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Filipino quake victim was working to pay for husband's operation

2018/02/11 20:52:19

Taipei, Feb. 11 (CNA) Melody Albano Castro came to Taiwan from the Philippines three years ago to save up for an operation her husband needs, but before she could realize that goal her life was tragically cut short this week when an earthquake struck the eastern city of Hualien, killing at least 16 people.

The body of the 28-year-old was found Thursday evening in the half-collapsed Yun Men Tsui Ti building, one of the buildings most seriously damaged by the earthquake.

Prior to her death, Castro was working as a caregiver for the family of Taiwan-born Japanese Mrs. Sumin Okubo (大久保淑珉). She took care of Mrs. Okubo's younger brother who lived with Mr. and Mrs. Okubo.

Mrs. Okubo told CNA that Castro came to Taiwan to work three years ago.

Traveling hundreds of miles from her hometown in Cagayan province, in the northeast of the Philippines' Luzon Island, Castro came to Taiwan with one goal in mind, to earn money to pay for her husband's operation.

"She needed money to pay for her husband's surgery. He suffered a severe head injury in a car accident several years ago," Okubo told CNA. The family which has already spent NT$350,000 (US$11,837) on medical expenses, needs another NT$450,000 to pay for the brain surgery he needs, she said.

As the only breadwinner in the family, Castro had to make enough to take care of her parents, husband and six-year-old daughter, according to Okubo.

Castro's aunt, who also works in Taiwan, told her that she could earn more money if she worked in Taiwan.

Okubo said the Filipino's first job was to babysit in Taipei, a job she hated because her employer worked in a bar, meaning she had to take care of the baby all day and night and never got enough rest.

After quitting the job in Taipei, Okubo said Castro's labor broker arranged for her to work in Hualien where she had cared for an elderly dementia patient who had violent outbursts.

"Melody told me that the patient sometimes hit, kicked and bit her. She stuck it out for one year until he brandished a kitchen knife at her and then she decided to leave," said Okubo.

Castro was then transferred to a remote aboriginal village which she said was less developed than her rural hometown in Cagayan and she worked there for only a week.

She started work as a caregiver for Okubo's family on Sep. 1 2017, a day that changed her life and that of the Okubo family.

"She was such an angel," Mrs. Okubo said. Using her given name "Melody," Okubo said she was kind-hearted, cheerful and loved to sing. Indeed, Castro's arrival immediately changed the atmosphere of the whole family, she added.

"She would call me big sister and my brother big brother, every night she kissed each one of us and said goodnight."

To save money, Castro did not return to the Philippines after she came to Taiwan three years ago and in addition to being a caregiver she also sold products online to make some extra cash, according to Okubo.

"But she called home everyday to talk with her six-year-old daughter and even showed her our photos or put them on her Facebook," Okubo said.

Castro and the Okubo family lived together as a family and before the tragedy were discussing extending their contract.

Castro was also planning her first trip home in three years during the Christmas holiday this year.

Okubo was heartbroken at Melody's death and said she felt sorry for her family.

"Many of the Filipino caregivers I know hugged me and said not to be too sad for Melody, saying it was fate. But I told them I could not accept that, she was so young with at least 40-50 years ahead of her and her whole family was waiting for her. Life is so cruel."

If there is any consolation, Castro's family in the Philippines will be entitled to NT$1.19 million in compensation, according to Taiwan's Ministry of Labor, and a payout of NT$600,000 from Hualien County government.

Meanwhile, the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) in Taipei, is assisting the family in the aftermath of Castro's death. MECO represents the Philippines' interests in Taiwan in the absence of official diplomatic ties.

Gerry De Belen, head executive assistant and information officer of MECO, told CNA that it has sent a team to Hualien to take care of the matter while waiting for Castro's family to decide whether to come to Taiwan.

MECO will also pay consolation money to Castro's family, with the exact amount to be decided at a meeting next week, he noted.

Although the money cannot make up for the devastating loss, the ever cheerful Filipino will always be remembered by the Okubo family as their angel.

"Without those few seconds in the earthquake, Melody would still be here with us," Okubo said. "I want to say to you, you have gone to heaven just one step ahead of me. I will see you again."

(By CNA coverage team, Shih Hsiu-chuan and Joseph Yeh)
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