STORIES FROM THE FRONTLINE: Essential workers during COVID-19

We are living in difficult times. COVID-19 has forced children out of schools, elderly into further isolation and most significantly, it has exposed the crippling social inequalities that the most vulnerable in our communities have endured for far too long. While the rest of New Zealand are on lockdown, essential workers are sacrificing time away from their loved ones to ensure that the country runs smoothly and safely. This mini series aims to raise awareness, encourage hope and honour our people working on the frontline during COVID-19. 

Tongan Nurse Mele Haapai Taufa is living in Saudi Arabia and shares about her experience in the Middle East during the COVID-19 crisis. 

My name is Mele Haapai Taufa and I am from the Island of Tonga. I was born in Tonga and migrated to New Zealand with my family in the year 1999. Grew up in West Auckland (Kelston, specifically). I am now working at King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia as an Emergency nurse and have been here for a year. 

The cases are continuing to rise here in the Middle East despite interventions, however that is due to the government actively going out into the public and testing citizens instead of waiting for them to being admitted . Our borders have been closed for 7 weeks now and we are now on 24 hour lockdown with the exception of going to the grocery store or pharmacy to get necessities. An average day for me would be like every other working day, wake up and get ready for my 12 hour shift.


I have always had this secret desire to work abroad but never thought that I would actually be brave enough to do it. One night when looking at jobs online in Australia one of my colleagues noticed and she planted the seed by suggesting to work in the Middle East. Initially I thought Dubai but she mentioned Saudi Arabia. If I must be honest, at the time I had never heard of this country. So on that night I went home and prayed about it and left it in prayer. If its Gods will for me to go there then let it be if not, mafi mushkila (no problem). 

My family are always concerned about my safety however I try my best to keep everyone updated on my whereabouts just so they know what I get up to and where I am and who Im with. Same thing back home but just over on the internet. My mum is the worst, I get told off if I don't update her in 3 days time. Man, no matter where you are in the world, you will always get told off. Must be an Island thing! Overall my family was supportive of my choice to leave home and work abroad.

I am planning to stay here for another year and we will see where the next journey will lead me. I would love to travel to another country and work there but not too sure yet because I miss home so much. At this point in my life I know I am staying in the Middle East for another year. 

From this end, the health system approach to COVID19 is efficient. Everyone is doing their part to reduce the spread of the virus and the hospitals are on high alert and are preparing for the worst.

I am not concerned for my own safety at this time because I feel safe being here. This country is used to complying with the laws given to them so the curfews and the lockdown that they have in place should come into effect soon. 

Kia kaha New Zealand, we will all get through this. Much aroha from the Middle East.

0800REFUGE- Women’s Refuge
0508FAMILY- Oranga Tamariki (Reports of concern for children’s safety)
0508 744 633- SHINE
0800 787 797- Alcohol and drug helpline
0800 543 354 or free text 4357- Lifeline
0800 376 633 - Youthline
0800 111 757 Depression Helpline
0508 828 865 Suicide Prevention Helpline

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