MANILA, March 13, 2004 (STAR) FROM THE STANDS By Domini M. Torrevillas - The first batch of graduates of the TLC Training Center in Barrio Ugong, Pasig, received their certificates for the caregivers’ course two weeks ago. They are about to take a government competency exam for caregivers, and they’re ready, and willing, to fly to the US, Canada, Australia and Hong Kong, to take care of patients who are in need of world-class care-giving service.

They were trained to look after elderly patients, children and infants, people in need of rehabilitative care, and give first aid to accident victims. They learned about patients‚ proper diets and cooking food for them, giving them a shampoo and therapeutic massage.

TLC managing director Priscilla (Bela) G. Miguel is hopeful about the graduates landing jobs. "There is a great demand for caregivers abroad. I’m proud to say that our graduates are taught the skills which Filipinos are known for. Quite important is that they know how to give tender, loving care. In fact our trainees might just pamper their patients. This is something that foreign nurses or caregivers do not do."

Bela knows whereof she speaks. She has bachelor’s degrees in political science and physical therapy, then finished a practical nursing course in a community college and worked in a hospital in Florida. Nearly a couple of years ago, she and her close friends who have their own business endeavors, Dory Santos, Nieves Benedicto and Susan Manzano opened TLC, but it’s Bela, with her knowledge of hospital expectations in America, who’s actually running the center.

The center was deluged with applicants when it opened last year. All of them are from Pasig. The demand for caregivers was confirmed by Araceli A. J-Chavez, Director II of TESDA (Technical and Educational Skills Development Authority) who was present at the graduation ceremonies. There are more than 1,000 care giver training centers in the country, and Pasig City which falls under the Pamamarasan (Pasig, Marikina, Mandaluyong, Rizal and San Juan) area, has 27.

In 2003, Ms. J-Chavez said, of the 1,000 students enrolled in the Pamamarasan area, 900 passed Tesda’s competency assessment tests. Now there are 18,000 enrollees around the country. If they pass, they will help meet the demand for 165,300 caregivers in foreign countries.

Bela says the demand for caregivers equals the great demand for nurses, too – but Immigration has yet to relax its strict rules to enable accredited caregivers to work abroad. She is confident that TLC graduates who pass the Tesda test will pass the foreign hospitals‚ competency exams.

Most of TLC’s students, including the present batch, are college graduates who majored in courses far removed from nursing care. Basilisa Carpio is a dentist. Her classmates include a nurse, a medical technician and a computer programmer. Christine Perez is a masscom graduate. Ma. Lourdes D. Soriaga majored in psychology. Millet M. Calingo has worked as a pre-school tutor for many years. Christine D. Perez has a masscom degree too, and worked as a telemarketer and customer service representative.

Their reason for working abroad is one and the same – to earn. Rosanna H. Victorina is married to a doctor who ran a clinic in Canada. There she helped keep patients‚ records, collected fees, and even assisted in minor surgeries. To be able to return to Canada and work for her citizenship, she enrolled at LTC. "With my earnings, I will be able to facilitate our children’s going to Canada."

Maria Liwanag Valerio has worked as a receptionist and medical secretary for different doctors at the Victor R. Potenciano Medical Center – "as well as a full-time housewife". She hopes to land a job in the US or Canada – "but not in Asian countries where caregivers are not treated or paid as well."

Like her classmates, Myrene S. Ramil paid P18,000 for the six-month caregiver course. Under well-trained instructors, she spent some 750 hours in theoretical and practical geriatric and pediatric care, nutrition, caring of disabled patients, emergency cases, and fundamentals in medical care. After six months of theoretical training, she spent one month on hands-on training in the wards of the Pasig City Emergency Clinic.

From conversations with the graduates and current students, learning to be caregivers is hard work, but also enjoyable. They hold fashion shows and dancing parties as part of their training in social graces and development of self-confidence.

Obviously enjoying the course is Olive Estella who is taking the crash three-month course instead of the six-month course so she can land a job in Florida where her sisters live. She willingly obliges when her cousins ask her to give them a massage. In her cooking class, she is judged best maker of lasagna and apple pie. "And to think that I trained in college to be a businesswoman," she says.

At the graduation exercises, the class valedictorian, Patrick Cosca, said he was happy about having finished the TLC course which trained him to be a "world-class" caregiver.

Present were Dr. Paul A. Castro, director of Pasig City General Hospital, and Arnaldo Legaspi, barangay Ugong chair.

I was asked to give the graduation speech. It felt good sensing the graduates’ and students’ excitement. I said they should come home one day when the economy has improved. No one smiled. Then I cautioned them not to marry a patient just because they want to become American or Canadian citizens. That brought the house down. Then we hied off to the next room for a hearty merienda.

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Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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