Corazon Tarcena
Corazon Tarcena Image Credit: Supplied

Every day, the rent collector calls her, demanding for the pending Dh4000 rent. That is the cost of the small room in Dubai’s Satwa, which Filipina expat, Corazon Tarcena, shares with her daughter, and two other young women. The latter two are on visit visas, and all three depend on Tarcena for food and shelter.

"Last month I was able to pay only Dh2000,” the worried Filipina expat told Gulf News, on Monday.

“Where will I possibly bring the money from? I haven’t received my salary because of COVID-19,” she added.

On the one hand she tries to negotiate for an extension for the rent payment, and on the other, she thinks of ways to arrange for the Dh1,600, which she will soon need to pay to a loan shark she borrowed money from. “I have no peace of mind, if I miss the payment, I will incur a penalty Dh350 per month,” she added.

“First time in a bad situation”

In the last 14 years that she has been in the UAE, this is the first time, the 53-year-old Filipina has found herself in a complete state of paucity.

Counting the last of her savings, Tarcena said: “I have managed all my life here in a salary of Dh3000, I have sent most of my money home to my family, yet never failed to pay my dues.”

COViD-19 forces Corazon Tarcena into this situation for the first time in her 14 years stay in the Emirates
COViD-19 forces Corazon Tarcena into this situation for the first time in her 14 years stay in the Emirates Image Credit: Stock image

But the coronavirus pandemic has thrown Tarcena’s finances off completely and given her “sleepless” nights.

She said: “Today, I managed to spare some change and I bought five kilos of rice that will be enough for the next few days for me, my daughter, and the two women I brought here on visit visa. They wanted to work in Dubai, so to help them, I brought them here just this February.”

Little did Tarcena know, the pandemic was about to change everything.

No work, no pay

“I work in a garage in Dubai, as a receptionist. Late in March, my employer suddenly asked me to stay home. The garage had to be closed due to the increase in COVID-19 cases.

By end of the month, Tarcena was in for a shock. She said: “I wasn’t expecting it at all, but that month, I did not receive my salary.”

The situation continued in April. She added: “I cannot even blame my employers. I know there was barely any business, I understand what is in our business account. How can they pay me?”

Her younger daughter, who stays with her, and usually helped with payments. But, her employer at an event company, asked them to go on forced leave for three months.

Falling in line for charity

A few days ago, as she stood on a street “somewhere in Dubai’s Al Diyafa”, she saw volunteers distributing food for those who were affected by the pandemic. She said: “I feel ashamed to fall in line for charity. I would much rather it reaches the less fortunate. But, for a few minutes I did consider standing in that queue.”

Helping the needy

For Tarcena, philanthropy comes naturally. In the years that she has been in the UAE, she has made it her business to help the less privileged back home, in the province Paluan, Occidental Mindoro, in the Philippines.

She said: “I was a teacher there, and came here in 2006 because my salary of Dh800 was not enough to support my family and my three children’s education.”

She recalled: “Once, during my early years here, I saw some discarded, old computer parts, in Jumeirah. Where I come from, at that time, we were still using cardboards to explain to children how to use the computer. So, I collected these old pieces and sent them back to my home town. They might not work but at least the children get to see the equipment first-hand.”

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In 2016, she helped people, who were still recovering from the destruction caused by the 2013 Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, by sending them boxes of essentials, at her own expense.

She added: "In my initiative, ‘Your Waste Is My Gold’, I collect old things, clothes, school supplies, shoes for the Mangyan Tribe of Paluan. I sent Balikbayan Boxes to the needy, back home.”

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Tarcena regularly used to send charity items to her hometown in the Philippines
Tarcena regularly used to send charity items to her hometown in the Philippines Image Credit: Supplied

“I never stopped giving moral support to my kabayans (country people) who lost their hopes in the UAE, for various reasons. I would help them reach social workers or authorities.

Family back in the Philippines

Tarcena is thankful that for now, her family back in the Philippines is managing without her help: “Thankfully, they are receiving relief from the government. The government is providing them 5000 pesos, per house. So, I don’t have to worry about that for now.”

“My husband has a small farm. And, my son who used to work in Dubai, returned to the Philippines,” said the mum of three.

Corazon Tarcena
Corazon Tarcena Image Credit: Supplied

She said: “It is also good that my family gets the local fish catch for much cheaper now, due to the coronavirus restrictions.”

Her elder daughter lives in Dubai, in International City, she added.

Odd jobs

Tarcena, who came to the UAE in 2006, worked at a free zone company, for two years. She was given accommodation at my employer’s home. “I also tutored the employer’s son and they paid me Dh2000.”

In 2008, she found another job as a receptionist in a garage for a salary of Dh3000. She said: “I knew that my salary would not be enough to pay for my children’s college fees, so I did odd jobs on the side for some additional money. I tutored some children and made Dh1500 from that and on weekends, I would do some cleaning jobs, for about Dh100 for a few hours.”

Every month she sends around Dh1700 to her family. “I was never tired of working, she said. Every time I had extra, my children had extra. Sometimes, they needed more for the projects, or for uniforms.”

If things went right, Tarcena was set to finish her loan installments in the coming months, and retire soon. “I love what Dubai has given me so far, it helped me take care of my family for 14 years. And, to give my children a good education,” she added.

For now, she is called to office on alternate days, so there is slight hope for this month. Tarcena added: “I am the provider in my house, the food we can still manage, with a Dh3 packet of bread. What I can’t have is a reserve of food, should the situation continue, and, the money for rent. I am thankful we have this place to live so far.”