OFW’s or Overseas Filipino Workers. That’s what we call the millions of Filipinos living & working abroad. I never really knew what life was like for these people until I came to Italy.
It was a cold, clear December day about a year ago. We were on a bus heading to a party. It was fully packed, and Ian & I were standing. A Filipina standing in front of me struck up a conversation.
Woman: Anak mo?
Woman: Ilang taon na sya?
Me: 5 years old.
Woman: (gets teary eyed) Ako, may anak din na lalaki, three years old. Nasa Pinas. (looks wistfully at Ian) 3 months old pa lang sya iniwan ko na, bumalik na ako rito para magtrabaho. Ang hirap para sa akin na di ko nakikitang anak ko.
Me: Ganun ba? Naku, I’m sorry to hear that. Sinong nag-aalaga sa kanya?
Woman: Asawa ko, pero nilalakad ko papeles para makuha ko silang pareho. Mahirap lang na makaipon, pero hopefully makuha ko sila agad.
Having been here for over a year, her story is something I have heard repeatedly from others. Many OFW’s here in Italy leave their children behind to be brought up by the spouse. Sometimes both parents are here, which leaves the child-rearing to the grandparents, aunts or uncles. It is hard for these parents to see their kids anywhere from only 2 weeks to a month out of a year, seeing them grow up but not really knowing them. They keep in constant touch with them via phone, email, webcam (thank God for new technologies like these), but still nothing beats actually being with your child, seeing your son or daughter grow up.
There are a few who, after several years, have been able to bring their families here to Italy. A few I’ve talked to have chosen to have their kids stay behind in the Philippines, believing that the educational system is better back home, that they would have a better life back in the Philippines. They said they don’t want their kids to come here & be treated differently.
If their kids do choose to work abroad, they don’t want them to come to Italy. They don’t want their kids to be college educated then come here to just become a maid, driver, or nanny. OFW’s I’ve spoken to say that if you’re not a native Italian, it’ll be hard to get a good job. All the good jobs go to the natives, they say, all the menial jobs go to istranyeros (foreigners) like us. It doesn’t matter if you’re college educated back in the Philippines, you need to speak Italian AND be educated in Italy to even get your foot in the door for a good job, and even then your chances are still slim.
All the OFW’s I’ve talked to have the same complaint. People back home have no idea about the sacrifices they have to make, how mind-numbing menial jobs can be when it’s done on a daily basis Monday-Saturday, year in & year out. They feel that family members back home use them like an ATM machine, often asking for money…there’s always some emergency or another, some family member who wants to go to school & no on else can fund their education. They feel that family members don’t realize that, yes, OFW’s are earning dollars, yen, euros or whatever the local currency is, but they also have to spend that money too. And it’s not like they have really high paying jobs here either. So the least family members back home can do is honor the sacrifices these OFW’s make by using the money they receive wisely.
You can feel the pain, see the sadness in their eyes. Especially when they tell stories of how they’ve been betrayed. How a son, daughter or family member they thought was going to college wasn’t really attending school, but used the money to hang out with friends. Or if they attended at all, had to stop going to school because they wound up getting pregnant or getting someone pregnant. That happened to me too a few years ago. I was sending a relative to school & after a year, grew suspicious ’cause I hadn’t seen a report card yet. I called the school, I was in Japan at the time, & found out the last time she was enrolled was in 2000. It was 2006 when I made that call. I had been sending her money for a year for nothing. Needless to say I have since cut ties with her & her family.
I’ve heard stories where the money they thought they were sending to pay for a piece of real estate didn’t go to the real estate company but straight into the pockets of whoever they were sending the money to.
I have a high regard for OFW’s. They make unbelievable sacrifices for their families. Sadly though, until the Philippines has a strong enough economy, we won’t be able to stop the millions of Filipinos willing to sacrifice separation from their families, sometimes abandoning promising careers, just to make a decent living abroad.
Originally posted on my blog 01/06/10