Coming home of game changers: Portrait of Filipinos working abroad

A Filipino staying abroad is called an overseas Filipino.  Once the Filipino works in another country, he or she  is called an overseas Filipino worker, or OFW for short.

According a recent survey (between April and September 2017) conducted by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), most of those who went abroad to work were females (53.7 percent or 1.26 million of the total OFWs).  The rest, or 46.3 percent, are males.

Seventy thousand OFWs – that’s 59 percent of those surveyed – were engaged in elementary occupations that include domestic, hotel and office cleaners and helpers.  Service and sales workers (250,000, or 20 percent) comprised the second largest group of female OFWs.

Only 113,000, or 9 percent, were working professionals, while Filipinas with managerial positions abroad were estimated at 11,000 (0.9 percent share), according to the PSA survey.

The same survey found out that most of the OFWs (57.1 percent) worked in Western Asia: 25.4 percent in Saudi Arabia, 15.3 percent in United Arab Emirates, 6.7 percent in Kuwait, 5.5 percent in Qatar, and 4.3 percent in other countries, including Bahrain, Israel, Lebanon, and Jordan.

The survey also found that 18.9 percent of the OFWs worked  in East Asia; 6.5 percent in Hong Kong, 4.9 percent in Japan, 3.8 percent in Taiwan, and 3.7 percent in other countries, including China and South Korea.

Southeast and South-Central Asia took 9.5 percent of the country’s OFWs:–5.4 percent in Singapore, 1.7 percent in Malaysia and 2.5 percent in other countries, including Brunei.

The rest of OFWs worked in Europe (6.4 percent), North and South America (5.4 percent), Australia (1.6 percent) and Africa (1.1 percent), according to the PSA survey.

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, shares this interesting information about employment conditions of OFWs:

“Poor working conditions for Filipinos hired abroad include long hours, low wages and few chances to visit family.  Women often face disadvantages in their employment conditions as they tend to work in the elder/child care and domestic.  These occupations are considered low skilled and require little education and training, thereby regularly facing poor conditions.

“Women facing just working conditions are more likely to provide their children with adequate nutrition, better education and sufficient health.  There is a strong correlation between women’s rights and the overall well-being of children.”

In 2009, John Leonard Monterona, the Middle East coordinator of Migrante, a militant Manila-based OFW non-government organization, said in a statement that every year, an unknown number of Filipinos in a country in the Middle East were  “victims of sexual abuses, maltreatment, unpaid salaries, and other labor malpractices.”

So, what’s it really like working in another country?  I my social media account, I posted the question on what are some of the good and bad things working abroad.  Several people responded.

A friend, who worked in Middle East, replied: “Working far away from my home, earning less than what my family is expecting and missing special occasion.  Most of us will be remembered only if our family from the Philippines needs something from us.  In most instances, we are the one who asked if they have received the remittance we sent even if just making a message through the internet these days is free.”

A photographer who once worked in the Middle East but is now back in Davao said that it depends on one’s status as an OFW: single, breadwinner or married with children.  In general, the good things include: 1) you get to be independent whether you like it or not; 2) you become a better person by dealing with other people, culture and even foods; 3) you will have better opportunities, especially if you are a professional; 4) easier to travel to another country; 5) can save more; and 6) become more responsible (this includes sending money to your family in the Philippines that helps them).

He didn’t enumerate the bad things. “Again, it all depends,” he said.  “For example, your boss may not be good as what you expected him to be or in some instances your salary is delayed. Another is getting sick and you are alone.  There are times when your family message you, especially if you are about to receive your salary.  Even during Christmas time, you don’t feel it because you still have to work.

“You know, bad things really happen in another country. My advice to those who are planning to work abroad: think it twice; it’s really a gamble if you go abroad,” he pointed out.

Rhodora (not real name), who now lives in California and used to work as OFW in Singapore, believes that working abroad is better if you are single.  “Singles who work abroad is better than married with children,” she explained.  “Homelessness, overworked, emotionally stressed, financially drained due to obligations. It has more harm than benefits. The only thing I found it positive was to learn a lot about other cultures, language, taste different cuisines and be able to travel and also, learn a lot of patience in life.  Life is indeed a learning process!”

She further explained: “If you are married and with children, I would really discourage you to work abroad. Time lost isn’t worth it when it comes to children and family. Sooner, you’ll have a broken family. I seldom knew married couple who stayed together after all those years of loss and being apart and the worst part is: you’re not there to nurture your children, to give hugs and kisses, to celebrate special occasions, to guide, discipline and teach them every day. All the materials things are just temporary but your love, affections and presence is really what makes life go ‘round. Life is short and time and attention is the most valuable we can give to our love ones.”

Jessica (not her real name either), who left the country as a single mother to support his son, answered: “But sometimes you have no choice. The most difficult thing in my life was to board that plane to the unknown world of Kuwait, seeing my infant son crying in the arms of my mother. No, I didn’t get to hear his first words; no, I didn’t get to see his first steps; no, I didn’t get to walk him to his first day of school. But he was always fed, he was always clothed, he always had medicine when he was sick, he always had books at school and he always knew that I loved him.”

To which Rhodora answered: “That’s the reason why I have to discouraged any mother who wants to work abroad, it’s a tough choice to make but if you can find ways to earn a living while being with your children, it’s the best way to live a family life.  I’m sorry to hear your situation: yours was quite tough; you’ve missed a lot of bonding with your baby.  It’s not too late, you can do something about it.  Life is too short not to be able to be with your love ones while they’re growing up.”

Again, Jessica replied, this time with some lamentations: “Unfortunately the jobs in Philippines generally involved a choice between prostitution in Manila or prostitution in Angeles City. I chose becoming an OFW so that I could live with myself, but then unfortunately the ‘civil servants’ in the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) often seem to feel we are their prostitutes.”

In another message, Jessica shared her story: “Most of the comments here have been about the negatives, and they are all very valid, but the positives remain of giving our poor an outlet to support their families and lift them from poverty cannot be understated. I left Philippines many years ago as a single mother from the provinces to support my newborn son. I was from a poor family with eight brothers and little chance of anything better.

“Being an OFW has allowed me to lift my family out of poverty, build solid homes for all of my brothers to raise my nieces and nephews in, rather than the bahay kubo that I grew up in, I have sent (or still sending) seven to college or university to become nurses, engineers, graphic designer and teachers.

“They all have electricity and running water in their homes (a novelty in that part of our barangay), and most of the newest generation are tall and strong since they have had proper nutrition since they were young, mostly on what I earned overseas.  Yes, there are many negatives, but there are also some positives.”

Another positive thing about being an OFW.  “(It) is an investment for the future,” says Joe, who now works in the United States but was working before in Middle East.  “In all aspects, it opens many doors for learning opportunities. The bad thing is that the OFW gets homesick. It creates many problems when the family back home is not supportive. Another problem is if the employer is abusive or if the working environment is worst resulting to the OFW having a messy, troubled life.”