Henedina Gadong

I came from Santiago, Ilocos Sur, Philippines on February 10th 1976 to be an auxiliary nurse at the Royal Hospital. I wanted to come to the UK because I saw that our neighbours who had come had been successful and they were living an abundant life.

The requirement to come over was to have two years hospital work experience. But back then, I only had one and a half years work experience. Luckily, the doctor gave me a reference for two years work so then my application got approved! My sister helped me organise all my papers so that by the time I came over, they were already waiting for me to work with them. I only applied for a Nursing Auxiliary role. It’s called a carer today.

My mum and dad said if they knew I wanted to go, they would have just broken my legs so that I couldn’t leave! When we were at the airport, my mum was crying. I also wanted to cry, but I held it in and didn’t want to show them.

There were six of us from different provinces travelling over. The night we left, one of them was crying, saying, 'If I knew it was going to be this hard, I wouldn't have left'. She said missed her boyfriend. I said, 'Can't you wait for four years and then you can get married?'. The others also felt lonely. I felt the same way but I did not cry. It was also hard for me as I also left my boyfriend behind but I thought to myself that if he can't wait then we're just not meant for each other. The next day, the other lady decided to go back home!

My first impression of the UK is that the houses were beautiful. I thought everything was concrete, but then I realised that there was lots of countryside and greenery. The food was also very different! They have fish here, but I missed the fish from home. Also winter, it’s so cold and my feet were freezing! It was hard to adjust to the accent, but if I listened carefully I could understand.

I wasn’t too homesick overall. At first I was, I would cry alone in my room as I would feel lonely, especially at night. Thankfully, I had my uncle and sister to guide me. To overcome loneliness, I would also pray. I would remember my boyfriend, but later on I did not feel sad anymore because he got married to someone else! I still do miss The Philippines, mainly the family gatherings, which are better there!

I chose to stay in the UK because everything I worked hard for was here. I started a care home business, and slowly I've been able to own three houses. And I enjoyed it here! Back then I would try and go home every year. But once I had my business I could only go back for emergencies.

I am so proud of my decision to move here! Everything I dreamt of, I was able to achieve here. I have a big house, a business and properties back home. I still don't know how I was able to achieve all of that. Our life is just so good. I'm so happy. My husband and I are so proud of our son who has achieved so much professionally. I'm so happy about that. That last thing we desire is for us to have some grandchildren.

When we go home to the The Philippines, we manage the school that we’ve built there. It’s still operating, my husband and I are very proud it is popular and it’s one of the top private schools in Candon City.

The memory I cherish the most during my time in the NHS was when I got awarded as the top performing nurse. They would give out bonuses, but I would have preferred certificates because I would have collected a lot of them! There were tough times but I was ultimately happy. I once had a supervisor who would ask me to do a lot of things. But then the hospital sent me for further training and when I got back I got promoted to the same position as my supervisor. She was shocked because I was now wearing the same uniform as her! And then she questioned as to how I got promoted. And I just responded with a smile and giggle. But deep inside I was upset because I felt like she was underestimating me. I brushed it off as I was happy to be promoted and I’m proud of that.

I have no regrets. It was my dream since I was a kid to be a nurse and take care of my parents when they grow old and also be of service to my community. That was my dream, to become a nurse, and I was successful at it. If I could give my younger self some advice, it would be, 'Don't worry, darling. You will be alright.'

This story is part of Ingat-Ingat (, an exhibition curated by Becky Hoh-Hale about Southeast Asians who came to work for the NHS between 1959-1979.