THE first Filipino nurses who came to South Wales as part of an NHS recruitment drive have celebrated their 20th anniversary living in the UK.

In 2001, 60 nurses came from the Philippines to work for the then Gwent Healthcare NHS Trust, as part of a recruitment scheme across Wales, and they were the first cohort of Filipino nurses to come to Gwent.

Forty were employed at the Royal Gwent Hospital, with another 20 taking up posts at Nevill Hall Hospital, Abergavenny.

Yesterday, 20 years to the day after they arrived in the country, the group reunited to celebrate their time over here.

A thanksgiving mass at St Patrick’s RC Church in Cromwell Road in the morning, was followed by a celebration barbecue in Tredegar Park in the afternoon.

As families basked in the sunshine, it is safe to say there were no regrets about the decision to take the plunge and head halfway around the world to Gwent all those years ago.

Among the 2001 cohort is Lorenda Quinones, a staff nurse at the Royal Gwent Hospital.

She explained the day’s events, saying: “We’re here to celebrate our 20th year in the UK.

“It was exactly 20 years ago that we landed in Heathrow and then headed to Wales.

“We were recruited by the health trust, who came to the Philippines. There were about 700 applicants at the time and we were the ones chosen.

“We can say that we have accomplished a lot of milestones. Some of us have become ward managers, some are consultants, some are practitioners.

“This is like a thanksgiving and celebration of all of that.”

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One of the nurses who made the trip was Pearl Tamolang, an advanced nurse practitioner.

She came with four friends after hearing about Princess Diana, and wanting to learn more about Wales and the UK.

She said: “We were all single at the time and thought ‘let’s go and explore’.

“The first experience when we got here, we were worried that we wouldn’t be welcomed, but the people were so supportive.”

The nurses were working with those who had interviewed them for the places, which Ms Tamolang said was a huge help - and that support continued moving forward.

She added: “I learned so much from them, and have been able to progress as a result.

“I have gone from a staff nurse, to a deputy ward manager, to a clinical lead and then after I had my son, priorities changed, and I went into a clinical role.”

She has now moved into working in a GP practice, in order to experience primary care.

Irene Flores said that when she arrived, the weather was “way too cold for us” - but she is full of praise for the support the then healthcare trust gave to her and her colleagues to help them settle in.

“I've no regrets [about coming to Wales], definitely not,” she said.

She added that over the years, many have brought up families, and the celebration was nice because their children were there with them.

“Many of us have not seen each other for a long time because of the lockdown, but your weather today is beautiful, and it has been a lovely celebration,” she said.

Nove Alzate was waiting for a visa to make a new life in the United States before she went for the job in Gwent.

Though the weather was a bit of a shock at first, she said she was made to feel at home quickly.

Ms Alzate said: “I think the Welsh culture is very accommodating. We don’t feel threatened, we feel safe, it is like family here.

“People will say hello to you on the street and it’s like home, and I think that is why we settled here.”

She has since become the only a surgical care practitioner in robotics in South Wales.

“A role came up a few years after I had done my training, there weren’t any opportunities when I originally finished.

“I got in touch and said I was interested in the role. I met the consultant and luckily I got the post.

“I have zero regrets about the decision to move here. It is home here.”

Shirlay Belen, a clinical practitioner at the Grange University Hospital, echoed those sentiments, paying tribute to her neighbours who helped her settle in the UK when she first moved over.

 “They were so supportive when we got here. When we came we had nothing, it was completely fresh.

“I never intended to stay here for 20 years, I thought I would do my two-year contract and move back home, but I am so happy where I am.

“Some of my friends moved to Australia and America, but having colleagues and neighbours who are so supportiv,e has made me feel so lucky.

“We are really grateful that the people here accepted us as part of the community. That is why we are still here. It's a real privilege for us to be part of this Newport community and make it our home.”

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