Through interviews and original photography, PHI is working with direct care workers nationwide to document their stories and share their ideas for transforming jobs in long-term care. This interview is with Marichu Buenaventura, a Caregiver at Courage LLC and Member of Pilipino Workers Center in Los Angeles, CA. She has been a direct care worker for nine years.
On why she decided to become a direct care worker
“I’ve been working as a caregiver since I came here from the Philippines in 2012. When I first got here, I had no job, and I needed to make ends meet. Back home, I took care of my grandmother until she died at 101-years-old. Someone from my church talked to me about how I could use this caregiving experience to get job security. My first job I had here was taking care of a patient with progressive supranuclear palsy—so I started from there. It takes courage and patience to take good care of others. It can be so hard dealing with sick people, but I have empathy for others and really enjoy this work.”
On the impact of COVID-19
“When we got the stay-at-home order last March, I stopped working because I’m just so scared of the virus. I experience panic attacks because I’m all alone in the house, and paranoia that I’m going to get sick. I feel emotionally and mentally drained. Sometimes I get mental blocks, and I can’t think straight because I’m too worried about my present situation. I started working again in August because I was a few months behind in paying my rent and was so worried about getting evicted. Right now, I’m just working once a week. I would like to work more, but it feels too risky.
I pray a lot so I’m still strong for my children. They are in the Philippines, and I haven’t seen them since I spent New Year’s with them before the pandemic. I always miss them and cry for them. That’s the saddest part.”
“It takes courage and patience to take good care of others. It can be so hard dealing with sick people, but I have empathy for others and really enjoy this work.”
On supporting direct care workers during the pandemic
“I am currently employed with the [homecare cooperative] Courage LLC. There are a lot of benefits working at the cooperative, and I receive better compensation with them than I did with other clients before. I know they care for us workers, especially during the pandemic. I’ve been fortunate to get support from both Courage LLC and the Pilipino Workers Center (PWC) during this time. They notify me of how to apply to programs that can help, like cash assistance, delivery of care boxes with food, and other emergency funds and subsidies. And then I also have support from other co-caregivers and friends at PWC who I can confide in.
I used to take the bus to work, Monday through Saturday, up to an hour each way, but now I take a carpool because I am too scared to ride the bus. Otherwise, I might have to stop working again. Fortunately, I was able to get the first dose of the vaccine at the facility where my client lives and will get my next dose soon. I was happy to be able to get the vaccine because I know many other caregivers haven’t gotten it yet. So many people are infected with COVID-19 at the facility, so we are all truly at risk. Luckily, we have N-95 masks and not just surgical masks for protection. But even with the vaccine and PPE, I still have paranoia, especially with the new variant of the virus.”
Photography: Rachael Porter @porterfiles
The Direct Care Worker Story Project aims to enhance the visibility of this workforce, amplify its voices, and draw on workers’ unique wisdom to inform policy and practice. The Project seeks to address the lack of representation of direct care workers in public narratives and ensure images used to depict long-term care work are grounded in workers’ and clients’ real experiences. If you’re interested in sharing your story as a direct care worker, please email us at info@PHInational.org.