Dear OFW mom,
We haven’t met yet. My name is Shawi Cortez, and for 11 years, my father used to be an OFW in Saudi Arabia as a Sales Engineer.
I was just 2 years old when dad left to work abroad so he can bring home dollars, kasi mas malaki ang value nun kesa sa peso natin.
Hindi ba ganon naman dahilan ng lahat ng nag-a-abroad?
Mas mataas kasi ang sahod sa ibang bansa kesa sa Pilipinas? Magsa-sakripisyo na hindi muna magkakasama para lang makaipon.
I vividly remember my mom telling the story na tuwing darating si dad for vacation, I’d hide from him. Kasi natatakot ako. Kasi hindi ko siya kilala.
But once he brings out the chocolates, saka pa lang ako lalapit. That went on throughout my toddler and formative years.
Soon, the company paid for our yearly trips to Saudi. Every summer lang kami andun kasi my sister and I had to go to school. Hindi kasi sagot ng kumpanya ang education ng children. International schools were very expensive and mauubos ang lahat ng ipon nila dad kung doon pa kami mag-aaral.
There was one summer na nauna na sina mom and my younger brother doon. Once school was over, my ate and I (we were aged 8 and 6 then) hopped on an airplane to travel to Saudi by ourselves. The entire flight, my knees were shaking because I was soooo afraid traveling without an adult companion.
But that cycle went on and on. After summer, uwi kami sa Pinas para mag-aral. Then balik ulit the following year to be with him.
He was not present during the years we were growing up, so mom had to single-handedly raise us up. Hindi pa uso internet noon. No Skype, no instant messaging, no email.
That meant he also had to miss milestones in our lives like our birthdays, and even graduation.
Letter to an OFW Mom by Shawi Cortez
Mommy, remember that it’s not the number of Barbie dolls or the gadgets you send home to your kids as present that matters. But the number of times that we’re together.
We only had one major vacation as a family. We went to Singapore for one week and visited Sentosa Island, Jurong BirdPark, and the Botanical Gardens. We shared meals kasi medyo expensive siya.
Although that week was full of fun and laughter, I dreaded the time we were at the airport.
Because that meant all of us had to go back to Manila, while dad had to go back to Saudi.
Napaka-unforgettable sa akin nun. Yun yung time na sobra akong nalungkot, and ang hagulgol ko ay talo ko pa ang namatayan. My heart was really heavy at the thought that our family was not whole again.
“Ganito ba talaga ang pamilya? Bakit kailangan magkahiwalay para lang mabigyan kami ng good education and magandang future?”
On his eleventh year, that’s when the Gulf War started to break out.
For his safety, and for our peace of mind, Dad finally decided to come home.
It was a relief for all of us.
And we were overjoyed that we’re whole again as a family.
But not everyone has a happy story.
While in Saudi, we met other Pinoy families who had the same situation as us.
One of which is Tito Mario. Also has three children, same age as us. But even if most of his colleagues already went back to the Philippines, he stayed.
Even if his children already finished school, and are all working age, he still stayed.
Even if his children has already married, and have their own children, he still stayed.
He only went home when he got so sick, he had to see five doctors for each of his ailment.
Then there’s the story of Auntie Linda.
She also used to work in Saudi, but had the guts to cross over to Italy to work as domestic help. That’s where she met her husband, and together they served in the mansion of their Italian employer.
During fiestas, they’d invite us over their barangay, and we’d constantly bug them to come home. Their answer surprised me.
“Pag uuwi kami, anong gagawin namin? Tatanga? Wala naman kaming ibang alam na trabaho. Takot din naman kami mag-negosyo. Mas mabuti na lang na dito kami, at least kumikita.”
I wanted to ask, “Paano yung anak n’yo?”
Nakaasa na lang sa remittance?
She has grown to become spoiled and she can’t even lift a finger kasi hindi rin marunong mag-trabaho.
But to keep our family ties intact, I just kept to myself and prayed for their best.
While I was in Rome, Italy a few years ago, I stayed with relatives and had yet another eye-opening experience into the lives of OFWs.
Yes, they showed me around the beautiful sights of the city, but in between, they’d tell me stories of how some married spouses have an affair with another married spouse. May asawa sila sa Pilipinas, pero may boyfriend sila sa Italy (na married din!)
Siyempre, the husband who is left at home in the Philippines does not know about it, because the guilty wife has no intention of making it known and has no plan on leaving her husband.
Ang gulo no?
That’s what makes me think…
What have we become?
Have the OFWs just become a money-making machine na wala nang pakialam sa mga mahal sa buhay nila?
Are we just after the money?
Sadly, for some, yes.
Is there an option?
Kung pera din lang ang issue…
What if there’s a way for you to earn dollars in such a way that you’re still here in the Philippines, with the people you love?
Sweldo in dollars. While in the Philippines.
My friends and I have been doing it for several years already. And nakakatawa kasi nasa harap lang kami ng computer and our family thinks we’re on Facebook all the time, bumming out.
Minsan sa bahay. Minsan sa coffee shop. Minsan sa resort. Minsan out of town. Minsan out of the country.
In fact, Nolan here will be sharing his personal story, how he shifted from being an OFW to a Project Manager working in Pinas earning waaaaay more than the 6-digits he was earning in Singapore.
Choose a happy ending
A few years ago, when I started my internet gig, sobra akong excited to tell people about it. I was so excited that I invited myself (yep, ganon kakapal ang mukha ko!) to talk in a university in my hometown Vigan City, Ilocos Sur.
I painted the beautiful picture of being your own boss, when you start working online. You get to work anywhere, and you get to earn in foreign currency.
Towards the closing of my talk, I asked who among them still wanted to go abroad to be an OFW.
95% of them raised their hands.
My heart broke.
I wanted to tell them that working abroad is not as pretty and glamorous as you think.
Maybe they will realize that the moment they step on the plane, and set foot on another country.
Meanwhile, as a child, I promised myself I will never go abroad to work. I will go there para mamasyal lang.
I hope you choose a happy ending.
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