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Fundraisers walk 11,000km for families of bereaved Filipino health workers

A team of around 100 are collectively travelling the distance from the UK to the Philippines.

Fundraisers are walking, running and swimming nearly 7,000 miles to raise money for the families of Filipino frontline workers who have died from Covid-19 in the UK.

There has been a disproportionately high number of deaths among Filipinos working in the NHS and care services during the coronavirus pandemic, with claims that Filipinos have the highest death rate of staff in the sector.

Bianca Hanbury-Morris, who is half British and half Filipino, launched a fundraising effort, Balik Bayani, to help the families of those who have died by gathering a team of people to collectively walk the distance from the UK to the Philippines.

She told the PA news agency: “I thought, what’s the distance of the UK to the Philippines?

“Let’s get that emotional insight because these healthcare workers travelled a bloody long way from home for a better life to support the family members back home, and that’s 11,000km (6,835 miles).

“So we thought, let’s symbolically travel – whether that’s exercising, jogging, walking – the 11,000km back to the Philippines, that journey that they couldn’t make back home that final time.”

Of 188 frontline health and care deaths verified for the PA news agency, 28 (15%) were people of Filipino heritage.

Official figures indicate that about 18,500 Filipinos worked in the NHS in England as of March 2019, roughly 1.5% of an estimated 1.2 million total workforce.

Ms Hanbury-Morris, who works in marketing, was living in Dublin until recently but moved to Singapore before the start of lockdown because of her husband’s work.

Following the news in the UK, she said she noticed the high numbers of Filipinos who were dying.

She added: “I thought ‘we have to do something about this’.”

She liaised with the Royal College of Nursing Foundation and set up a fundraiser, ensuring the money raised will be ring-fenced for families of Filipino workers who have died from Covid-19 in the UK.

A team of about 100 people are joining in across the world – in Australia, Italy, Ireland, the US, Singapore, the Philippines and the UK – logging the miles they have walked, run or swum during their daily exercise to add to the cumulative total.

Organisers have also designated other forms of exercise, for example 50 squats or 15 pull-ups, as equivalent to one kilometre, so those who are unable to run can still take part.

Fundraisers can also do other forms of exercise to contribute to the total
Fundraisers can also do other forms of exercise to contribute to the total (Balik Bayani/PA)

As of Thursday they had raised about £5,600 of their £20,000 target, having completed more than 7,000km of their journey.

“People really love to gang together and help, it’s not just the Filipino spirit but the human spirit,” Ms Hanbury-Morris said.

“That sounds like a cheesy remark but I’ve seen it on both sides of the world, from our British comrades and the Filipinos. It’s very heartening.

“It’s been an overwhelming response and we’ve had people say, I had no idea Filipinos make up so much of the health system here, so that’s a great byproduct – increasing the awareness of what Filipinos mean to the UK.”

Ms Hanbury-Morris, 31, also said she hopes the number of deaths of Filipino workers will lead to a cultural change within the NHS and care sector.

“I’ve listened to the healthcare community who I’m now very close to and a lot of them say it is a cultural thing, where Filipinos, they get their head down.

Bianca Hanbury-Morris
Bianca Hanbury-Morris moved to Singapore shortly after the start of the pandemic (Balik Bayani/PA)

“I spoke to a senior consultant and he fondly said Filipinos are the quiet workhorses, and I know that for a fact.

“They teach us in school to just be grateful you have a job.”

She added: “If you have a workforce that is so largely made up of ethnic minorities, build the culture for them.

“If you know that most of your workforce won’t call out when they’re ill or scared or taking on too many shifts, build the culture so that you ask it, or train them to ask it.”

People can donate at https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/balikbayani

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