Monday, Sep 26, 2022
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A Force Unto Themselves, Why Malayalis Are Synonymous With Nursing

Kerala received Rs 85,092 crore as remittances (March 2018), accounting for 35 per cent of the state's GDP. The nursing brigade has changed the Kerala's society and economy

A Force Unto Themselves, Why Malayalis Are Synonymous With Nursing Photo by V.V. Biju

From the tarmac, Graciemol Thomas spied the modest two-storey airside terminal at the Calgary international airport and knew she was going to be alright. All of 22 years as she stepped off her second trans-continental flight in as many days in 1971, the devout ingénue from Kuttoor, a “small village just beyond” the municipal bounds of Tiruvalla in Kerala’s Bible belt, recalls the tears of relief as handmade ‘Welcome to Canada’ placards went up in the public viewing area. Cold, inhospitable London had left the trained, but unseasoned, paediatric nurse thinking she was in over her head. A day later, still fighting jetlag, Thomas made the four-hour drive to Blairmore, the nondescript Albertan community the “village girl” would call home for nearly four decades.

“It was, as they say, white bread. Most had never seen a person of colour bef­ore, let alone one in a sari. But instantly, I knew it was a place I could settle down in. A close-knit god-fearing group of people full of warmth, it reminded me of home,” says Thomas, who arrived in Canada—where prime minister Lester B. Pearson had in 1967 (the US too opened its doors to overseas-trained nurses the same year) brought in a ‘points’ system for skilled migrants—as part of the University of Calgary’s pilot rural health outreach programme. Like her designated frontier town, Thomas (née Punnen) was a pioneer—part of a new wave of émigré nurses from Kerala to look past the Gulf and the UK to ‘settle’ the Commonwealth’s outer reaches. In so doing, they changed the faces of both their new homes (literally) and the old country (figuratively). Kerala fin­ance minister Thomas Isaac calls them the “unsung heroes behind the state’s economic growth...nobody has recognised their contribution”.

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