Caregiver Chronicles: Neriz Lagumen- Smart, strong, compassionate, independent

Vancouver, British Columbia

ate, walang magandang kwento ang buhay ko!

By Crisanta Sampang

When I sent Neriz Lagumen a message seeking permission to feature her story at the Caregiver Chronicles, she only replied with a series of ‘horrified’ emojis. Just like her. Neriz doesn’t say much, and while she loves volunteering and hanging out with her friends and family, she dislikes attention.

I waited for any additional comment but got nothing. I sent her another message reminding her what I wanted. Her response was, “ate, walang magandang kwento ang buhay ko!” (Big sister, there aren’t any good stories in my life.) I told her I’d be the judge of that. 

I have worked and volunteered with caregivers off and on since I came to Canada, and I know that every one of them has a story. In fact, it would take a lifetime to tell all the stories out there, because every one is worth telling. I choose to tell first those that stand out in my memory. 

I have seen Neriz in action, as a volunteer and paid staff seven years ago, in one of my past jobs. I was in charge of running programs tailored to help foreign live-in caregivers prepare to leave domestic work and get ready to enter the mainstream work force. 

We planned workshops. We invited resource people and speakers who were experts in their fields. We organized social and fundraising events. Neriz and a team of other volunteers helped by encouraging other caregivers to attend these events; by deploying tickets during fundraising, soliciting prizes for games, getting the event hall set up, and then cleaning up later. She was always available to help.

Neriz Lagumen, in her own quiet way, has emerged as a true leader in all of these. Organized, creative, efficient, focused, dedicated. Give her a job to do, and you can expect Neriz to deliver her best results. She worked the hardest: sold the highest number of event tickets, supervised the event set-up and decorating teams, led the clean-up after, while remaining even-tempered and unflappable throughout. 

Neriz is happy to remain in the background, where she is most effective. 

When I decided to leave my coordinating job to concentrate on media work, I didn’t have to look very far to find my replacement. Who else can do the coordinator’s job, the person who can potentially be better and more effective than me, someone who already knew how to do it, who had compassion and dedication in spades? Neriz’s name flashed brightly in the marquee of my mind. 

Niece Ghiana proudly shows off her medal as Magna Cum Laude. (Photo provided)

So I talked to Neriz. She said No. I cajoled. I begged. I encouraged her. I pointed out all the ways that she already had done the work as a volunteer and assured her she would be good at this. I promised that I would be around to guide her if necessary. Neriz still said No.

I asked my boss to talk to Neriz. She told him No. 

You have to respect the strength she showed by not buckling under the weight of my persistence. She agreed to stay in the interim – temporarily – to help keep things going while we looked for a new coordinator. 

Being single, Neriz enjoys freedom of movement and choice. Getting married has never been an important part of her agenda. Her priority has always been her family, not because they pressured her, but because she wanted it to be. She has had dating opportunities but she wasn’t interested. When the right man comes along, she says, she would know. 

Neriz Lagumen came from a family of nine children, three boys and six girls. She was second to the youngest. Every one of them have university degrees and have good jobs. Two other sisters, Cora and Anna Liza, are currently living abroad with their families, one in England and the other in Vancouver. She credited her father, a factory worker and a barangay chairman for 25 years, for helping to raise a brood of college-educated and hard-working children. Her father died in 1991.

Her mother ran a seasonal buy-and-sell business while looking after her nine children and volunteering as president of their church association called Apostolado ng Panalangin, for many years.

Niece Ghiana lets her aunt savour the medal she won as Magna Cum Laude. (Photo provided)

Neriz’ very first accomplishment, she proudly told me, was building a house for her mother in 1998. That was way before she went to work abroad.

In 2005, Neriz was all set to leave for Israel when her youngest sister passed away during childbirth. Neriz postponed her trip and looked after the baby for one year.

Neriz Lagumen worked in Israel from 2006 to 2009 during the Israel-Lebanon war. Her most unforgettable memory from that time was running to the bomb shelter for cover, along with her employer, whenever  they hear an air-raid siren. She had been happy in Israel but working there long-term was not in her game plan. It was just her stepping-stone to Canada.

Neriz came to Vancouver in the latter part of 2009, to work as caregiver for an elderly gentleman for four years, until she received her permanent resident status. Afterwards, she worked at Amazon, and finally at the English Bay Chocolate Factory. 

Her latest achievement was supporting her niece Ghiana through college. Ghiana’s mother died seven years ago, and Auntie Neriz stepped in to help. Ghiana recently graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in Human Resources And Management. 

Neriz visits her mother every year, but was disappointed that she would miss her Mom’s 85th birthday in May, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Hopefully next year, Neriz says.

Neriz Lagumen’s long-term plan? To buy a house in Canada. Actually, she has already started the process. She expects to be a proud homeowner before the end of 2021. 

The Caregiver Chronicles is about Filipino women or men, past and present, who came to Canada to work as live-in caregivers, and how they helped improve people’s lives, both their families’ and others’. Their successes aren’t always the material kind. Their caregiving job did not make them millionaires. What these women did was survive the challenges, learn from their experiences and empower others by sharing their material and social achievements with others.

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Crisanta Sampang is a former caregiver who wrote about her life in Singapore in ‘Maid in Singapore’. An author and filmmaker, she continues to write for Philippine Canadian News.Com  as well as Mill Woods Mosaic. She is finishing her second book – ‘Maid in Vancouver’.

 

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