Being a tourist in a foreign land, one cannot help but observe fellow Filipinos who are OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers). I have a lot of respect for them. They are hard working. Kind. Generous. Friendly. Law-abiding. Frugal. Loving. They are fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, grandchildren – family members who sacrifice in other countries far from their loved ones – if only to make a better life for their loved ones. They are heroes in their own rights.
Over breakfast the other day, I saw a Middle Eastern family of 5. There was one added person eating with them. Their au pair. A Filipina woman of not more than 35 years old. Quietly feeding their youngest daughter.
This, is the general life of many of our OFWs.
Those who have migrated to other lands and have made lives of their own are not considered OFWs anymore. If they have renounced their Filipino citizenship they are citizens of other nations. Let’s get that straight in this blog. They are not OFWs.
An OFW (overseas foreign worker) is, by definition, “a person from the Philippines who is living and working in another country, typically in a temporary basis.”
I have high regards for OFWs.
It’s not an easy sacrifice to be out of your country far from your family so that you can provide them with better and easier lives. My profession takes me to the stories of the families I care for.
For those of us who are able to go on grand vacations year in and year out, we meet OFWs in every corner of the world. On the plane to their country of destination. On the airports of other countries as employees. On the ships during our cruises. In the taxis they drive in some other part of the world. Where we are, they are there, too. Serving us and other people so that they can send money home to their families.
I remember one Sunday at the Orchard Road MRT in Singapore, I was on my way home from a meeting and happened to take the train going back to my hotel. There were two OFWs at the platform waiting for the train to arrive. When it did, and the doors of the train opened, they were right in front of me. Blocking my path to the door. I recall saying to them, “excuse me, are you going inside the train? You’re blocking the doors.”
Both of them had gone in. As I was standing beside them, one of the women told her companion in Tagalog, “ang sungit ng mga intsik dito” (the Chinese here are grouchy). I tapped the woman on the shoulder and told her “ate, Pilipino ako. Baka kasi maiwan tayo ng train.” (Sister, I am a Filipino. The train may leave us [if I waited for you to decide when to get in].) And the three of us had a good laugh.
I write about our OFWs as a dedication to the many unsung heroes of the economy of the Philippines. We are, after all, a major exporter of menial labor. And we are all dependent on the economy of these workers who sacrifice being away from their loved ones so that they can put food on the table of their families back home, send their children to school, and plan a better future for their loved ones.
I write about our OFWs because they are a source of pride to our country. They deserve better governance and direction from the leaders of our country. Not just some rah-rah boy or girl or actors or actresses who gyrate on stage to give them a sense of “home”. Home is thousands of miles away from where they toil each day in order to drive away the loneliness from families and friends.
I write about our OFWs because they don’t have the same privilege as some of us who bring our families on vacation because our children or parents or spouses have an occasion to celebrate. They have missed birthdays and graduations. Some have missed even burials.
I write about OFWs because they deserve more than empty promises every three years from local elections and every six years from the national polls. They deserve leaders who will not politicise their causes in order to get votes in the upcoming elections. Leaders who will work inclusively for their welfare and the welfare of their families back home.
There has been no time in history that has had record breaking number of OFWs than today.
Because there is little to hope for back home.
We were walking along the streets of Copenhagen and three OFWs were sitting at the park comparing those little pairs of shoes which they bought during a sale, for their kids. It would be a few months of buying a few more stuff to send home in a BalikBayan Box.
A thousand miles away from where an au pair is feeding someone else’s child, I am sure she is thinking of her own children back home.