A Malayali would never face the language barrier if he ends up in a hospital in any part of the globe. He is likely to be helped out by at least one nurse from his home state. Such is the spread of the nursing community from Kerala.
A majority of youngsters who train themselves to be nurses have their eyes fixed on overseas employment. They toil for up to 12 hours a day in strange lands to support their families back home. Most of them are ready to forego holidays.
An average nursing student would have incurred a debt of about Rs 5 lakh by the time he or she has completed the training. They have to find jobs abroad to repay the education loans. Salaries in Kerala remain too low.
I have spoken to many nurses who worked in Iraq from 2012 to 2014 while I was researching for my movie, ‘Take Off’.
We have heard of nurses who had migrated to the United States or Australia to bail out their families. Even Iraq is a paradise for these nurses who would earn only a fourth of their salaries had they remained in Kerala.
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They have high hopes when they sign a contract for two years against all odds. They have proved themselves with their commitment and hard work. But they are too busy even to smile at their colleagues.
An average nurse in Kerala deals with simple diseases and accidents on a typical day. When they are thrown into a war-ravaged country such as Iraq, they are suddenly faced with bodies riddled with bullets. They manage to survive the situation and even console the hapless people assigned to their care.
These expatriates only think of a better tomorrow as they tighten their belts and go into an uncertain day at work. The Indian government had a difficult time rescuing the nurses who were stranded in Iraq because most of them did not want to go home.
Even when death loomed over their heads, they called up their families and assured them that they would come back only after receiving the salaries.
The families of the nurses working abroad lead as miserable a life as in Iraq. Every aspiring nursing student should bear this in mind.
And what happened to those who were transported back to the safety of home? Most of them have flown back for want of a choice.
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The nurses have a right to live and work in Kerala with a decent salary. Though several committees have recommended minimum wages for nurses, no one has really bothered to implement the decisions.
The government has a responsibility to ensure better quality of life for the nurses at a time when almost all countries bring in changes to benefit their own people and ensure their job security.
Let their dreams take wings when we observe another International Nurses Day on Friday. They are weather-beaten professionals. Their service is no less significant than those who fight on the frontlines. Let us not turn our back on them.
(The writer is the director of the movie ‘Take Off’, which was based on the lives of nurses stranded in Iraq)