long have you been doing this work for? 

RV: This has been my third year. 

PK: And would you say that in a strange way that this has been maybe the most rewarding of those years? 

RV: It is challenging, for sure, but absolutely it is rewarding in the sense that children are more vocal to say, "I am just so happy to be in school." "I am just so happy to learn." "I am happy to be here."

So hearing those comments from the students really boosts your confidence and the idea that I'm on the right track, despite the fear, despite the uncertainty, you know. Because you don't know — 300 students, that's a big bubble in a small school, you don't know what could have been the next day. But hearing those encouragements from your students is really something that builds our resilience. 

PK: There is a far higher proportion of the Filipino population working front lines, working essential jobs right now. How do you feel about it?

RV: I have very mixed feelings about that. 

First, I really do recognize the work of each and every Filipino Canadian in the country, especially in battling this pandemic, you know, because it's not an easy job. 

However, in the sense that, if we are always on the front lines and having the most number of it…. Well, it just shows us that, No. 1, is it because of representation? 

Is it because that's the only choice that they have to be placed in the front lines? Or is it their choice? Or maybe because there haven't been some programs that could improve their place or we should say like their professions, further education. 

So that's where it lies. That's where I'm kind of having mixed feelings. But at the end of the day, I am so proud because that really shows how resilient Filipinos are, Filipino Canadians in general, and how we won't say no until we try.


Paul Karchut

CBC Calgary

Paul is the host of Daybreak Alberta, heard across the province every weekend. He's been with CBC since 2005, twelve years of which were spent as the director of the Calgary Eyeopener. You've also heard his national car column, Karchut on Cars, on morning shows across the country for years. Join Paul weekend mornings across Alberta from 6-9.