A Tribute to my Friend Joanne and to the Overseas Filipino Workers Abroad
I am dedicating this article to a friend named Joanne and to all the overseas Filipino workers for which their earnings fuel the country’s economy and keep it afloat specially in this times of economic crises.
Yesterday, I received an email from an old acquaintance named Joanne. I met her at Manila International Airport in one of my trips abroad. I was working at the state university then. She said she is back in Manila (capital of the Philippines) for two months just to marry her boyfriend and then after honeymoon, she will be back again abroad to renew her contract as nurse in Saudi Arabia. I emailed her back saying I am out of the country already and wished her the best. I went to a bookstore and bought a card, sending it two days later with a picture of me and my baby.
As I was sitting in my car, about to go home, I suddenly remember her smiling and that young face, full of hope and dreams for her family. She had just graduated and passed the board exam for nursing at that time when I met her. We were seated beside each other, waiting for the time to check in as she told me her story. She said, she came to Manila to study when she was seventeen. She wanted to become a teacher, but like every other people in the Philippines, she opted to become a nurse instead. She proudly told me that she graduated with honors and passed the board exam, then she had work in a local public hospital so that she can gain experience in preparation to work abroad, just like her two cousins and their aunt who work as a domestic helper in Italy.
She is bound to go to work in Saudi Arabia for two years straight and she cant go home she said. She show me the picture of her family, two sisters and a brother all present at that time in the departure area but they cant go inside the checking in section anymore. Then I noticed, she is holding a keychain tightly. She must have noticed me looking at the beautiful keychain, and she showed me the embossed picture of her and the boyfriend locked in an embrace. She looked at it and then looked at me, and suddenly there was a deafening silence, except for the noise of the people walking at the terminal. She bowed her head and when I looked at her, I saw the tears rolling in her eyes, and she hold me tight. She said, I will miss him and my family too, but then she wiped her tears and smiled at me. I smiled back at her beautiful face-- full of hope and sadness. Yes, she is beautiful and innocent.
But that was three years ago, she used to email me, but stopped for a year and I was also busy, haven’t communicated since 2007, and now came the email.
I just wonder how many millions more like Joanne who are pulled out of their niche and then suddenly thrown anywhere bearing with them the responsibility which is attached to them.
Joanne is one of the millions of Filipinos working abroad and sending money back home to help the family. In our culture, usually, parents send their children to school to study and they are expected to help their parents thereafter. They help in terms of financing their younger brothers and sisters in going to college. Because of high unemployment rate, employers would hire people with high qualifications even for a low earning jobs, that’s why you need to get a much higher education in order to get a low paying job at the most.
Economic and political situation in the Philippines in the 1970s, forced people to seek employment abroad. The first set of deployments were concentrated in the Middle East and up to now, it is still the major recipients of thousands of overseas workers. The workers are mostly concentrated on service sectors and construction industry. In the 80s conditions worsens in the country once more driving people to seek employment abroad. However in the 90s the need for health care professionals are at surge so seeing the opportunity, people flock to go to school and study health care related courses. Whereas before most overseas are contracted to the middle east, now they start to populate different parts of the world. Name it, Filipinos are there in every countries, working either in service or health care related jobs.
As of the latest data in September 2009, there are almost 2.2 million overseas Filipino workers. And the amount remitted by these OFWs amounts to almost 65 billion pesos. The earnings of the overseas contract workers are a big help to the Philippine economy, if not for it, the country would be at worst condition than it is now. The government soft and encouraging policies towards workers abroad helps to the increase in the statistics of overseas Filipino workers. At times, they cannot do anything except to be at peace with the receiving countries specially when some of the workers have problems. How many times do we read about overseas women workers being raped, abused, killed abroad and the government cannot do anything except to have the policy of silence and accommodation. Everyone must have heard the case of Flor Contemplacion (1995) a domestic helper who was executed in Singapore for a murder, and how about Delia Maga (1991), who was executed by her employer because of the neglect to their child she is taking care of? How about the family left behind, while those workers take care of other children, their household who are left behind faced social problems such as changing social structures in the family. While the main caregiver is working abroad, their children are faced with abandonment and confusion among family members that leads to the breaking away of families. Children of those who work abroad have more issues/problems. The social problems brought about by the phenomenon of the increase in the overseas workers cannot be disregarded anymore.
The government is obviously deaf about the abuse, mental anguish and helplessness that most of the workers experienced while working abroad. For if they are not deaf, how could they have soft international policies pertaining to this. They are always on a submissive stance when it comes to dealing with other countries and all they could think at the moment is the next presidential election which is due in May 2010.
Sometimes I am thinking, for me to move away from these thoughts and just concentrate on my life now. Maybe part of me is yearning to find a solution, that’s why I am writing this piece as a tribute to Joanne my friend, and to the millions of Filipinos working abroad, and to myself also, for not forgetting the roots where I came from.