Out in the Open

'As a caregiver, why can't we join with our family here?'

Cristina Acuram came to Canada in 2007 as a caregiver to support her four children back in the Philippines. She’s still waiting to hear whether her family can join her in Canada.

Cristina Acuram came to Canada in 2007 as a caregiver. She's still waiting to hear if her family can join her

Cristina Acuram (third from the left) and her family back in the Philippines. Cristina came to Canada as a caregiver in 2007. She’s hoping her family will be allowed to join her in Canada. (Submitted by Cristina Acuram)

When Cristina Acuram is at the airport, saying goodbye to her kids after a visit, she has a rule.

"When you say goodbye, don't look back," she told Out in the Open host Piya Chattopadhyay.

"You don't want to show it to them. You just cry and that's it... Who knows when I can come back again and see them?"

Acuram, who lives in North Vancouver, has been separated from her children for over a decade now.

She left her four kids - who were between the ages of two and 11 at the time - with their grandparents in the Philippines. She left to provide them with a better life, "a good education, enough food, those basic needs."

Cristina Acuram (Submitted by Cristina Acuram)

Acuram first found work in Saudi Arabia, and then in 2007, came to Canada as a caregiver. 

She said she cried everyday for the first three months. 

"You wish you could just go home for a day and come back. Your mind is not here really, it's with your children." 

It was hard on her eldest daughter too. Karla Acuram is 24-years-old now, but she was just 11 when her mom left. Karla describes the difficulty of not having her mom around when she was going through adolescence, but also of having to fill in for her.

"I think some of my youth was taken away from me," Karla said. "I took her role as a mother ... at a young age I had to learn how to do budgeting, taking care of my siblings and do household chores."

"It's so heavy in my heart" said Acuram, after hearing, for the first time, some of what her daughter felt about their separation. "All the guilt sets in right now."
Acuram's initial plan was that her family would join her in a few years. Canada's caregiver program promises the chance of permanent residency after two years of full-time work experience. In 2011, Cristina applied for her and her children. 

On average, it takes about four years for a caregiver's application to get processed. Some seven years later, Cristina and her kids are still waiting. It's because one of Cristina's children — who has autism — may be medically inadmissible to Canada. 

Until this spring, Canada could deny an entire family's request for permanent residency if a single member has a disability or medical condition that could cost our health and social support system more than $6,655. The federal government has now altered that policy, including increasing the cap to about $20,000.

Acuram said it's hard knowing she missed seeing her kids grow up, their accomplishments at school, and just being with them everyday. But it was particularly hard in times of crisis, like when two of her children were hospitalized for dengue fever.

"I wanted to go home but there's no way I could go home cause I didn't have money."

Acuram said her pay cheque went to hospital bills.

"That was when they were two-years-old and four-years-old. Can you imagine? They were so tiny."

"As a caregiver, why can't we join with our family here?" she said, "just like taking care of other families while taking care of your families all together?"

Acuram holds out hope for that reunion, the day she'll be able to meet them at an airport here in Canada and welcome them to their new life, with her.

"I'll just have to wait and see and hope and pray," she said.

This story appears in the Out in the Open episode "Parent-Child Seperation".