​“Imagine, I'm a paediatric nurse. But I can’t even take care of my own children.”

Dennis last saw his wife and young children more than two years ago. Since then, the pandemic has kept his family apart – Dennis in Newcastle, New South Wales, and his family in the Philippines. 

“The last time that I saw them was two years ago and my youngest, which is my son, he was a baby, around 10 days old,” says Dennis.  

“That's the only days that I've seen him and hold him in my arms. So now he's walking, he’s running [and I] haven't seen him since.” 

Dennis moved to Australia at the end of 2018 to study and progress in his career as a nurse while supporting his family overseas. Today he lives in Newcastle where he works as a rehabilitation nurse. 

Trip backs home for holidays and birthdays were possible before COVID-19. But now the pandemic has kept Dennis away from his family longer than he ever imagined.  

Video calls are one of the only ways Dennis can stay connected with his wife, two-year-old son and four-year-old daughter, but sometimes his youngest does not even recognise him. He’s missed out on the moments that all parents treasure: first steps, birthdays and bedtimes. 
"If she doesn't know you, she [my daughter]
can barely talk to you."
Left, Dennis’s wife and children celebrate his son’s second birthday, and right, Dennis video calls his wife and children. © Supplied/Dennis

Families torn apart  

As Australia battles the latest surge in COVID-19 cases and capital cities are plunged in and out of lockdowns, Dennis says his family describes similar scenes back home in the Philippines.  

In the past three months, COVID-19 cases and deaths have risen sharply across East Asia. Alongside Indonesia, the Philippines has been one of the most affected, recording more than 1.5 million cases since the beginning of the pandemic.  

Like many countries, the Philippines has enforced lockdowns to try and curb the spread of the virus. More than 5,000 cases are currently being recorded each day.  

Schools in the Philippines have remained closed since the end of March 2020, making it one of the last countries globally with schools continuously closed for face-to-face learning. Dennis’s four-year-old daughter is missing playing and learning with her peers during the crucial early education years.

"Vaccination is very important; 
it could save lives."
Trained as a paediatric nurse, and now a father himself, Dennis knows all too well the effects this pandemic is having on children’s development. Dennis says before the lockdown, his daughter had no problems socialising with others.  

“But now if she doesn't know you, she can barely talk to you, she will not answer back, she will just stare,” says Dennis.  

“In the learnings, you can see that it's not as great as face-to-face, you can see the delays on the development of children because it's online. It's damaging their development.” 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, UNICEF has been supporting children around the world with access to education and is vaccinating teachers to help children get back to the classroom safely. 

Across the East Asia and Pacific region, UNICEF has supported more than 130,000 schools to implement safe school protocols and 31 million children with access to education. 
Dennis in Australia chats with his 2-year-old son in the Philippines via video call. © Supplied/Dennis

Vaccines bring us closer 

Back home in Australia, Dennis was excited to get his own vaccine earlier this year to protect himself and his community. Just like the flu vaccine, he was expecting some side effects after his jab.  

“The next day, I was just laying in bed, I didn't want to move. I felt very tired. But I didn't have any other symptoms,” says Dennis.  

“Surprisingly, after the second dose, I was feeling nothing. The next day I was working like nothing happened.” 

Today, still working as a nurse, Dennis is trained to administer the COVID-19 vaccine and encourages everyone in Australia to get vaccinated if they’re eligible. Dennis hopes that he will be reunited with his family soon.  

“Vaccination is very important; it could save lives.” says Dennis. “My parents having COVID is evidence itself that vaccines help.” 

“They’ve only had the first dose but still that saved their lives.”  

We know many families have been separated for too long during COVID-19. Dennis and his family are one example of thousands around the world and our thoughts are with everyone away from their loved ones.  

The best chance we have of overcoming this virus is to get vaccinated and look forward to seeing family members soon.
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Dennis with his wife, newborn son and daughter prior to leaving the Philippines. © Supplied/Dennis