Kalinga is a heartfelt tribute to Filipino caregivers

Kent Donguines’ documentary highlights the complexities of the Live-In Caregiver Program

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A Filipinx woman, sitting in a living room and studying family photos.
Kalinga explores the sacrifices caregivers make. Image: Aimer Films Inc.

By: Charlene Aviles, Staff Writer

When I first watched Kent Donguines’ Kalinga (Care) at Sliced Mango Collective’s movie screening, it felt like reading a series of long-lost journals. The first-person narration of Filipina caregiver stories beautifully captured the sacrifices, heartbreak, and resilience of these mothers. Inspired by his mother’s experiences as a caregiver in Canada, Donguines sheds light on the Live-In Caregiver Program’s effects on Filipino families. While this documentary is educational, it only scratches the surface of this program’s complexities.

Through Canada’s Live-In Caregiver Program, which ended in 2019, families could hire temporary foreign workers to take care of their children or elderly family members. The documentary discusses the stressful working conditions the program’s largely FIlipino applicants  endure in hopes of getting permanent resident status.

Kalinga features the stories of Mary Ann Dumaguing, Maria Facundo-Lilly, and Esther Tabujara — Filipina caregivers living in Metro Vancouver. After moving to Canada, they coped with years of homesickness in hopes of financially supporting their families and eventually sponsoring them to immigrate to Canada. What grabbed my attention the most is these women’s unconditional love for their families. 

While Kalinga is full of touching memories, it also has its heartbreaking moments as the mothers sacrifice time with their own children to be able to provide for them.

I initially thought this documentary would be a highlight reel of the accomplishments of caregivers in Canada. But I was pleasantly surprised with Donguines’ approach to include the women’s raw confessions of their trials. It added a personal touch to the documentary because you learn about the women’s stories at different stages of their careers.

Tabujara’s outspoken nature stood out to me the most. Her need to be honest with the audience was comforting. She expressed her frustration with people’s misconceptions about caregivers. According to her, caregivers juggle multiple roles that are often overlooked.

“Caregivers manage the whole house. You’ll be the nurse when the kids get hurt. When the kids get lonely, you are a mother,” said Tabujara.

While caregivers provide essential labour to Canadian families, they continue to be undervalued. “We have a labour shortage across the board, particularly around domestic work or health care,” said Vancouver-Kensington MLA Mable Elmore. “The Philippines has a labour export policy where they actually export workers.”

The stories in Kalinga are heartbreaking, but they’re needed to address the underlying problem: the lack of legal protections for temporary foreign workers. While the featured stories mention friendly employers, it’s also important to shed light on other workers who are susceptible to exploitation from their employers.

According to Elmore, “We are creating with this program a whole underclass of workers. Hundreds of thousands of workers who do not have permanent residency.”

Kalinga made me reflect on my upbringing with immigrant parents. Hearing about temporary foreign workers’ struggles made me respect and appreciate their sacrifices even more. These matriarchs embody the most important value in Filipino culture: family. 

Watch Kalinga (Care)’s trailer on YouTube. To stay updated with Donguines’ future projects, follow him on Instagram.