By Stan Stewart.
Move around Whitianga and you are sure to see some people from the Philippines. In last week’s issue, they were featured being part of the Clean-up Whitianga project. They have come here to work, and hopefully to live. Some have lived here for years because their families were already in New Zealand, or their partners are kiwi born. Currently, we think there are around 100 Philippino men and women in Mercury Bay. They are not discouraged by storms, and cold weather. Bad weather, floods and storms and broken roads - they know all about them.
The Republic of the Philippines consists of 7,641 islands with a population of 115 million. The beauty of many of the islands is mind blowing with crystal clear waters and long white sand beaches. Wealthy holiday makers from around the world rate them as the most desirable locations for their paradise in the sun. Face it; the Coromandel is not the only ‘paradise’ and these locations have warm, balmy weather all year round.
But that is not all they have. The Philippines have typhoons, - on average, 20 typhoons pass through some part of this island nation every year. They have a destructive force beyond anything we have seen. The individuals from the Philippines who now live in Whitianga, did not know each other before arriving in Whitianga. They come from various parts of that huge archipelago. How huge? Their country stretches for 1850k in length and across 1,127K in width. The coast-line measures 32,600km. (NZ is 1600km in length and 450km in width). Our newcomers lived in huge cities or rural areas or on outer island chains.
Wherever they are from in the Philippines, they all have one thing in common. They love to party. For them a party consists of singing, dancing, laughing and sharing food. Such celebrations are a regular part of life for all people across their country, city and rural, rich and poor. These celebrations, which start in the late afternoon are like medicine for the soul.
Whatever an individual’s situation, the music, the singing and the dancing help them carry on.
The Informer has talked to some of these people who live and work in Whitianga, “How do you like it?” Short answer is, they love it. They can cope with our weather with its cold and storms. They are full of praise for the beauty of the Coromandel and Whitianga. However, what they like best of all is the friendliness of the people. They feel welcome here. They are not naive. Many of them have lived in other parts of New Zealand where they did not feel as welcome as they have here in this town and district.
When you look at a person from the Philippines, you will need to realise that behind that person are others - parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins. The money they earn here is a support for many in their family. They are not regretful about this. They are glad to help their whanau who live across the sea. This is what they do. They are the bread winners for their families.
The new arrivals are not just passing through. Their hope is they are here to stay. Their intention is to become Kiwis. They will make talented and productive citizens. But the journey to residency is difficult, always changing and expensive. They sometimes feel the burden of this. All of them are doing essential work. Their employers say Philippino people work very hard and are very reliable and welcoming to customers. The goal is to find work where they can have a contract for at least a year. All would stay long-term if given the opportunity. OPC has been a prolific employer and they speak very well of the opportunity OPC has given so many of them.
When speaking with the the Informer, one said, “Work is much easier in New Zealand; the jobs are lighter than in the Phillipines. There the hours are much longer; the breaks are very brief or not at all, and work can be very hard physically.”
“From experience with immigration, you can’t really plan your life,” says one of the group. “They needed us for covid, so we got to stay longer, but then the rules were changed, and we have to go back to the Phillipines and apply to come back again. That is hard and very uncertain for employers. The rules keep changing. We do not feel we are always valued in terms of immigration.”
What they all agreed on are the following words and Marissa McLachlan, the President of their Association here in Whitianga, spoke on their behalf. “Our culture is to be hospitable; we have a passion for work. To do our job as if our life depends on it, is who we are. We are taught to share and to do things in love. We strive to honour that here in New Zealand.”
Caption: Members of the Whitianga Filipino community at their recent Independence Day celebrations.