The Process of Checking my Privilege: A Filipina-Canadian’s Perspective On COVID-19

At this rate, it would be just over three months since drastic measures have been implemented here in Edmonton to mitigate the effects of the pandemic. Given my line of work, my tendency to get involved in the community, and how I stay connected on social media, I get to witness how different people react, respond, and adapt to the current situation.

Checking My Privilege

The first time I heard this phrase thrown around, it gave me mixed feelings. Since, in many ways, I am not part of privileged groups. I constantly heard about the many ways that women are mistreated (which is true), how migrants are disadvantaged (which is also true), and how my plight as an orphan is tragic and pitiful (which, let’s face it, is also true in many ways).

But after participating in a few activities that encouraged people to check their privileges in all aspects, I had a more complex perspective and better appreciation of the idea, including things that are most certainly beneficial and not everyone has access to for no other reason that location and circumstance. Here’s a short list:

Public Transit: The fact that there is still transit service in Edmonton is a huge deal, since in places like the Philippines, many people are unable to go around since all public transportation is banned due to the lockdown. On top of that, public transit vehicles here are buses, which a nice and large vehicles and there is ample space to spread out and stagger seats for passengers. The LRT is also still operational which is wonderful! And, the icing on the cake, is that for some time paying public transit fare is suspended during this time. That’s quite incredible!

Person wearing white shirt soaping hands with white bar of soap

Access to Information: The ability to read, write and hear, particularly information written in the English language, ought to not be taken for granted during this time. Most of the government announcements and health information is in English. This came to light after a fellow Edmontonian who is involved in the community, was asking for donations of printing paper so she can print information about COVID-19 in languages like Urdu, Hindi and Punjabi. Another spotlight came from advocates for those who are deaf and hard of hearing, pushing anyone who product digital media these days to ensure that accessibility tools are the default. A volunteer in my office posted on Twitter, saying that being blind, info-graphics are useless, and photos don’t work well if there are no alt-text descriptions.

Uninterrupted Access to Utilities: I’m talking about water, internet, electricity and heat. I’ll say this over and over because it cannot be underestimated. It’s definitely more comfortable to stay in one’s home if these critical elements are in place constantly. From someone who grew up in an environment where electricity interruptions are normal, and when water is scheduled only to be available certain times a day, living in Canada where these are hardly interrupted still blows my mind. Think about this simple question: how can you wash your hands regularly when you don’t have constant access to clean water? I reflected on this on an earlier post, after visiting the Philippines and the homes I used to live in.

Government Benefits: Another term I learned a while back, that is highlighted during this time is the Social Safety Net. Applications for programs like CERB and loans for businesses, legislation to delay evictions for tenants are being passed on a faster pace than before. This is something to not take for granted and it’s always valuable to think critically on who benefits and who gets left behind. It’s incredible to witness both the praise and the criticisms of these programs. I think it’s a sign that people are being both proactive and vocal about how policies and programs affect them and those around them.

Back view woman looking at a laptop on a dining table

Having a Job, and the Ability to Work or Study from Home

Many office jobs can be done from home, and there are so many occupations that need to be done in person. The ability to smoothly switch over to working from home also depends on one’s current circumstances. There are many articles talking about inequalities based on region, internet speed available, having computers and laptop, and a privacy to join online meetings or classes with limited interruptions.

Our basement roommate just spoke to us as she was recently laid off, and given that she won’t be able to have enough money to pay rent, she is moving out by the end of the month (which is technically less than one month, as stated in our agreement). My husband and I stated that it’s not a problem at all, and we are sorry to hear about the job loss. She is moving back to her parents’ home when she won’t have to pay rent, and it is a stressful time for her. Stability through employment is something not to be taken for granted.

This is just a short list. I can go on and on. I think I’m writing this as an opportunity to express gratitude, count my blessings, and remind myself that as an individual, when these programs have gaps, there are many ways to fill them temporarily to help those facing a current crisis.

The Privilege of Hot Water

silver faucet with water flowing

By: Giselle General

Benguet Province, Baguio City, Cordillera Region. These places are associated with cold weather, and that temperature is reflected on the frigid water that comes out of the taps.

During our first planned vacation to the Philippines with my significant other back in 2013, he emphasized that we need to find a place with hot shower. I did tell him stories on how we make warm water for bathing by boiling water using a kettle or a large pot, then mixing that with the bucket in the bathroom that is half-full with cold water. He is not enthused by the idea.

During the second visit to the Philippines just recently, I was able to find more accommodations that boasted the availability of hot water as an amenity. In the bathrooms of these condos, there is an on-demand hot water contraption attached only to the shower plumbing, which means that water everywhere else such as the bathroom and kitchen sinks, still have the default water temperature.

bathroom showerhead with water tank and shampoo bottles

This made me admit that I have gotten too used to the luxury here in Canada, since I found the hot water in some of the accommodations unsatisfactory. It’s honestly very humbling.

Since the first 16 years of my life were spent in the Philippines, I have distinct memories of living without such easy access. And this is not just hot water, but consistently flowing water in general.

When I visited my cousin who is currently living in the home where I used to live in this small mining village, our chitchat was interrupted when she remembered that it is the scheduled hour for water access for all residents. Water is not available all the time, it becomes accessible for an hour at 5 AM, 11 AM and 5 PM. When these times arrive, that would be the main household chore that people have to focus on, simultaneously gathering water in storage containers and doing chores that take up a lot of water such as laundry. Ah, the memories.

kitchen sink and window in poor condition

There are still moments in the past years here in Edmonton, when I would be in the most random of places, like the washroom at the newly renovated third floor of City Centre Mall, of in the washroom of the South Campus LRT station that looks a bit worn down. As soon as I turn the tap or place my hands right where the senor is, water starts streaming down on my hands. At times, surprisingly warm that it can make me a cup of powdered Ovaltine or Milo or tea, if only I had the tools to make one right there.

Access to well-structured plumbing and sewage systems is still incredibly inconsistent in many parts of the world. The quality of plumbing fixtures even varies significantly depending on the location within a small area like a city. From a health standpoint, not just for humans but for the natural environment around where they live, this is really important. As I grow older and have more complicated views about life, I am starting to realize that these realizations will come even more often.

The last accommodations we had during our vacation would arguably be the worst in terms of water access. The water pressure is so weak, that the shower is practically a trickle of lukewarm water, and it took a few minutes to fill a cup of water from the tap on the sink. Maybe it was also the exhaustion from the trip overall, but it made us even more anxious to go home.

We arrived back in Edmonton at almost midnight and collapsed in our beds exhausted, we didn’t even have the energy to shower and clean off the gunk that we got from our long flight. The next morning, we took a shower as early as we could. I cooked breakfast and made coffee, being able to wash the greasy pan in warm water. As I was still adjusting to the fact that we returned to a place where winter is still happening, whenever I washed my hands in the washroom I would turn the hot water tap just a bit more, the flow of warmth providing comfort. I am home, and I know I’m freaking privileged.