fredacontreras


My not so ordinary a life

A blessed life


An accidental writer
fredacontreras

Prior to practicing my profession as a Registered Nurse, my work experience involved writing. I had five years of those writing experiences which landed me, on the fourth year,  to the top position as Chief, Public Information Officer and consequently head of the Press and Media Office under the Office of the Governor of the Provincial Government of Antique.

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(This was the Editorial Box after I took over as Executive Editor of the paper. I was still carrying then my ex-husband's name)

You may ask how I came to be employed as a writer when I didn’t have any Journalism background nor a Bachelor’s Degree majoring in English. An accidental writer, yes, that is how I describe my brush with the art of writing. I didn’t actually know that I have the talent and that I can use it to earn a living.

It all started when my father died in September 1981. I was then in my last month of finishing the few remaining units I needed to complete my Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. I was a transferee and needed to finish a minimum attendance at the university. And also the previous five-year BSN course was shortened to four years  and new subjects were introduced replacing the ones I already took and passed so I needed to take those additional units. By October 1981, I was officially declared a graduate of BSN.

In early December of 1981, my mother and I went to visit Governor Enrique A. Zaldivar to thank him for his help during my father’s wake and also to thank him, albeit a belated one, for taking in my father when he took over as head of the Provincial Government of Antique. My father used to work for his predecessor, the late Governor Evelio B. Javier, Antique’s fallen hero.

The conversation was casual and friendly. He asked how we are coping with my father’s death. Is there someone in the family working in order to sustain the needs of those he left behind? Of which my mother answered truthfully that there is none and continued to say that her daughter (which was me) had just finished her Nursing degree and is waiting to take the Board Examination for Nurses scheduled to be held in May 1982. He then turned to me and asked: “Do you know how to write?” I was caught by surprise and I remember I didn’t immediately respond because I got confused with his question. I was thinking that he will help me find employment in a hospital setting because he was informed beforehand that I just finished a Nursing course. While still trying to compose myself I saw him picking up the phone and after his brief talk, he instructed me to go down to the Press and Media Office explaining at the same time that I need to be tested.

I soon found myself attacking a typewriter after I was given a Program of an upcoming activity and told to write a story. A little nervous because the head and two other people were watching me, I tried to concentrate in the task given. As soon as I got relaxed, words just flowed and I was able to compose the story in no time at all. The head looked at me curiously after reading my work and asked if I am a Journalist and which paper I am writing for. He got amused when I told him that I have no Journalism background whatsoever. Gov. Zaldivar, after reading my short story, congratulated me and said: “You are in!” My mother was the most thankful of the two of us as we left the office.

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(The Antique Monitor after seven months of rest. This was the very first issue after I took over as Executive Editor)

I officially joined the Press and Media Office the day after the New Year’s holiday in 1982. My job title was Public Information Officer (PIO). I took my first-ever leave of absence last week of April that year as I needed to take the Board of Nursing Examination in Manila held May 1-2, 1982. After passing the exam I thought of moving out so I can practice my profession. I needed though to at least finish one year in the job. Just the same, I went to see Gov. Zaldivar to inform him in advance of my desire to leave asking him as well to help me find employment in the Provincial Hospital of Antique. He asked me to stay until at least he is finished with his term and grateful as I was with the opportunity he gave me to earn a living for the very first time in my life, I agreed, although I was a bit reluctant. In the end, I was also not able to finish his term because a bigger opportunity came and I officially resigned end of June 1987. By November 1987, I left for Kuwait to work as a Staff Nurse in a private hospital.

 


An inspired undertaking
fredacontreras
When Erwyn Mae Contreras Noronha, a cousin of mine who is based in Qatar, visited this Live Journal and read my stories on feeding of malnourished children in my home place of Mapatag, Hamtic, Antique, she got inspired to start her own. Just as I was inspired by Dr. Bert Pagarigan when I learned about his feeding program in Mindanao, Erwyn’s desire to replicate was spontaneous. And she was even faster than I was because in less than a month, her plan got actualized, with the lead help of her sister Erilee Joy Contreras and her other siblings.

The feeding was done August 19, 2012 in Erwyn’s place in Mantawan, Malag-it, Capiz. ‘Pamahaw’ as shown in the banner below is the local term for snack. Children pose for a group picture prior to the feeding.




Major’s Cards’, as sponsor of the activity, is actually composed of Erwyn and her siblings. They are the ‘Cards’ and ‘Major’ is their father.

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Children were more than happy to have the treat to a snack and the day was also full of fun as they played games and sang and danced. They were also given small packets of gifts to their delight.

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An obviously malnourished boy is shown above having his own share of the snack. Erwyn is planning to do a bigger one in December where lunch will be served and she is now busy soliciting help from friends and relatives. No less than 50 children are targeted this time.

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Little girls came in their best dress and it was a treat in itself as the gathering was a first of its kind held in Erwyn’s small barrio.

Please be inspired and do in your place....it is overwhelming to hear children say thank you for having shared a little of what I have. Thanking God for the success of the event,” Erwyn posted on her Facebook wall with a hope that many of her friends and contacts will be inspired or offer help for the continuity of her project.

Feeling is beyond description...very happy for its success,” was how she described her emotional state.



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The feeding . . .
fredacontreras
After a postponement because of heavy rains, the feeding, through Anita’s Kitchen (AK) under the Community Self-Help Nutrition Program of the Overseas Filipino Council International (OFCI), was finally held last Sunday, August 24, 2008 in Barangay Mapatag, Hamtic, Antique. It was held in an abandoned house of my sister, which is now to be used as the Center for feeding and other activities of the mothers.




My sister, Stella, who is the Coordinator of the project, is shown above explaining to the mothers the importance of self-help as a way to keeping the project running for as long as they want. In time, the mothers should be able to feed the children from their own produce. At the moment, I, being the sponsor for the project in my own barangay, provide for the fund, at PhP500.00 per feeding.





In order to be able to feed more, the mothers decided to cook only two recipes from the four originally provided by Ms. Anita Sese-Schon, owner of Anita's Kitchen. They reasoned out that at home, only one main dish is usually served and having two in the feeding is indeed a treat for the children. It was decided that only the “adobo” and the “ginisang monggo” will be cooked for this initial feeding. The other two recipes will be cooked during the next feeding.




Mothers were assigned, on rotation basis, to do the preparation and cooking of the food. The photos below show the mothers working.







The food was abundant that even the mothers and some fathers were able to partake. The rice was the first to be consumed because not all mothers were able to give their share of the rice, as decided during their initial meeting.













The Center, as a whole, is in a bad shape and in need of repair. Prior to the actual feeding and at the time the rain stopped, fathers started to work on the repair of the Center. They gave their labors free and were assisted by the mothers. The photo below shows the back part of the Center with two fathers removing the old “pawod”.




Work will continue on Wednesday, pending the availability of bamboos.








The mothers are in high spirit and very enthusiastic about the project. Their concentration now is getting the Center ready so they can start doing their income-generating projects.
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Anita's Kitchen goes to Antique Province
fredacontreras
IN my bid to rekindle and sustain the feeding program which I started last year in my barangay of Mapatag in the town of Hamtic, Antique province (of Region 6 or Western Visayas), I recently partnered with Ms. Anita Sese-Schon, owner of Anita's Kitchen (AK). AK is an initiative of the Overseas Filipino Council International (OFCI) based in Washington State, USA and is being utilized under the Self-Help Community Nutrition Program of OFCI.

To ensure proper nutrition and cooking making use of what is available locally, all menus with corresponding recipes are being provided by Ms Sese-Schon, or Tita Nitz, as I endearingly call her, through her AK. While before feeding preparations were solely in the hands of the mothers, this time around, good nutrition, as provided by an expert, will be practiced.



Last August 9, 2008 (a Saturday) mothers with their children were called for a meeting. They cleaned first the venue of their meeting and the surroundings in "bayanihan" style.




After weighing the children (1-12 years old group), 31 were identified as malnourished. And these children come from Purok 1 of Barangay Mapatag where the project is currently being implemented. The three other Puroks will be covered eventually. Here are some photos of the children:













Feeding, making use of four menus which were already provided by Tita Nitz, will commence on Saturday, August 16, 2008. As sponsor of the project, I will be funding the feeding until such time as the group will be self-sufficient. The mothers will engage in income-generating projects. Two days ago, they started reselling rice in the barrio. They will soon resell charcoal and my sister, who acts as coordinator of the project, has recently submitted a proposal which will serve as the group's main and bigger project. OFCI will be the one to fund this another project.

My 'Overseas Filipino Workers' book
fredacontreras
My long-awaited book, the “Overseas Filipino Workers”, has finally gotten published and is now ready for distribution. Started in April 2007, the book project was made possible through the help of a number of cyber friends subscribed to the Overseas Filipino Council listserv and a few close friends in Kuwait where I presently reside. My gratitude and thanks go to them all.

The book is a collection of articles and stories written and published online via Suite101.com between the period of August 1999 and December 2002. I used to maintain a topic on “Overseas Filipino Workers” and even when I stopped submitting stories since December 2002, the OFW-S101 site was still viewable until January 2006 when Suite101.com management made a major overhaul of the webpage in general. I’ve written 38 articles in all.

The book is dedicated to the millions of OFWs scattered in the more than 200 destinations in the world. It is my way of giving honor and importance to the sacrifices that the OFWs face. Also my way of documenting a part of the history of the OFW phenomenon.

The cover of the book was designed by Alex de los Santos of Hiraya Media Arts, who also served as my editor and publisher. Alex is himself a published author with three books to his credit.




The back cover shows a blurb by Ruby Bayan, a freelance writer based in the US who introduced me to Suite101.com. It also shows a brief overview on the OFW phenomenon.

Herewith is a list of the articles contained in the book:
1. The overseas Filipino workers
The article focuses on the general overview of the existence and privileges of overseas Filipino workers.
2. Remembering Flor, Delia and Sarah
Who are these women? Three Filipina domestic helpers whose cases helped shape what is now conceived as the Philippine government’s best way of looking after the millions of its people working overseas
3. Should I go or should I stay?
What really goes on in OFWs’ mind and in their life in particular as they tackle these two opposing questions? Find out and learn from the author’s personal experiences.
4. On Project OFW 2000
It is about a movement to declare Year 2000 as “The Year of Overseas Filipino Workers”. Backed up by Senate Resolution No. 508, Project OFW, as it is called, was spearheaded by OFWs themselves.
5. A tribute to an exceptional public servant
Philippine government officials or the so-called public servants are more often criticized than praised. Very rare and unknown to most, there are officials who are true public servants. One among those is a lady welfare officer assigned to Kuwait. Find out why she is considered an exceptional public servant.
6. A mother’s dream come true
It is a story of a mother’s struggle to fulfill her dream of seeing her children find success in life and of keeping them all together, at long last, with her in Kuwait where she works.
7. Pag-IBIG Fund, your way to owning a house
One of the reasons which drives a Filipino out of his country to venture into foreign land is the desire to earn more so he could build or buy a house. Majority of these overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), in fact, aim for a “dream” house and most, after three years or more of working abroad, will find themselves living in a place they can really call their own.
8. A dream turned into nightmare, Part 1
Life, indeed, is a continuous struggle and one fall should not discourage us to stand up and try again. But how many falls or setbacks, do you think, a person may take in a lifetime, before he or she finds success?
9. A dream turned into nightmare, Part 2
The story focuses on the personal experience of the author in relation to acquiring a house. It is aimed at informing others of how much an OFW puts out “sweat and tears” just so he can own a modest house, out of his earnings working abroad. A typical story, one OFW may claim, as others share similar experiences.
10. OFWs are now covered by Medicare
Another program implemented by the Philippine government for its estimated six million or so overseas workers, is the Medical Care (Medicare) Program for Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs). Mandated by Executive Order No. 195, signed August 13, 1994 by then President Fidel V. Ramos, the health care scheme aims to provide medical assistance and hospitalization benefits to OFWs and their dependents.
11. Y2K marks century-old Philippine labor migration
Officially, labor migration in the Philippines began in 1900. Hawaii was then experiencing severe manpower shortage. The first 200 Filipinos went there to work. Shortly thereafter, Filipinos were sent to California as apple and orange pickers. It’s there where the Filipinos gained a reputation as “fruit pickers.” Learn more as the author presents a brief summary of a century-old phenomenon.
12. SSS now covers OFWs
Cognizant of every individual’s need for security protection and in line with its mandate to embrace every working Filipino, the Social Security System (SSS), one of the Philippines’ top performing agencies, is now providing coverage to overseas Filipino workers. OFWs may now register as voluntary members.
13. 2000 is ‘Year of OFWs’
At long last, the relentless effort of those concerned have finally borne fruit with the penning of signature by President Joseph “Erap” Estrada of Proclamation No. 243, “Declaring Year 2000 as the Year of Overseas Filipino Workers in Recognition of Determination and Sacrifice of Overseas Filipino Workers.”
14. On Gulf War comp claims
Thousands of overseas Filipinos affected by the 1990-1991 Invasion of Kuwait have been awarded compensation ranging between $2,500 to $40,000 by the United Nations Compensation Commission (UNCC). Payments are grossly delayed, not because of UNCC’s inability to provide fund, but because of a few Philippine government officials’ greed! The author, being a claimant herself, presents some background information.
15. Pinoy Gulf War claims: facts and figures, Part 1
Armed with accurate and reliable data accessed from the numerous resolutions, decisions, recommendations and press releases open for scrutiny on the UNCC website, the author is now ready to enlighten readers on the status of claims for compensation by thousands of Filipino claimants. Encouraged by the truth discovered, she heartily shares what she learned from UNCC itself.
16. Pinoy Gulf War claims: facts and figures, Part 2
The United Nations Compensation Commission, as of June 15, 2000, has awarded compensation in the amount of nearly US$175 million to Filipinos and the Philippine government. It is not clear as to how much of the total amount has already been paid to successful claimants. Payments have been dramatically speeded up yet majority of the claimants are still at a loss as to the actual amount of compensation they are yet to receive. The author continues to enlighten readers with new information gathered.
17. A call of duty, Part 1
Many people must have wondered how the health workers survived the hard and harsh situation during Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait. Believing that very few stories surfaced after the liberation, the author relates her own experiences during those difficult and challenging times.
18. A call of duty, Part 2
The author continues to relate her experiences working as a nurse in a private hospital during the Invasion of Kuwait.
19. Pinoy Gulf War claims, an update
Privileged to interview face-to-face the Acting Head of the Philippine Claims and Compensation Committee Secretariat (PCCS), the author presents the side of the Philippine government in connection with the controversial UN comp claims of Filipinos affected by the Gulf War.
20. UNCC completes payments to Pinoy claimants
While it is continuously claimed by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) that there is no anomaly whatsoever involved in the distribution of Gulf War compensation funds of some 40,220+ approved claims by Filipinos, the author’s readings on press releases, decisions, recommendations and reports by the United Nations Compensation Commission (UNCC) on its website prove otherwise. Readers may need to draw their own conclusion based from the data presented herein.
21. Woes of an OFW
Life of an overseas Filipino worker, no doubt, is a very difficult one. Learn how difficult life can be through the author’s personal experiences.
22. Surviving cancer in a foreign land
What could be worse, for an overseas Filipino worker, than having to deal with cancer, on top of the numerous difficulties faced while working in a foreign country? Life is such that one has to fight in order to survive and continue to hurdle the enforced responsibility over a family and country.
23. My saga continues . . .
One way or the other, each one of us takes his/her own share of the world’s ills. Depending on our strength – gained or inherent – we either succeed or fail but sure enough – we all fight in order to survive.
24. Worse than Iraqi invaders
“It’s a sad situation . . . that the Filipino officials entrusted with solving the OFW problems are in fact prolonging their suffering and profiting from it. In this case, these officials are no less cruel to the Filipino claimants that the Iraqi invaders of Kuwait!” So goes a comment from a frequent visitor of the Overseas Filipino workers topic.
25. On overseas Filipinos right to vote
The estimated seven million overseas Filipinos are ironically being stripped off of their fundamental right to vote. Despite a mandate of the Philippine Constitution for overseas Filipinos to be given right to suffrage, the Philippine Congress, in the past 14 years, is still unable to enact a law which will facilitate the realization of absentee voting.
26. Too many a fight . . .
Life is a struggle indeed with its many bumps and curves, all God-given adversities to make us strong. Yet no matter how we try to believe in nature’s kindness, we always end up frustrated and angry. For indeed, bullies abound!
27. Pinoy claimants air grievances
Members of the online group Pinoy Gulf War Claimants Club have officially aired their grievances against the Philippine Claims and Compensation Committee Secretariat (PCCCS). Written by the author, the letter of complaint was read in the presence of heads of the main government bodies involved in the affairs of the OFWs.
28. OFWs among victims of terrorist attacks
As top absorber of Philippine labor, the United States of America, employ as many as four million Filipinos, naturalized individuals and family members included. It is no wonder that Filipino workers were among the thousands of people reported missing after that unprecedented and tragic attack of terrorists in America last September 11, 2001.
29. Rolly’s gift to overseas Filipinos
Inspired by his own experience as an overseas worker, Roland “Rolly” Amaranto has created a masterpiece – a collection of songs he composed which serves as his lifetime gift to all Filipinos working overseas.
30. The fight continues, Part 1
Followers of the Gulf War compensation scam may now glean some light in the follow-up story presented herein. The fight is far from over yet and Filipino claimants continue to act to get what really belongs to them.
31. The holiday that never was
Every overseas Filipino worker (OFW) goes home for a holiday with loved ones in the Philippines. December is always the choicest month. With the Christmas and New Year celebrations, a real holiday, would it be, for a heavy burdened vacationing OFW?
32. Coping with death
Death is inevitable. It can happen anytime, anywhere and whichever condition – either good or bad – we are in. Understanding this basic fact is one thing. But confronting death itself . . . ah . . . we just couldn’t cope.
33. The fight continues, Part 2
The author shares the information she learned from fresh data received from the Philippine Claims and Compensation Committee Secretariat (PCCCS). Payments were regularly sent by the UNCC to the PCCCS but the records show that majority of the claimants have not been paid yet of their compensation.
34. The fight continues, Part 3
A Commission on Audit report reveals that the PCCCS earned deposits interest amounting to US$1.2-M within a four-year period of operation. Out of these interest earnings only US$239,565.24 was reported spent for operational expenses. Where did the rest of the money go?
35. Heroes or slaves?
Through the Philippine government’s recognition and outright admission of its reliance on OFWs’ dollar remittances, these so-called ‘New Heroes of the Modern Philippines’ have developed within themselves a new sense of honor and pride. They feel elated to be considered as one of the recognized players in the growth and sustenance of the Philippine economy. But some OFWs feel that they are not heroes; they feel as slaves, economic slaves as they term themselves.
36. On to economic freedom
Never in their lives have the overseas Filipinos become active players in their own economic emancipation as now. The advent of the Internet has actually made it possible for many of them to come together to discuss ways to improve their lot, and to finally make a concrete move to realize their dream - that of establishing a bank which they can call their own.
37. Overseas Filipinos fight for their right to vote
A worldwide campaign and clamor to allow overseas Filipinos to vote in the Philippine national elections in May 2004, initially, took place. In particular, campaigners sought for the passage of the Absentee Voting Bill (AVB) pending in the past many years in the Congress. Along with the AVB, overseas Filipinos also sought for the passage of the Dual Citizenship law.
38. One messy OWWA
What happens when fund, collected from OFWs, is used indiscriminately outside its original purpose? A mess, it will be, of course, and that’s where the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration is in right now!
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A call of duty
fredacontreras
The following story was originally published online last August 2, 2000 via the OFW topic in Suite101.com. The OFW (Overseas Filipino Workers) topic was rested since January 2006. This story is one of the 38 articles I wrote and published online before which I am now in the process of publishing into a book. Tentatively, the book is due to come off the press in August 2007.


Related Subject(s): Nurses -- Kuwait -- Anecdotes , Iraq-Kuwait Crisis, 1990-1991 -- Anecdotes

Ten years ago today, Kuwait was invaded by Iraq. Kuwait's workforce which formed majority of the estimated 1.6 million residents then was consequently affected. Among the workers who rendered continuous service to the few remaining Kuwaitis and other nationals in Kuwait, after that 'exodus' during the first three months following the invasion, were health professionals. In fact, hospitals were the only major institutions functioning then and were manned by the very few doctors, nurses, technologists and other health personnel who selflessly chose to stay and heeded the call of duty.

Many people must have wondered how these health workers survived the hard work and the harsh situation and I believe very few stories surfaced after the liberation. What I am going to relate here is that story which I have dreamed too long to turn into a book and which I planned to publish today. Alas, time has not been that kind to me that I now end up giving instead some portions of what actually transpired during those difficult and challenging times.

First 24-hour duty

September 23, 1990 (Sunday). I reported to Nursery for my regular morning duty at 7 am. There were 16 newly-born babies. I was with one of the two remaining Indian nurses. The rest of the Indian nurses and staff didn’t report for work as they were all leaving Kuwait the following day. We were busy inasmuch as most of the babies needed special care having been born prematurely. I took off at 1.30 pm and came back at 2 pm for the second shift of duty. I was with two Filipina domestic helpers who were earlier hired by the hospital for help. In the ward, there were two Filipina nurses newly hired as well. I divided my work between the Nursery and the ward since the new nurses were new to the hospital routine. They were ex dental clinic nurses who chose to remain in Kuwait.



When the night shift came, I found myself alone with 22 female patients in the main ward; two elderly male patients one floor below; and 16 newly-born babies in the Nursery. I assigned two Filipina helpers (different from the ones in the morning) in the Nursery while I attended to patients in the ward. I only had one Bangladeshi (the only original “farash” left behind) for help in the ward.

There were three newly-operated (CS) patients admitted in rooms far apart from each other; two diabetics and four others awaiting delivery; a bleeding woman in her early stage of pregnancy; and a number of newly delivered mothers all complaining of pain. I was running from one room to another, to the Nursery and to the Male Ward one floor below. I do not know how I managed the work but I was sane enough when I endorsed the patients the following morning to a co-Filipina; the two male patients to an Egyptian colleague; and the babies to the Indian nurse in the Nursery. I managed to sleep afterwards for five hours then was called back again to attend to a premature baby and straight to night duty.

A challenge

September 25, 1990 (Tuesday). I just finished my second night duty – was again alone in the wards. The Indian nurse who was to take over the Nursery did not report as she was finally forced to leave Kuwait. I checked the premature baby (born the other day) inside the incubator and seeing her to be alright, I set to leave for a much-needed sleep uncertain whether I can report back or not to night duty that day. I gave instructions earlier to another three Filipina helpers to ask help from the two nurses in the ward and to call the Pediatrician who was attending to out-patients that day. On my way out, I met the father (a Kuwaiti) of the premature baby, bringing with him a bottle of breast milk. After learning that his baby will be left for hours under the care of three unqualified staff, and after finding out that I might not come back, he got furious and started to shout. He did not give me at all a chance to explain my situation. Feeling tired, sleepy and hungry, all I did was to listen to his angry outburst.

“What will happen to my baby and to all the other patients when all of you are leaving?,” he said.

I felt his anguish and was challenged at the same time. For a while, I forgot about myself and went back to the Nursery. I was later on sent up to the hostel to sleep by the Pediatrician who came to the Nursery for his regular check of the babies.

A miracle

September 27, 1990 (Thursday). I was again on night duty, my fourth in a row. It was 2 am and I just finished giving milk (through tube feeding) to the same premature baby and was halfway through my preparation of medicines and IV solutions for the patients in the ward when suddenly there was a power black-out. I immediately ran back to the Nursery to check the baby in the incubator. I found her completely blue and not breathing at all! By then the hospital’s emergency power was on. I asked one of the helpers to call a doctor while I resuscitated the baby. By the time the doctor arrived, the baby was already breathing, though a difficult one. After looking at the still bluish baby, I overheard him say: “What do I know about babies?” Stethoscope in hand, he listened to the baby’s chest, nodded his head and left in a hurry. A few minutes after he was gone, the baby suddenly stopped breathing again and turned completely blue.

The doctor was called back and I did the same resuscitative measures. Before he left for the second time, he told me not to call him again as there was nothing he could do. He was busy himself assisting mothers delivering babies and he was tired, hungry and sleepy as well. He said that the baby was lucky enough to have survived that long as she was only 32 weeks old and weighed 1.1 kilograms. But I did not give up. I sent two helpers out to the main ward and I continued reviving the baby each time she had the apneic attack. I was praying and crying at the same time urging the baby to fight for her life. I was thinking then about the father, who, since her birth, would come early morning and brave the dangers outside just to bring the much-needed breast milk. I was thinking particularly of what he would do when he finds his baby dead. So I fought; and so did the baby! I did not leave her side even when the Pediatrician finally arrived at 6 am (he had been called continuously earlier). When the father arrived at around 7 am, this time with his American wife, the baby was already breathing normally.

As there was still a possibility for the baby to have the same apneic attacks and as I was the only qualified nurse to attend to her, the doctor decided to have the baby transferred to a government hospital. (Two weeks later, I saw the baby alive and strong when I went to transfer another premature baby. I went to her and I remember telling her: “Fight on baby! Your country will soon be free!”)

When I came back from the transfer at around 11 am, a Filipina friend of mine (married to a British who was in hiding then) was waiting for me at the Reception area. She was due to deliver her baby. I stayed with her until she delivered her baby girl at around 5 pm and with her baby in the Nursery for another two hours as the baby came out blue and having difficulty of breathing. When the baby was stable enough, only then I went to sleep after more than 30 hours of being awake.

A ward re-extended

Early November 1990. One early evening, I was called from sleep to settle a dispute between a staff nurse in the main ward and an employee in the Reception. A patient was admitted in spite of an earlier instruction to the Reception personnel not to admit anymore patients as the ward was already full. As it was, the main ward stationed in Female Section 2 (which is adjacent to the Nursery) was already extended to Female Section 1. And with only two qualified nurses on duty, it was really impossible to attend to all the patients. Helpers (all Filipinas), although numerous then, still lacked qualifications and training.

I found out that the newly-admitted patient to one of the rooms at Female Section 3, came by ambulance from Al-Amiri Hospital, one of the five government hospitals functioning then. She was pregnant and bleeding. I attended to her personally, fixing her IV drip and making her comfortable. She was crying and begging me to save her baby! I reassured her that we will do the best we can and told her not to worry. In between attending to her, I arranged for the re-opening of the FS3 in preparation for the coming patients. I understood then that all Kuwaitis were coming to our hospital for admission. By then there were additional staff hired and with enough supervision, patient care, although qualityless, went on.

The same patient delivered her baby in the hospital four months after. Kuwait was liberated then but because of a lack of qualified staff, my work was still heavy and exhausting. I was attending then to a particular sick baby and only when he was transferred to Sabah Hospital had I known that his mother was the same woman I attended to a few months earlier whose case started the opening of another ward which led to extended care for more Kuwaitis in need of hospitalization.

A Curse

January 17, 1991 (Thursday) .  Nobody came to report for morning duty and the night sisters were still in the ward when I came to the Nursery at 7 am. I sent all the night sisters home and called all the available staff staying in the Hostel. Bombings, which started early morning of the previous day, still continued and can be heard by us. This prompted the transfer of the patients and babies from the second floor to the basement. Because of the haste of transferring the babies in cribs, the sound created by the wheels and cribs bumping each other started the fear among everybody and soon panic was all over the faces of both patients and the hospital staff.

While the babies in cribs were being transferred to the basement and some of the patients to the lobby, I was left in the Nursery giving instructions to my staff what things and equipment to be transferred as well. When I finally reached the basement, I was met by a tragic sight – mothers who had just delivered were panicking and shouting. I felt a strong compassion and pity for them and when I saw the babies all crammed in two small rooms, I cried. I cursed Saddam Hussein for what he did! I had a hard time controlling my tears; I had to be strong as everybody was looking up to me for support.

Later on the babies were transferred to the lobby, nearer to where their mothers were. I was very very tired then but I had to stay. I couldn’t leave the makeshift ward – both the male and female patients were lying in trolleys in the lobby – separated only by a cloth divider. I attended to some of the patient while at the same time managing the temporary nursery.

Iraqi dinars

Early September 1990. The hospital management started to pay the staff in Iraqi dinars. They multiplied our salary in Kuwaiti dinars to four Iraqi dinars. I was getting then ID750 or more depending on the number of hours I worked overtime. Later on, I stopped counting my overtime as there was no time even for me to recall when and for how long I was called. All the Iraqi dinars I received were given to a few Kuwaiti friends and used to buy food distributed to some Filipinos. I even shouldered the hospital bill of one Filipina who delivered a baby in the hospital. I found no point in keeping the money as I was not sure whether I’ll survive the imminent war or not.

By end of March, more than a month after Kuwait was liberated, we were still paid in Iraqi dinars. I refused to take my salary but was later on forced to claim it in early August because I wanted to give the money to a Jordanian baby (whose precious life I also saved during the Invasion) who was leaving Kuwait for good with her family.

Whatever Kuwait dinars I received in August 1990 had never been used as they belonged to the currencies cancelled by the Kuwait government. I still am keeping until now over a hundred dinars and from time to time would give a note or two to friends for remembrance.

At Jabriya Media Center

Early March 1991. I volunteered as a writer and helped in the setting up of an English paper at the Media Center in Jabriya. The paper, bannered as “Kuwait News” as per my suggestion, unfortunately, never materialized because by then, its mother paper, the Arabic “February 26” was stopped by the government for lack of license. Nevertheless, some of my works were posted on a bulletin board to form as part of an exhibit shown at the center.

Although my work at the center was a brief one, I found it very interesting and rewarding as I had the chance of working with some of the Kuwaiti resistants who stuck it out in Kuwait althroughout the Invasion. I also had the chance of seeing in person some of the “big” people of Kuwait bureaucracy.

A meeting with UN officials

March 20, 1991.  A dialogue was held at the SAS Hotel between officials of the United Nation’s Center for Human Rights and the Filipino community in Kuwait. I was the spokesperson for the paramedical group and I got the chance of airing the hard situation we encountered while working during the Invasion. I expected so much from that meeting. I was hoping for a solution to all, if not somel, of our immediate problems. The most I got from the dialogue was getting hold of a copy of a fax sent by Mr. John Pace, one of the UN officials we talked to, to the Permanent Mission of the Philippines in the UN Headquarters in Geneva. Whether an action was done as per Mr. Pace’s recommendations or not – that I do not know!

Author: Freda Editha O. Contreras
Published on:
August 2, 2000

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Feeding the hungry
fredacontreras
This March, I started a project which I have been toying around since December 2006. I was inspired by Dr. Bert Pagarigan of the USA who is doing well with his feeding program in Kidapawan, Cotabato in Mindanao.



My original plan was to open a health clinic in my barrio - in Mapatag, Hamtic, Antique. As the task is quite an ambitious one, given the financial obligation the project entails, I opted to start something small. The idea actually came from my sister Stella, one time we were chatting over Yahoo Messenger. Why don't you start a feeding program first, she suggested. Why not indeed!





I chose the poorest area in the barrio, in a place called Iraya. There are around 30 families living in that remote place in the barrio and after the initial weighing, 13 children were readily identified as malnourished.





At present, there are 10 boys and six girls being fed twice a week. Feeding started last March 13, 2007 and is being done on Tuesday and Thursday of the week. There is a plan to increase the frequency.





Because of my limited fund, I opted to feed only children aged 1-6. I chose this age group as these children need more nutrition in their rapid growing years. Given enough chance to enhance my fund, I will include, in the future, the 7-10 age group.





The mothers of the children themselves are now planning to engage in income-generating projects so they can help in funding the feeding program. They would want to start sewing pillow cases and children's shorts. This is now being arranged.





I plan to sustain the feeding program until such time the children reach the desired weight. Each child was initially taken a solo photo shot which will be compared to another solo shot in 3 months' time. If time and resources permit, I plan to create a special web site documenting each child's progress.




In a place called Egaila
fredacontreras
WHEN Waleed and I first went to an exhibition at the Sheraton Hotel in Kuwait City for houses available for sale in early 2002, we were actually looking at a map of Egaila. Where's that? I remember asking Waleed then. I never heard of Egaila as a place before - except for the Egaila Family Beach Resort situated in Fintas, south of Kuwait City. Little did I know that opposite of Fintas, on the other side of the main highway called the Fahaheel Road, sits an area which used to be a farm. It's where I used to see camels, goats and sheeps roaming the place. That's where Waleed and his best friend Mohammad finally closed a deal for building of our dream house! In a place called Egaila.

Our land area - 375 sg.m. - is smaller than Mohammad's 400 sq.m. because his is a corner lot. Our block which is composed of 14 houses in all - seven fronting the Fahaheel Road and seven at the back - is right at the middle of the smallest area of Egaila. Our house is located next to Mohammad's from the left corner facing the highway. There is no wall built between our houses. Here's a photo of the house without the main door fixed yet.




If Waleed readily chose Egaila that first time we went looking for a place, he could have saved KD18K. A year after, same land area at the same location, the price was already KD101K! When asked, Waleed explained that at that time he was looking for a semi-developed area and there was no plan even to put up an electricity supply in Egaila. Unlike the first one he decided to build our house on - in Mangaf, as related in my previous Journal entry - there was already a plan to put up power in the area.

After withdrawing his contract from the other company because of its non-compliance with his request to partner with an Islamic bank for repayment of loan, Waleed and I, together with Mohammad and my niece Edster went to look for houses in the nearby area. We first went to Area 2 of Egaila where ready houses were displayed for interested buyers. The first time I entered one of the ready houses - complete with furniture and other gadgets - I gaped at the beauty and enormous expanse of the house. I imagined how it was if I lived in that kind of a house!

In the end, Waleed and Mohammad chose to deal with the company, the same one which had an exhibit at the Sheraton Hotel Waleed and I went to a year prior. But the location was in Area 1, the smallest of all six areas of Egaila. Prior to building our house, we went to the company to choose the type of tiles, doors, windows, paint color etc. And even before that, Waleed and Mohammad confered with the whole design of the house, in consultation, of course with their wives. We all decided to have identical design and look of our houses, at least by the look of the front. The inside design was of course different.




The photo above shows the area in front of us, as viewed from our bedroom window above, being prepared for access to our place. Diggings were done for putting in of pipes for the drainage and sewage system. According to Waleed there were three types of main pipes: for drainage from rain water which goes out straight to the sea; for sewage which goes to the government's disposal system; and for water supply from the government. The water supply has actually two connections: one for fresh water and the second one for low-salt water.

We were already residing in our house when the infrastructures in the whole area were being built. Electricity was the first to be provided and as soon as our house got the connection, we moved in. [Our houses were in fact three months finished before the electricity was made available]. There was a septic tank temporarily built in front which was being sucked by a sewage truck once a week. And we got our water supply from a water tanker which came daily then.

Two years after our move to the house, the area is now complete with paved roads, street lights, with direct connection to both the water supply and sewage disposal of the government, and with two Mosques servicing the Area 1 alone. Houses are still being built here and there and the telephone lines have also been installed only awaiting now for the other areas to finish before the Ministry of Telecommunications will put on the main switch. This may happen next year, before March, the most. With the telephone line made available by then, then everything is complete in our area!

While in the process of being built, our house was taken a cell phone camera shot by Waleed to show its position among the other houses being built then. Part of Mohammad's house is shown on the right.



Shown below is the inside view of the main sala (we have two - from the main door and on the left side with a window as shown in the photo). This shot was taken prior to the furnishing of our house which took 16 months to accomplish.




And of course my dream kitchen, specially designed by me (yes, I was given by Waleed a free hand to choose the design of my kitchen!). It was built separate from the contract signed with the company. The image though is not very clear and showed only the corner part where the stove is located. I'll scan better pictures and upload them on my next Journal entry about the insides of our house.




In all, our house and lot cost KD107K: KD101K as paid directly to the company and the other KD6K paid for the kitchen, the shutters and other changes made to the original design of the house. Even the putting up of our garden was paid for separately, including the temporary septic tank and yes, the removal of the wall separating our house from that of Mohammad's! But Waleed is very happy because he bought the house at the right time. If he delayed it for another two years, he won't be able to find a house which costs only KD107K. Nowadays, same size and design as that of our house will cost no less than KD150K!

Living in Kuwait
fredacontreras
Friday, 30 June 2006.   OUR water line (main pipe) was connected today to the government’s water supply system. A meter was fixed along with two main valves. The first valve, connected directly to the meter, is for the fresh water supply while the second valve, not connected to the meter, is for the low-salt water supply. At long last, after almost two years since we moved to the new house, we are now free from irregular water supply! You see, in the past 21 months, we got our water supply from a water tanker which came according to the driver’s whim! And we will be saving a lot of money as well! While before we were paying KD30.000 (KD1=$3.25) a month for the water, my hubby Waleed told me that we may now only pay KD10 or less per month.

I am very happy with this new development as this means that the telephone line would be the next government service to be made available to us. I heard that the line will be the latest in the technology, a fiber optic something. I am not that technology savvy so bear with me if I can’t explain what it is or how it works. According to Waleed, a box will be installed inside our house and there will be one main connection for the telephone and two connections for the Internet. Yes, two Internet connections! Wouldn’t be that great?

You may wonder why am talking about newly-installed water supply system and a soon-to-be-connected telephone line when Kuwait, as you know, is a very progressive and rich country. You may ask why would we be staying in a place where there’s no water supply nor connection to a telephone line. Well, allow me to explain . . .

Kuwait, as in any progressive country, is experiencing a population boom in recent years. Not that the Kuwaitis are that many. In fact, there are more expatriates living in Kuwait than the Kuwaitis themselves. Of the 2.2-M population, only 800K+ are Kuwaitis!

The Kuwait government aims for all its citizens properly and comfortably housed. After the Invasion and Liberation of Kuwait in 1990-1991, there had been a sustained effort by the government to develop and build housing projects or communities which allow a Kuwaiti to own a house and lot at a very lax condition or regulation. Kuwaitis are given two options: either to opt for a ready-made house or to opt for a land (no less than 350 sq. m.) plus KD70,000.00 (more or less $242,000.00) cash, given as a loan, for constructing a house. In payment for the loan, the Kuwait government demands only 10% of the salary of the borrower to be paid monthly.

When Waleed and I got married in January 1997, we moved to a brand new 3-bedroom, 3-bathroom apartment in a new building in Salmiya. We used to stay in an old building in Jabriya, also with 3 bedrooms but only one bathroom. The first thing Waleed did after we were married was to apply for a house/lot in the Ministry of Housing. He also wanted to process, a day after our marriage, my change of nationality to that of a Kuwaiti. I politely refused him then and proudly pronounced that “I was born a Filipino and I will die a Filipino!” Little did I know that my refusal to change my nationality would cause a delay in his owning a house in the later part.

One of the requirements, you see, for qualifying in the Kuwait government’s housing privilege, is for the applicant to have another Kuwaiti as co-owner: either his wife or his child. As I remained a Filipino citizen and I also cannot produce him an heir (my reproductive organs were removed in late November 2000 because of cancer which grew in my womb), Waleed was left with no recourse but to set aside his dream of owning a house he can call his own. All, but one (who is still staying in their family house in Qadisiyah), of his siblings (there are 9 of them in the family) at that time were already living in their own houses. He was the only one renting a flat!

In late 2001, a new law was enacted giving Waleed hope of qualifying for a housing unit. He can avail of a KD70,000.000 housing loan from the government provided he presents a proof of his inability to produce a co-Kuwaiti. Waleed asked around first and soon enough he started processing his application. He actually only needed to present a Medical Certificate stating my inability to produce a child, along with copies of my Philippine passport and our marriage certificate, and of course his salary certificate. He got his approval shortly after that. I think his case was the first of its kind to be considered after that new law was passed.

Next thing he did was to look around for a house and lot amounting to no more than KD70,000. I remember going out with him almost every afternoon looking for the right package. The very first place we went to was an exhibition by a private company being displayed at Sheraton Hotel in Kuwait City. Prices ranged then between KD88K to KD112K. Whoops, we can’t afford it, Waleed uttered then! We continued scouting around and went to visit actual housing project sites south of Kuwait City where most of the private real estate companies have their products sold. Realizing that the prices are going up by the minute, Waleed, in consultation with me, of course, decided to close a deal with one private company selling a house and lot in Mangaf. The price then was KD89K. And it was considered the cheapest in the market at that time in early 2002!

We then moved in August 2002 to a smaller flat (2-bedroom, 2-bathroom) in Mangaf, nearer to the site of the house we finally decided to buy. It was our way of saving because instead of paying KD250 for our 5-year-old flat in Salmiya, we now would be renting a flat for only KD140 a month. And we can easily visit the site while the house is being constructed as the new flat we transferred to was very near. Almost nearing the end of 2002, Waleed got restless because of the company’s inability to concede to his request. He wanted to borrow the lacking KD19K (the government is only giving KD70K, no more, no less) from an Islamic bank but the company was only dealing with commercial banks at that time. The company in the end sent a note saying that Waleed can either accept their terms or he can look somewhere else!

“If I were to build a house I would want it to be built on a solid foundation, on terms acceptable to Allah.” That was what Waleed answered me when asked why he wouldn’t just agree with the company’s regulation. A true follower of Islam, he couldn’t be persuaded otherwise. So, off we went house hunting again! By then, there were four of us going around the area looking for a suitable house and lot. Waleed finally managed to convince his best friend Mohammad (who is married to my niece) to buy a house for his growing family.

To be continued . . .








My not so ordinary a life
fredacontreras
An ordinary life for me is one lived simply and uneventfully. You grow normally as a child, as an adolescent and then as an adult at specific periods in your lifetime. You go to school and finish your primary, elementary and secondary schooling in one place then you go to college in another place (or same place) and finish it without interruptions. You find employment and then marry once, have children and live your life revolving simply around your family and a few circle of friends you get in contact with regularly.

Almost all of my relatives and friends live their lives as described above, a life which is normal, a life which is ordinary. Of course I am basing this observation from my own standard of what an ordinary life is. I do realize that each individual differs when it comes to perceiving and actually living his/her life.

And now as to my own life. Why not so ordinary a life? Well, you'll find this out as I continue to relate my story. Read on please . . .

At the moment, I am residing in Kuwait, with my husband Waleed, in a house he caused to be built for the two of us. I first set foot on Kuwait on November 12, 1987, newly recruited from the Philippines to work as a Nurse in Al Hadi Clinic, one of the only four private hospitals existing then in Kuwait.

I was born May 26, 1957 in Mapatag, Hamtic, Antique, my mother's birthplace. My father, the late Rev. Ruperto T. Contreras hailed from Pan-ay, Capiz, a neighboring province of Antique on the island of Panay, Western Visayas, Philippines.

At five years of age, our family moved, from Antique province, to Project 8, Quezon City, Metropolitan Manila. My father then was called to work in the UCCP Headquarters along Highway 54 (now EDSA) in Quezon City, M.M. From Project 8, we moved to Project 7 and then to Project 6, all in Quezon City. I attended my Kindergarten in Project 6.

When I was seven, our family again moved and stayed in a newly-developed housing project - Grace Village Subdivision - in Tambubong, San Rafael, Bulacan, north of Manila. I went to Tambubong Primary School, located right next to the entrance of the Subdivision, and finished my primary grades there - Grades 1 to 4.

In 1968, my father was offered a teaching post in Union Theological Seminary in Dasmarinas, Cavite, south of Manila. We stayed in a big 2-storey building adjacent to a farm in the Seminary compound. The building was actually a classroom-dormitory rolled into one, with a detached kitchen and toilet/bathrooms. It was I think called National Rural Life Training Center? My memory seems vague at the moment.

I went either hiking or biking to Palapala Elementary School, 3 kilometers north of the Seminary Compound. Was half-way through my sixth grade there when my father was offered yet another job in a squatters’ relocation site in San Gabriel, Carmona, Cavite, now renamed General Mariano Alvarez, an added town in the Province of Cavite. During the height of Nardong Putik’s showdowns with the military authorities in the neighboring area of Paliparan, Dasmarinas, my parents transferred us all six children to Paco, Manila. We stayed then in a well-preserved ancestral house being rented by a Methodist Minister couple. I was in second year high school then and I attended a private school. A year after, we went back to Cavite and I finished my high school at San Gabriel II National High School.

While still in Cavite, I went to temporarily stay in a dormitory located at the Philippine Christian College (now Philippine Christian University) campus in Manila, along Taft Avenue - alone and far away from my family for the first time. I was granted a scholarship to take up Nursing, a very costly course even at that time in 1974. I originally belonged to BSN Class ’79. By the time I finished the 2-year Pre-Nursing course, my batch numbering to over 200 when we started in June 1974, was trimmed down to a mere 90 persevering students. For the internship, I went to Mary Johnston Hospital located in Tondo, Manila, a very notorious place to live in at that time. And I would guess even up to this time.

Mid-way through my last year in Nursing, I had a minor car accident which badly hurt my back. This made me not finish the course, a five-year BSN course which was later changed into a four-year course beginning the school year 1979-1980. I spent the next six months undergoing therapy at the Orthopedic Hospital in Manila after that car accident. At that time, my father was in Guam, working in a farm of his younger brother.

When my father returned from Guam in 1980, penniless but happy to be reunited with his family, we went back to my mother’s place in the province of Antique. I continued my BSN course at the University of Iloilo and graduated in October 1981. I was then newly married, to a third cousin, Juanito T. Naig, Jr. In September 1981, my father suddenly died of CVA (cardiovascular accident). My youngest sister Sharon (who was studying then in UP-Visayas) and I were in Iloilo when it happened. Everybody blamed me for my father’s death as it happened after a family row over my untimely and sudden marriage.

In January 1982, I got employed for the first time after graduating from college. It was not in a hospital setting though, it was in the Press and Media Office under the Office of the Governor of the Provincial Government of Antique. I was hired as a writer, yes, after I passed an interview and exam, as per Gov. Enrique A. Zaldivar’s instruction given to the head of the PMO. My father worked in the same office prior to his death. He started during the time when the late Gov. Evelio B. Javier was sitting.

In May 1982, I took the Board of Nursing exams. I was two months pregnant then with my first child. Despite lack of review and actual exposure to Nursing practice itself, I passed the exam and was told that I broke the record of University of Iloilo’s top Board of Nursing passers. I gained a score of 85.9%! In 1984, I took and passed the Professional Civil Service Examination held in Iloilo City. I was 8 months pregnant with my last child when I took the exam.

April 1987, husband left for Kuwait to work as Cook in a restaurant opened by his sister. I followed in November 1987 to work as a Nurse in a private hospital. By February 1988 husband was sent back to the Philippines by his sponsor. He hit his sponsor (he was drunk) while arguing over an unimportant matter!

April 1989, I went home, on emergency leave, in order to save my marriage. Made the husband promise that he will not imbibe alcoholic drinks anymore and that he will take care of the children and the pump boat which I’ve purchased a year prior. I also made him understand that should something happen to the pump boat, I will no longer deal with him, whatsoever, anymore. I was planning then to just finish my two years work contract in Kuwait and go home for good November that year. By July 1989, he sold the pump boat and used all the money enjoying with his friends in a beach resort in Iloilo! From then on, he ceased to be my husband! I filed a court case (Legal Separation) in 1992 and gained full custody over my two children. And in 1996, a court in Kuwait declared my marriage to him null and void! I converted to Islam in 1991 and that actually made my marriage to my Christian husband null and void. A court was needed though to declare the marriage as such, legally and officially.

By January 21, 1997, I was married to the most loving, understanding and responsible man on earth. Despite the many obstacles he faced – resistance, initially, from his family because I do not suit the standard (am, being once married with two children and 10 years older than him, should indeed make any brother or sister opposed to the union); my inability to produce him an offspring; and my not too healthy a body – he remains to be married and loyal to me. My life has never been happy as it has been and is with him and I never cease to thank God for giving Waleed to me. Waleed is indeed a Godsend!

wedding1
(This photo was taken during our wedding celebration held February 16, 1997.)
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