TV drama to focus on Canada’s most celebrated caregiver

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In life, Juana Tejada battled bureaucratic injustice to keep alive her dream of giving her family a better future in Canada.

In death, the diminutive Filipina left a giant legacy: Her battle brought about a change in federal law to better protect foreign workers who come to Canada as live-in caregivers.

The story, first brought to public attention in the Toronto Star, so moved her fellow Filipinos that she is now being immortalized in a 90-minute episode of Maalaala Mo Kaya (“Would You Remember”), one of the most popular TV dramas airing in the Philippines. The story is currently being shot in the GTA.

“We fell in love with Juana’s story when we first heard about it,” said director Dado Lumibao of the ABS-CBN production. “Hers is a very unique story. It’s very positive and inspiring. It depicts the strength of all the Filipinos working abroad.”

Tejada came to Toronto in 2003 through the live-in caregiver program, which then granted permanent resident status to foreign domestic workers after they completed three-year assignments and obtained medical and criminal clearances.

Having done the required service, Tejada applied for permanent residence in 2006, only to learn she had terminal colon cancer. She then faced deportation because she was deemed a health burden.

She became the face of a campaign for caregivers’ rights that, in 2009, successfully lobbied Ottawa to pass the “Juana Tejada law,” exempting caregivers from the obligation of taking a second medical exam to get permanent residence and reducing the live-in obligation to two years.

Tejada ultimately won permanent resident status, which made her eligible to bring her family here. The reforms came after her death.

The show’s 10-member cast and crew from the Philippines recently braved blustery winds at Toronto’s Earl Bales Park to re-enact the moment in which Tejada broke the news of her cancer to her best friend, Delia Saludares.

With teary eyes, assisted by bone-chilling winds, renowned actress Maricar Reyes, who plays Tejada, and Dimples Romana, as Saludares, embraced on a picnic bench.

With the scene finished, helpers immediately passed winter coats to the shivering actors.

“It’s a bit scary to play Juana,” said Reyes, whose heavy makeup and tall stature lent her little resemblance to Tejada, a tiny woman with a weathered face. “Juana did a lot for the Filipino community here. She is probably the most celebrated caregiver. I want to do justice to tell her story right.”

It was the first visit to Canada for Tom Rodriguez, who plays Tejada’s husband, Noli Azada. He said it was an adjustment working with a small crew abroad.

“It’s a small group of us. I was holding the reflector and carrying the jackets for my colleagues,” said the Philippines-born, Arizona-raised rising star. “It is not easy. But this is such a nice, but sad story. It is hard not to shed tears over her story.”

The weekly show is based on real-life stories of people in the Filipino diaspora. Tejada’s episode will be broadcast on The Filipino Channel worldwide, including in Canada, on Dec. 10, to mark the show’s 20th anniversary.

Shortage of Caregivers in Canada a major concern…

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Canadian parents assume their kids will look after them when they’re older. Those without kids assume they can pay for care with all the money they’re saving.

But a new study on the aging population suggests both groups could be setting themselves up for disappointment.

While the number of elderly Canadians requiring assistance is expected to double in the next 30 years, researchers say a shortage of adult children and health-care workers could mean the baby boomers won’t get the care they need.

The Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP) describes the outlook as “a major cause of concern,” noting a critical need for policy-makers to reconsider their approach to voluntary, for-profit and public homecare.

“Caregivers are essential. Without them, we, as a society, will go bankrupt,” says Janice Keefe, author of the IRPP report released this week. “We need to figure out a range of supports to help them do what they need to do.”

Keefe, a professor and Canada Research Chair in family studies and gerontology, defines a caregiver as a member of the immediate or extended family, or a friend or neighbour, who provides support and assistance without pay. At present, as much as 80 per cent of care given to older adults comes from such individuals.

The problem is that baby boomers, on average, didn’t have as many children as their parents, and thus won’t have the same in-family resources as they age.

Keefe reports that by 2031, roughly one in four women aged 65 and older will have no surviving children — up from 16 per cent in 2001. That proportion climbs to 30 per cent in 2051.

She also notes that even older Canadians who do have adult children can’t necessarily count on them to be around.

“Our whole homecare and community-care system is premised on this idea that there’s family available to provide care,” says Keefe. “Nowadays, they may exist, but they’re not available — they don’t live in the same community, they have work, they have other responsibilities.”

In the absence of such caregivers, she forecasts a greater need than ever for formal homecare providers. And that population is shrinking at the same time the number of Canadians requiring assistance is growing.

“It’s already difficult for homecare agencies to attract workers to the sector because they’re not paid as well as other careers,” says Keefe, who teaches at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax. “So we have to worry about whether, in the future, there will be paid workers available to provide care, given the challenge — even today — that people have accessing that profession.”

Though Keefe says there’s no “one-size-fits-all” policy solution, she proposes a range of supports that would make caregiving more appealing at the voluntary, for-profit and public levels.

Revisiting rules around income security programs, for instance, could help ensure that adult children who drop out of the labour force to care for their parents aren’t penalized in terms of pension. She also calls for improved access to formal homecare services, as well as better financial incentives to those providing voluntary care, “so they don’t end up poor as a result of their activity.”
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