A Unitec student who lost both his parents to Covid-19 in a space of two weeks in Sri Lanka is now faced with a $25,000 bill for their hospitalisation and funeral costs.
Isuru Bodahandi, 34, said he is at a loss to how to pay the debt and is has taken on an all-nighter job as an airline online ticketing agent while also studying full time during the day.
Annette Pitovao, director of Student Success at Unitec, says Bodahandi isn't alone in facing the huge challenges thrown up by Covid-19 and about 7000 students had reached out for some form of assistance.
Bodahandi first got a call from his mother saying that his 78-year-old father had had a fall and was taken to hospital and later to intensive care on August 16.
"He tested positive for Covid-19 and less than 24 hours later, my father passed away," Bodahandi said.
"This came as an absolute shock because my dad was a healthy person, he rides a motorbike and some people even said he was just like someone who is in his 40s."
Both his parents were vaccinated, Bodahandi said.
Auckland went into alert level 4 lockdown on the day his father passed away on August 17, and Bodahandi's 76-year-old mother advised him not to fly back for the funeral.
"I spoke to my mother, who also tested positive for Covid-19, but she wasn't showing any major symptoms and told me not to worry," he said.
"But just a few days later, on the 20th, my mum also fell ill and had to be taken to intensive care because she couldn't breathe and needed oxygen."
Bodahandi said he expected his mother to be discharged after a few days, but her condition worsened and she died exactly two weeks after his father.
Unlike New Zealand, Bodahandi said although the public health care system is free, his parents were in a managed isolation and quarantine facility after testing positive for Covid-19, which is not free.
He later received a bill of about $30,000 for their hospitalisation given to his parents and $5000 for the funeral.
"I have a brother back in Sri Lanka, but he is in not in a financial position to be able to contribute," Bodahandi said.
"I borrowed some money from my friend and put together everything I owned, but I still owe about $25,000 which I don't know where I'm going to find."
Bodahandi, who first came to New Zealand in 2011 and is now a citizen, said he had "no words" to describe his feelings.
"I feel angry, upset, sad and helpless ... my mother was the most important person in my life and I feel guilty that I wasn't there for her after my father died, or be there when my parents took their last breaths," he said.
"The last time I spoke to my parents was just by WhatsApp when they were in hospital and didn't get a chance to even say proper goodbyes."
Bodahandi said he now gets just about five hours of sleep daily as he juggles a fulltime job and being a full-time student in civil engineering.
He said Unitec has been supportive after he reached out for assistance through a student adviser.
"I was near breakdown facing the pressure of lockdown, my parents' passing, my financial situation, assignments and that I can't go out," Bodahandi said.
Unitec has allowed him to withdraw from some subjects, and gave him some money from its Covid-19 student hardship fund to help with miscellaneous bills here.
Pitovao said Covid-19 had affected students from all backgrounds right across the country.
"These are the moments of truth when it comes to how we look after each other in terms of lockdown constraints and pressures to juggle everything that is going on around us," she said.
Pitovao said the pandemic has forced Unitec to "go above and beyond" when it comes to looking after students with wellbeing put "at the front and centre of everything" for the more than 7000 students receiving some form of assistance.
Unitec's Learner Outreach Project Team has delivered more than 300 laptops to those in need, made 6000 contacts to establish need and offer support for students and delivered hundreds of food and hygiene parcels – including to a student who ended up in an MIQ facility with Covid, Pitovao said.
"The efforts we've made have had a huge impact on our student population – many of whom are from more vulnerable parts of the wider population," she said.