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WOMEN ON THE LEAD

Words by Rhodaliza Steegmaier




“The journey to achieving gender equality is perhaps still long.
However, every step that each of us take in showing our capabilities as women makes us powerful agents of change.”

In celebration of the National Month of Women, we interviewed three Filipina nurses in Stuttgart, Germany who have been working in caregiving and senior homes. We traced their professional journey which led them into their current designations as heads of their respective teams. Meet Cerelina, Carla and Susana, three outstanding women who have certainly proven their capabilities as women, embodying the National Month of Women's sub-theme Lipunang Patas sa Bagong Pilipinas: Kakayahan ng Kababaihan, Patutunayan.”


Cerelina Ernst came to Germany after marrying a German national, while Carla Macasero arrived in Stuttgart in 2022 as one of the Triple Win* Nurses hired by Wohlfahrtswerk für Baden-Württemberg, a caregiving home where both Carla and Cerelina are working. Susane Hauck, on the other hand, used to be a nurse but now runs her own intensive home care ventilation company called Pinoy Pflege.



Q: What brought you to Germany, and how did you start in your current job? 

Cerelina: Like most Filipinas in Germany, love brought me to Stuttgart in 1993, and I am still married to my German husband until now. I am actually a chemical engineering graduate, but knowing that the recognition of my profession would take a long time due to the different school system between Germany and the Philippines, I decided to venture into an alternative option to get a job and tried caregiving. After six months of intensive German language courses, I was given the chance to work at Haus am Kappelberg, a home care facility in Fellbach near Stuttgart, under Wohlfahrtswerk für Baden Württemberg. I started as an assistant nursing aide and all-arounder. 


Carla: I joined the Triple Win Programme (TWP) in 2019. Through this program, we were given the opportunity to choose between caregiving (pflegeheim/altenheim) or hospital (krankenhaus), and I chose to work in a caregiving home. At that time, there were 15 nurses under TWP, and we were deployed to various facilities of Wohlfahrtswerk in Baden-Württemberg. I was assigned to Haus am Weinberg. Weinberg in English is a vineyard and so, where I work, I have a nice green view of a grape vineyard.


Susana: Like Cerelina and Carla, I also started as a registered nurse working for a nursing home from 2001 to 2009. I would say that my transition to specializing in intensive home care ventilation in 2010 led to a focused journey of establishing my own company in February 2021. The good rapport which I have established with patients, coupled with encouragement from their relatives, somehow motivated me to be an entrepreneur and start my own business.


Q: What were the initial challenges you had to face in doing your job or in starting your business?

Cerelina: At first, I really had difficulty communicating with the elderly and with my co-workers in German language, especially since some of them speak in Schwäbisch dialect. But the work itself, giving assistance to the elderly, was very fulfilling, and I loved it.

Carla: There were so many challenges that I had to face when I started working here in Germany. First is the language barrier, even if I already have a B1 language certificate. Without the complete integration and understanding of the German language, it was really hard for me to deal with daily work situations. In addition, we are working and attending our B2 language classes at the same time. The language course is needed before we can secure the recognition certificate as a nurse or the so-called anerkennungsurkunde. So time management and balancing everything was a big problem. The German culture is another challenge because it is way different from the Filipino culture, such as being so direct. Filipinos try to be polite and we like to sugarcoat our words. The Germans don’t mince words and just say it directly. No is no, and yes is yes, no maybes and perhaps.


Susana: The language barrier, the complexities of being a foreigner and, believe it or not, being a woman added layers of difficulty in starting my business. Some people were skeptical, doubting my ability as a Filipina to establish my own company. It is, indeed, difficult to navigate through all the requirements and licenses to comply with the German business regulations. Thankfully, my ex-husband supported me in overcoming the initial obstacles of starting a business.





Q: How long did it take before you got the designation as a team leader and since when have you been holding the position?

Cerelina: In 2000, I think my supervisor at that time saw a potential in me and pushed me to pursue a degree in geriatric nursing. Right after I got my diploma in the year 2003, I was appointed as station head. Then I was promoted thrice in a span of four years after serving 10 years as station head.


In 2013, I was promoted to key account manager. In 2014, I was appointed as deputy head of nursing services. In 2016, I became head of nursing services, where I completed my nursing services management course simultaneously. In the year 2017, I switched from home care facility to outpatient nursing care, still under Wohlfahrtswerk. I was convinced by the management to manage one of the three branches of Mobile Dienste Wohlfahrtswerk, or Mobile Caregiving Service, located in Fellbach up to the present. Also in 2017 and again in 2021, after the pandemic, I was involved in recruiting Filipino nurses for our company Wohlfahrtswerk through the Triple Win Program. Actually, Carla is one of those we hired in 2021. I was with my HR head in Manila and did the interviews. Just last September 2023, I celebrated my 30th year working with Wohlfahrtswerk.


Carla: I received my certificate or urkunde as health and caregiver (gesundheits und krankenpflegerin) last October 2022. Then in March 2023, or five months later, I was promoted as head of the residence area or wohnbereichsleitung. According to my superior, I was the first non-German employee in the facility to be given the opportunity to take on the title without requiring an extensive work experience. I also received a lot of recommendations from colleagues to take on the task when the position was opened. I was really surprised that the designation was given to me, considering I had been only with the home for less than two years during that time. Then in December last year, I was given another big opportunity to be the alternate caregiving head or sub-team leader. It is a preliminary stage to becoming a full-fledged team leader for the entire caregiving home, but I still need to do some workshops to acquire the exact qualification of getting the title Pflegedienstleiterin or PDL.


Susana: It took me about 20 years starting from the time I started as a registered nurse until I opened my own company in 2021. I am proud to say, however, that my son Marcel is now diligently working as the CEO of the company and is just as equally at the helm of managing the company as I am. I could see his commitment to the company's values and goal in the decisions he makes. Together, we are steering the business forward and his contribution adds a familial touch to the company, making it a true family endeavor rooted in dedication and shared vision. 


Q: What are the usual challenges that you have to deal with? 

Cerelina: As head of this branch, I have to deal with all kinds of challenges. I have to ensure that smooth operation of the branch is maintained, make plans and strategies in advance to cope up with competing agencies. I have to deal with our clients and their families’ wishes and suggestions on areas for improvement. I also have to deal with the patients’ family doctors, personal caretakers, health insurances, medical establishments, and also internally deal with my seniors and my staff, among others. 

Carla: The PDL carries out administrative and organizational tasks, such as personnel planning, organization of schedule and monitoring compliance with quality standards. We are also the contact person for residents, relatives and employees.

One of the big challenges for me is dealing with all the complaints from residents, relatives and, at the same time, from some other colleagues. In a place where people of different races and ages work together, those are to be expected.


As a PDL, I have to remind myself to think of a solution to the problem which will not cause any harm to either the residents and the facility itself. Bringing my emotional Filipino attitude is a challenge for me because, here in Germany, one has to be firm with any decision you make. You can’t be wishy-washy. 


Susana: Addressing the patients requests and complaints is part of the usual challenges. Patients' expectations about the staff's German language proficiency occasionally arise. Some patients, however, speak in German dialects, which admittedly are sometimes difficult to understand in the same manner that some patients also could not understand the way our Filipino nurses pronounce German words. In such cases, I consistently try to encourage our patients to give our team members a chance to show their capabilities. Likewise, I also encourage my team to understand the peculiarities of each of our patients. 


Q: Do you have Filipino/Filipina nurses in your team, and how do you manage them?

Celerina: I have mixed-race nurses, and I am very lucky and proud to have three Filipino nurses and one Filipina-German with me in my team. As their head, I make sure to give them a good atmosphere and a harmonious environment to create and maintain a strong team spirit. I give full attention to their personal problems when they share them with me.


Carla: Yes, there are some kababayans and also those from other countries in the facility where I am. Handling the complaints of colleagues is also not easy and I always have to find some compromise, even if my decisions sometimes make me unhappy. But, as a leader, I have to make unpopular but objective decisions and that is never easy.


Susana: Having Pinoy Pflege as our company name, we, of course, have a number of Filipino and Filipina nurses in our team, and I'm happy to have all of them. When improvements are needed in terms of serving our patients better, I confer with my team not as a superior but as a mentor and a friend. I make an effort to maintain an approachable demeanor and avoid showing a bossy attitude. Showing respect is the cornerstone of my interaction with the members of my team. 


Q: What are some of the support services you provide to the Filipino nurses who get hired by the company you work with?

Cerelina: I did mention that we hired Triple Win Nurses back in 2017 and 2021. I am thankful for the support that the Philippine Honorary Consulate in Stuttgart headed by Honorary Consul Dr. Axel Neumahr has taken the initiative to give a welcome reception to our Filipino nurses, serving them Filipino food and even cooperating with some of the German companies such as the Welcome Center in Stuttgart which, for its part, generally assists new settlers in Stuttgart. 


Carla: Yes, we really appreciate the efforts of the Philippine Honorary Consulate in Stuttgart in welcoming us shortly after our arrival in Germany. I remember we had an “outdoor” reception as there were still pandemic restrictions in effect at that time. We also appreciate the support of the Filipino community who shared with us some of the winter clothes and other home items they no longer needed to help us get started with our new life in Germany. Indeed, bayanihan is very much alive in Stuttgart and in most parts of Germany. 


Susana: Occasionally, there are events organized by the Filipino community groups such as the Filipino Nurses Community in Germany and some other Filipino organizations in Stuttgart where we get to promote Pinoy Pflege by way of sponsorship. Joining public events helps people become more aware of the existence of our company and we get the opportunity to talk about the distinct caregiving services that we offer.



Q: Any words of wisdom you would like to share with our nurses in Germany and other parts of Europe?

Cerelina: I only hear warmth and praises from other medical establishments and former patients and their family members about Filipino nurses. So keep going with the good deeds, good performances and tender-loving-care attitude at work and off work as well. Mabuhay!


Carla: My advice is to accept all challenges with a smile. My own experience has taught me that. At first, you may doubt yourself if you can do it but, believe me, "what ifs" are worse than saying to yourself "I tried.” A bad decision is better than indecision. I know it is hard to stay positive all the time but always keep in mind always that what you manifest is what you will attract. So always give your best shot and only positive things can come out of it. Try looking at all the brightside in all the challenges, whether at work or in your personal life. 


Susana: Eleanor Roosevelt once said that “A woman is like a tea bag — you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.” Starting one's own caregiving business or any business for that matter is taking on calculated risks. Surely, there will always be challenges in anything we do and it only takes courage and conviction from one's self to surpass them. One just has to believe that there is nothing we can't do as a woman. 

Indeed, women as leaders and decision-makers at all levels, no matter whether in private or public offices, are critical to advancing gender justice and gender equality — and to furthering economic, social and political progress for all. The journey to achieving gender equality is perhaps still long. However, every step that each of us take in showing our capabilities as women makes us powerful agents of change. So let's continue to show what we can do because we are women (babae ka!) and never allow anyone to tell us we are just women or “babae ka lang!”


 

*The Triple Win Program (TWP) is government-to-government project which started in 2013 and is based on an agreement between the German Federal Employment Agency (Bundesagentur für Arbeit) and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) on the procedure, the selection and the placement of nursing professionals. 

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