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Microloan helped Thai nurse reignite her career in Canada

October 19, 2018

When Manitouwadge’s General Hospital called, Kaew Luerueng readily accepted a position.

Once Kaew Luerueng got her registered nursing credentials here, she was so intent on getting Canadian work experience that she took a job four years ago in an isolated northern Ontario mining town she knew nothing about.

When Manitouwadge’s General Hospital — with all of 18 beds — called, Luerueng readily accepted a position.

So on Nov. 21, 2014, she set out from Hamilton in her old car for the 12-hour drive to Manitouwadge — 200 km north of Wawa and 390 km northeast of Thunder Bay.

“I had no idea Canada had a place like that,” said Luerueng, now a nurse at the Hamilton General.

“I had no idea that up north, you could be 300 km from the next gas station. … When it’s winter, it’s isolated. It’s in the middle of nowhere.”

But Manitouwadge was just another challenge in becoming a hospital operating room nurse here, like she was in Thailand.

Luerueng’s biggest hurdle by far was the costly process to recertify as an RN in Canada.

She might never have made it without a $10,000 microloan in 2013 from the Immigrant Access Fund, now Windmill Microlending.

The loan allowed her to attend the required one-year Bridging for Internationally Educated Nurses certificate program at Mohawk College.

She had been a personal support worker in Guelph, but “whatever I earned, I sent back home. I wanted my parents to have a better life. I hadn’t saved for an emergency and had lived paycheque to paycheque.

“It wasn’t easy at all,” Luerueng said of her path to nursing in Canada.

“I think the loan helped me the most. Without it, I didn’t know what to do — $10,000 is a lot of money.”

Mary Ellen Armstrong, spokesperson for Windmill Microlending, said the charity’s clients can’t access conventional loans because without a Canadian credit history or collateral, they are considered high risk.

“Many of them are also working at jobs making a relatively low income, despite their professional skills and experience,” she said.

Windmill, with 24 Hamilton clients since 2015, offers microloans at 0 per cent for refugees and, currently, at 5.2 per cent for skilled immigrants.

Luerueng came to Canada in June 2008, when she was 26, initially to learn English while working and then to get a good-paying nursing job in the U.S. to better support her parents in Thailand.

She started on a work permit, as a live-in caregiver to an 89-year-old woman in Toronto, who, she said, was “so nice and very kind to me” and taught her English.

From there, Luerueng attended ESL classes, became a permanent resident and then a PSW. She came to Hamilton for the bridging program and got a part-time PSW job with Saint Elizabeth Health Care.

But her passion for working in a hospital operating room never died.

She graduated from Mohawk in June 2014. and then passed the required College of Nurses of Ontario exams.

Then came the need for Canadian work experience to eventually achieve the job of her dreams.

Back in 2014, on her way to Manitouwadge, she hit a snowstorm in Barrie, not far into her trip.

“I had no idea about snow squalls,” Luerueng said. She skidded off the highway but was rescued by the OPP and a tow truck.

The officer told her the highway was being closed behind her and suggested she stay the night in Parry Sound. But she needed to get to her new job by the next day.

“He said make sure your tank is full or you could die in your car (if you run out of gas). … Let’s put it this way: If you make it to Sudbury tonight, you are very lucky.”

Luck was indeed on her side, because she arrived in Manitouwadge in time to start her first shift at 2 p.m.

“I was just happy to have work,” she said.

Luerueng planned to stay three years. She lasted eight months.

“Every day was snowy and it was very cold, minus 30 C, sometimes minus 40 C.”

The turning point came when a patient, badly injured after hitting a moose with his truck, had to be flown out by air ambulance to Thunder Bay. But icy conditions prevented the helicopter from landing.

“I’m thinking what if that man was me. I have no family here,” she said.

She searched for two months for another job, and on Aug. 17, 2015, started at the Hamilton General in the cardio and vascular unit operating room.

“I love it,” Luerueng said. Even though it took her 10 years to get to this point.

Puangkaew Luerueng (she goes by Kaew) is the youngest of five children who grew up in a poor rural area. In order to eat, the family foraged in the forest for mushrooms and bamboo shoots, and fished.

Whatever her parents earned went toward their children’s education. That, and a scholarship, got Luerueng into nursing at university.

“In Thailand, if you never get a good job, you don’t get a pension. So the kids look after the parents when they get older. That’s my culture.”

Luerueng, now a Canadian citizen, said that throughout her quest for a nursing career, first in Thailand and then in Canada, “I told myself: No boyfriend, no husband, no baby, until I reach my goal.”

Now 36, she has a boyfriend.

The key to her success, she said, has been perseverance.

“To me, if you’re not stopped, you keep walking. And one day you will reach your goal.”

The original article appeared in the Hamilton Spectator on September 24, 2018 and was written by Carmela Fragomeni. A link to the article is HERE.

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