Biggest challenge for Filipino nurses in Dubai? Language

Natashya Gutierrez
Biggest challenge for Filipino nurses in Dubai? Language
Language is a common cause of misunderstanding between employers and OFWs in the United Arab Emirates

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – So, you’re a nurse and you have a patient requiring attention. You’d need to administer treatment and in so doing, you’d have to do some explaining about the procedure.

Unfortunately, your patient couldn’t understand English. And the only Arabic word you could say immediately is not even close enough – “shukran,” which means “thank you.”

What do you do?

Twenty-five-year-old Jolibee Blasabas, ER nurse, did the next best logical thing: She waved her arms, swung her hips a little and did a lot of facial expressions.

“I had no option but to do body language,” Blasabas, a graduate of Brokenshire College in Madapo Hills, Davao City in the Philippines, told The Filipino Times.

“The patient, an old lady, stared at me befuddled with her jaw hanging for what had been a full minute. She eventually caught on and understood what I was trying to do. Before long, we were smiling at each other,” she added.

Blasabas, who works at Al Noor Hospital in Al Ain, arrived in the United Arab Emirates on December 1, 2011 on a visit visa. She got her first job, also as ER nurse, at Al Garhoud Private Hospital near Airport Road in Dubai on February 5, 2012.

“I had a dreadful experience looking for work,” she said. “I had reached the point where I thought of giving up my career as a nurse just to have a job because time was running out on my visa,” she added.

“I would wake up early in the morning applying on the web and buying newspapers for the classified ads. Every day, I would go to different malls, offices, clinics and hospitals to submit my curriculum vitae.”


One stumbling block was that she did not have the required license from the Dubai Health Authority (DHA).

According to online Filipino magazine Positively Filipino, about 680,000 Filipinos live and work in the UAE – 450,000 of whom are based in Dubai. At least 658,348 are temporary workers while 19,760 are undocumented, working in different sectors including construction, real estate, tourism and many also work as domestic workers.

Language is a common cause of misunderstanding between Filipino employees and employers in the UAE. According to a GMA News report, UAE officials urged the Philippine government to assist domestic helpers in learning Arabic before sending them out of the country.

“I prayed so hard and asked that God bless me with an opportunity to work as a nurse,” Blasabas said.

Her prayers were answered as she got a nursing job before her visa expired, with her employer, Al Garhoud Private Hospital, shouldering all expenses for her DHA exam.

Blasabas said family debt was among factors that made her decide to try her chances in Dubai. Her sister was already in the city working and so any adjustment would not be difficult, after all, she told herself.

“My father died in 2011. As I am the eldest, I should be the one looking after my family. We have so many debts, including unpaid dues for our house,” she said.

Blasabas said her mother borrowed money for her visit visa, plane fare and financial needs while job-hunting in Dubai.

“I have paid that debt. Now I am planning to pay all family debts and to save our house. I still have to work hard and go for my ultimate goal, which is to be free from the bondage of debts. I’ve been sick and tired thinking about our debts. I was a teenager when we started experiencing financial downfall,” she said.

Blasabas said she plans to stay in UAE for another four years and move elsewhere in pursuit of her career. –

This story was republished with permission from The Filipino Times of the United Arab Emirates

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