Monday, November 24, 2008

2008 Simbang Gabi Singapore

by Carmelita C. Ballesteros

Simbang Gabi is one of the unique characteristics of a Philippine Christmas. Simbang Gabi means evening mass or night worship. When I was a girl back in the 20th century, my folks called it misa de gallo. It’s a Spanish term which literally means dawn mass – a mass that is celebrated at four in the morning as the roosters crow at dawn.

In preparation for Christmas, the nine-day Simbang Gabi is held in Catholic churches, cathedrals, and chapels all over the country. It begins on the 16th and culminates on the 24th of December.

In the Philippines, many churches in the provinces celebrate the Holy Mass as early as five in the morning on a daily basis. So a misa de gallo at 4:00 a.m. isn’t extraordinary. It is neither inconvenient for rural folk who go to bed early and get up early.

But for me, it’s always been a huge effort. As a girl, I was always teased as a sleepyhead. I loved to sleep, and it was a chore waking me up.

Sleep would be heavy on my eyelids. The chilly breeze of dawn would keep me curled up under my thin cotton blanket. But my mother’s insistent invitation to rise and shine would become my father’s intimidating threat of a day deprived of puto-bumbong and bibingka! So I’d perk up and jump up and say, “Wait! I’m coming!”

As children, my siblings and I went to the Simbang Gabi not in anticipation of Jesus Christ’s birthday, but in anticipation of breakfast after the Holy Mass. Around the church would be food stalls selling puto-bumbong and bibingka which came with steaming cups of bottomless tea.

It was an annual tradition I grew up with. It is a Christmas tradition most Filipinos grow up and grow old with. It is a special season for family togetherness – going to church, hearing mass, and sharing a simple breakfast of native delicacies.

Living abroad as an overseas Filipino worker (OFW), I’ve experienced many Christmases without Simbang Gabi. In Taiwan where I taught in a university, there were Christmases when I found myself teaching on Christmas. It was an ordinary working day for the Taiwanese.

Last year, I celebrated my first Christmas in Singapore. To my delight, there is Simbang Gabi in Singapore! It’s a multicultural city state which celebrates Chinese, Malay, Muslim, and Christian holidays.

Rev. Father Angel Luciano, CICM, a Filipino priest based at the Church of St. Michael, has made it his mission to spearhead the observance of Simbang Gabi since 1999. This is the 10th year that Father Angel is leading the Filipino flock in Singapore in remembering Simbang Gabi in the Philippines.

Ten churches are taking part in this year’s 10th anniversary of Simbang Gabi Singapore. All Christmas novena masses will be held at 8:00 p.m. starting at the Church of St. Anthony of Padua on December 15. Then the Simbang Gabi will move to the Church of Our Lady Star of the Sea on December 16.

Each night, the Simbang Gabi will be celebrated in a different church with an active Filipino community. (See schedule below.)

Fortunately, there are many Filipinos in the church I go to, the Church of St. Francis of Assisi on Boon Lay Avenue in the west side of Singapore. The Legion of Mary, headed by Yolanda Ligon of San Miguel Bulacan, is taking charge of the preparations for the Simbang Gabi which it will host on December 20.

A sister organization of the Legion of Mary is the San Lorenzo Ruiz Choir which sings regularly during the 7:30 a.m. mass every week.

Thus, the San Lorenzo Ruiz Choir has been tasked to prepare a very special repertoire for the Simbang Gabi.

Led by Manny Rosmeros, and accompanied on the organ by Marissa Esguerra, the choir has been rehearsing since September Christmas carols to be sung before the mass. It includes old-time favorites: Hark, the Herald Angels Sing; Joy to the World; Ang Pasko ay Sumapit; Noche Buena; Pasko na Naman; Himig Pasko; Silent Night; etc.

The choir’s main repertoire for the Simbang Gabi promises to be a marvelous treat of original Filipino Christmas compositions by Jesuit priests Manoling Francisco and Rene Oliveros as well as Rene Gozum. The arrangement is by Norman Agatep.

For the entrance hymn, the choir will sing Gumising. Then they will sing Unang Alay and The Seed during the offertory. As the congregation receives communion, the choir will sing Emanuel, Paglamig ng Hangin, and Di Ba’t Pasko’y Pag-ibig.

The recessional hymn will be Pasko Na, a happy song which rejoices in the birth of the Infant Jesus.

To cap the jubilation, everyone will be treated to arroz caldo (chicken porridge) and pansit bihon (sautéed rice noodles) after the mass. Food is absolutely free for everyone courtesy of Father Angel, the Legion of Mary, and their generous donors and sponsors.

On regular Sundays, about 500 to 600 parishioners attend each of the three scheduled masses at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi. On the evening of the Simbang Gabi, more than 2,000 people squeeze themselves into the church and the small parking lot in the churchyard.

People usually come one hour early in order to find a seat inside the church. Those who come late stand outside the church and listen to the mass through loud speakers.

Don’t they complain? No; they’re first in the queue to the arroz caldo!

Simbang Gabi Schedule (8:00 p.m. nightly)

1. Dec. 15, Monday. Church of St. Anthony of Padua, 25 Woodlands Avenue 1. Bus No.
912 or 912E (Berth 12). Contact Francis/Tony at tel. no. 97461255/91052930.

2. Dec. 16, Tuesday. Church of Our Lady Star of the Sea, 10 Yishun Street 22. Bus No. 804, alight at 2nd bus stop. Contact Lorena/Vivian at tel. no. 97414646/93226438.

3. Dec. 17, Wednesday. Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, 24 Highland Road. Bus No. 24, 60, 70, 76, 103, 136, 147, 156, and 317.

4. Dec. 18, Thursday. Church of Christ the King, 2221 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 8. Bus No. 22, 24, 135, 159, 162, and 853. Contact Ving/Allan/Robert at tel. no. 92278043, 96548467, and 93853396.

5. Dec. 19, Friday. Novena Church, 300 Thomson Road. Bus No. 54, 143, 162, 167, and 851. Contact Rey/Sarah at tel. no. 90863457/90762186.

6. Dec. 20, Saturday. Church of St. Francis of Assisi, 200 Boon Lay Avenue. Bus No. 502, 174. Contact Yolly/Alda at tel. no. 94876534/81893796.

7. Dec. 21, Sunday. Church of St. Michael, 17 St. Michael’s Road. Bus No. 13, 23, 26, 31, 61, 64, 65, 66, 107, 125, 133, 147, 853, 857, and 985. Contact Father Angel at tel. no. 63920592.

8. Dec. 22, Monday. Church of the Holy Trinity, 20 Tampines Street 11. Bus No. 8, 17, 18, 28, 34, 39, 59, 292, and 518. From Tampines MRT, walk towards Simei (2nd crossing). Contact Zap/Marie at tel. no. 82881025/94783985.

9. Dec. 23, Tuesday. Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, 31 Siglap Hill. Bus No. 2, 7, 24, 25, 26, 28, 30, 32, 33, and 854. Contact Lyn at tel. no. 96569968.

10. Dec. 24, Wednesday. Church of Saints Peter and Paul, 225A Queen Street. Bus No. 7, 14, 16, 36, 106, 111, 131, 162, 167, 171, 401, 502, 518, 700, 700A, and 857. Contact Jenny at tel. no. 62563163.

Father Angel Luciano, CICM and images of Simbang Gabi.

Father Manoling Francisco, SJ and one of his compositions.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Going home for Christmas? Get travel exit clearance now.

Get travel exit clearance early, POEA tells returning OFWs
POEA News Advisory
November 4, 2008
The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration advises overseas Filipino workers returning to the country for the holidays to have their overseas employment certificate (OEC) or travel exit clearance processed early to avoid the holiday rush.

Administrator Jennifer Jardin-Manalili said returning workers should avoid flocking to the POEA office in Ortigas immediately after Christmas and New Year’s Day as this results to long lines at the Balik-Manggagawa Processing Center.

To avoid the huge crowd, Manalili suggested that returning OFWs secure their exit clearance instead at the Philippine Overseas Labor Office (POLO) nearest their jobsite even before their
flight to the Philippines, or as soon as they arrive in the country.
Workers going to the provinces may also get their exit clearance from the POEA regional offices nearest their residence. The POEA offices are located in:
1. Baguio City
2. Tuguegarao City
3. San Fernando City, La Union
4. Clark Field, Pampanga
5. Calamba City
6. Legaspi City
7. Tacloban City
8. Iloilo City
9. Bacolod City
10. Cebu City
11. Cagayan de Oro City
12. Zamboanga City, and
13. Davao City.

Manalili said OFWs may also use the OEC courier system that is available online at

Nevertheless, all POEA offices nationwide will be open on December 22, 23, 24, 26 and 29; and January 2, 2009; considered as peak days, to process exit clearance of returning workers, Manalili said.

Monday, November 17, 2008

2 Winners from Riyadh

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

The Filipino community in Riyadh received from the Philippine Embassy its Press Release No. APV 82-2008 dated 09 November 2008. The press release announces the 2008 Presidential Awards for Filipino Individuals and Organization Overseas.

We are printing below the full text of the press release.


The Embassy of the Philippines in Riyadh is proud to announce that two (2) Filipino expatriates in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, whom it nominated for the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) biennial search for the Year 2008 Presidential Awards for Filipino individuals and Organizations Overseas, have been chosen to be among the awardees.

In a facsimile message dated 05 November 2008, the CFO informed the Embassy that Messrs, Alexander Edades Asuncion and Joseph Ilag Magdalena were among the 31 successful awardees from a total of 122 nominations received by the CFO from 29 countries. They won the Banaag Award, an honor conferred on Filipino individuals or associations for their contributions which have significantly benefited a sector or community in the Philippines, or advanced the cause of overseas Filipino communities.

Mr. Asuncion has 30 years of overseas experience. He was conferred with numerous awards for his outstanding service to the Filipino expatriates in the Kingdom, notable of which were the Bagong Bayani Award, Filipino Hero of the New Millenium and the Hall of Fame of OFW Achievers. He is not a lawyer nor has legal background but he has comprehensive knowledge of Saudi Labor and Workmen Law, which he used to give valuable advice and support to compatriots who are engaged in labor disputes at no cost. He used to be a correspondent of Arab News, one of the leading daily newspapers in the Kingdom, wherein he imparted legal counseling and labor assistance and reached out to all OFWs in the Kingdom.

On the other hand, Mr. Magdalena's status and achievement as one of the successful entrepreneurs in the Kingdom is a kind of Cinderella story. He rose from the ranks of ordinary OFWs using his creativity, innate talent, perseverance and patience to reach higher echelon where he now belongs. He is the General Manager and investor of one of the biggest groceries called "Pinoy Supermarket", which is gradually building up branches in the Kingdom. With his position, he helped the government promote all kinds of Philippine products and has been a consistent supporter and benefactor of the programs and projects of Filipino community organizations, individuals and the Embassy. His generous financial contributions to the Filipino community through the years without asking for anything in return, earned him the respect and admiration of the Filipino expatriates as well as the Saudi nationals. Despite his accomplishments though, he remains simple, humble and within reach to people of all walks of life.

Messrs Asuncion and Magdalena will both be recognized during the awarding ceremonies tentatively scheduled on 09 December 2008 at the Malacanan Palace in Manila, Philippines.

The complete list of awardees is as follows:


1. Association of Philippine Physicians of America - New York
2. Enverga, Tobias Jr. - Toronto
3. Filipino Women's Association United Kingdom - London
4. Stichting Kapatiran - The Hague


Catholic Medical Mission Board - New York
Children"s Chance CT - New York
Heetens Helpgood Center Philippines - The Hague
Ligier, Lauraence - Paris


Asuncion, Alexander - Riyadh
Berberabe, Patricia - New York
Carandang, Angeles - Chicago
Casambre, Sr. Mary Aida - Hongkong
Derpo, Esperanza - Abuja
Filipino Korean Spouses Association - Seoul
Garcia, Lamberto - New York
Ho, Eleanor - Taiwan
Magdalena, Joseph - Riyadh
Muzones, Santiago, Jr. - New York
Noblejas, Dr. Antonio - Wellington
Overs, Lilian - Toronto
Philippine Community of New South Wales - Sydney
Philippine Nurses Association of America - New York
United Filipino Council of Hawaii - Honolulu


Besa, Amelita & Dorotan, Romeo - New York
De Leon, Bayani - New York
Esguerra, Carlos - New York
Hizon, Federico - Singapore
Pelayo, Libertito - New York
Ramos, Dr. Teresita - Honolulu
Villarin, Engr. Nilo - Washington

We extend our heartfelt congratulations to the winners and non-winners as well. Please continue your noble endeavor. This list once again proves Ninoy Aquino when he said: "The Filipino is worth dying for".

Monday, November 10, 2008

Esperanza Derpo: Outstanding OFW in Nigeria

There is a saying that goes, “The best man for the job is a woman.”

We, OFWs in Nigeria, are pleased to inform all kababayans that our Barangay Nigeria Chairperson, Engr Esperanza Derpo has been chosen by the Presidential Commission on Filipinos Overseas as one of the recipients of the Banaag Award for the Year 2008 Presidential Awards for Filipino Individuals and Organizations Overseas.

The Banaag Award is given to Filipinos and foreign individuals or associations for advancing the cause of Filipino communities overseas or for supporting specific sectors or communities in the Philippines.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will personally hand-out the awards in a special ceremony tentatively set on 09 December 2008 at the Malacanang Palace.

Barangay Chair Esper is now on her 4th consecutive year of leading the Philippine Community in Lagos, Nigeria.

Throughout her leadership, Chairman Esper (as she is fondly called here) has rallied the Filipinos in Lagos (living, vacationing, or just passing by Lagos) to come together and build a strong community in Nigeria. To date, the PBSN Filipino community is one of the most vibrant and cohesive communities of expatriates in Nigeria.

Chairman Esper has ushered a new type of Filipino community, a more close-knit and more active community. The PBSN clubhouse is the meeting place of Naija Pinoys every Sunday, and the place to-be every first sunday of the month for the Family Day gatherings. The ‘Family Day’ was a brainchild by Chairman Esper to strengthen the ties, not only among Filipinos, but also to other nationalities as well.

OFW association

The PBSN, in cooperation with the Philippine Embassy, was founded in 1973 to formalize an already existing organization of Filipinos residing in Nigeria. Its foundations lay on the ideals of uniting Filipinos all over the country in the spirit of nationalism and friendship, while fulfilling a social responsibility to the host nation, Nigeria.

Charity Projects

In 2005, the Filipino communities in Ikeja, Victoria Island/Ikoyi, and Apapa hosted three separate fund-raising events for the Dept of Labor and Employment (DOLE)/Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (OWWA)’s project: “Classroom Galing sa Mamayang Pilipino sa Abroad (CGMA). Its proceeds helped put up more classrooms in remote areas of the Philippines.

PBSN also donated the proceeds of its 2006 Independence Day celebration to mudslide survivors in Leyte.

To acknowledge the graciousness of the host country, PBSN has organized as its pet charity project the Kiri-Kiri Initiative. It adopted a primary school in Kiri-Kiri, Apapa, Lagos area and provided financial and educational support to the pupils. The PBSN is represented by Mrs Veronica Bernas-Snoxell on this project.

Philippine Representative

Small World International Event, Lagos.For three consecutive years since 2006, the PBSN has been warmly welcomed in the Small World Event, the biggest fund-raising event in Lagos organized by an international community of Lagos Joint Women’s Groups. Philippines/PBSN is among the 27 countries featured in this annual event in Lagos.

The PBSN also serves as an envoy of the Filipino community of Nigeria to visiting Philippine officials. It has received Esteban Conejos, Under-Secretaryfor Migrant Workers Affairs in his 2007 visit.

Recently, Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes and his team, who were invited by the Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola (SAN) for the Lagos Economic Summit, were also received by PBSN officers and members.
PBSN Chair Esper Derpo receiving a Plaque of Appreciation from Amb. Masaranga Umpa and Vice-Consul Randy Arquiza last 2007 Independence DayLast 2007, the Philippine Embassy through H.E. Ambassador Masaranga Umpa awarded the organization for its cause-oriented projects and active role in the betterment of Filipino communities in Nigeria. It has, likewise, recognized the remarkable leadership that PBSN Chairperson Esperanza Derpo has exhibited in the organization’s various endeavours.

Welfare to Members/Kababayans

Coordination with the Philippine Embassy for consular matters or for assistance to some distressed OFWs, is a service the organization offers, not only to its members, but to all OFWs who sought its aid. Throughout the years, the members are rendered aid for the death of an immediate family member. At times of financial need, a ’soft loan’ may also be acquired by a registered member.

 Sundays Videoke at Caverton ClubhouseIt is under Chairman Esper’s leadership that the Filipino community in Lagos acquired its permanent clubhouse, hosted at Caverton Helicopter Staff House in Ikeja, Lagos. Gracious OFWs donated billiard tables, dart boards and sing-along equipment. It is now the permanent gathering place every Sunday for Nigeria OFWs in Lagos.

After more than 20 years in Nigeria, the PBSN community has grown in numbers, and evolved into a hybrid of Nigerized Pinoys. Each year, it meets a widening scope of social responsibility unfazed. Despite the changing of the times, it has upheld the ideals it has been founded on.

Congratulations, once again, to Barangay Nigeria Chair Esperanza Derpo.

Mabuhay ang mga Naija (Nigeria) Pinoys (Filipinos)…

The Philippine Barangay Society in Nigeria (PBSN) - serving Nigeria OFWs since 1970’s.

By: Maynard Flores
PBSN Information Officer

Maria Carlota Derpo
Editor, 2008 Independence Day Souvenir

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Obama nation

by Randy David
This article was originally published in Professor Randy David's column, PUBLIC LIVES, in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on November 8, 2008 (Manila time). He has given Barangay OFW his kind permission to re-publish this article. You may reach him at

He was, by any measure, the superior candidate: clear and eloquent where his opponent often mumbled and stuttered; cool and even-tempered even when the other would dish out sharp rebukes. Barack Obama projected a high-mindedness that made the veteran John McCain sound petty and insular. He was charming and attentive, where the latter appeared condescending and guarded.
Never cynical or arrogant, his confident retorts and measured replies to questions during the debates were always thoughtful and respectful. Even those who strongly disagreed with his views found him amiable. He was fresh and inspiring, where the other seemed stale and boring.
All these qualities are more familiarly summed up as charisma. Obama has lots of it, but he knew it wasn’t enough to win an election.
US commentators say America has never known a more focused and methodical politician. Nothing seemed to distract him. But that is also because Barack Obama ran a tight, energetic, and highly-motivated campaign.
Instead of hiring professionals, he relied on a corps of volunteers, mostly young people who could navigate the politically untapped world of cyberspace with ease. So disciplined was the campaign that the media could not get any inside story except from its authorized spokesmen. There were no leaks about internal rifts, resignations, apprehensions, or the onset of panic. Obama’s machinery hummed steadily and coherently until the last vote was counted.
Here is a politician who ran on a theme of change—change in the way politics is conducted, and change in the way government works. No better way was there to demonstrate the seriousness of this purpose than to radically deviate from the proven ways of raising campaign funds.
Campaign funds in US elections are normally raised by so-called “political action committees” (PACs) that represent the myriad private interest groups seeking to shape electoral outcomes. They hire professional lobbyists who make a living working the levers of congressional and executive power on behalf of corporate America.
John McCain relied almost entirely on this existing infrastructure of traditional politics. In contrast, Obama raised money directly from the voters who believed in his vision, appealing for individual donations of less than $200, while refusing any help from big corporate interests and lobby groups.
In this manner, he not only managed to raise more money than McCain, he also freed himself from the many restrictions on campaign expenditures that were attached to the usual sources of electoral finance. This allowed Obama’s campaign to dominate the airwaves, and, in the final stretch, to buy an expensive block of 30 minutes of prime time on US television to sum up the nature of his crusade for change.
Obama has set a high bar for all politicians everywhere in the modern world. But if one looks closely at his spectacular success, there is really nothing in his two-year trek to the White House that is new or magical.
I suppose it is possible for anyone with the right education to acquire the famous Obama demeanor through long arduous practice. But, if it is not anchored in character, it will surely come out as phony during unguarded moments.
Obama was effective because nothing he did seemed put on or studied. He made no effort to feign experience, even as he was aware that the record of government service by which many sought to test him is perhaps the thinnest among those who have aspired for the US presidency.
Neither did he offer virtuous innocence or naiveté, but only vision, dynamism, and hope in an uncertain world. Instead of the fear and paranoia of a post-9/11 America that George W. Bush had so viciously exploited, Barack Obama hitched his campaign to the awesome energy of an awakened popular optimism.
This has always been America’s strength—ungrounded hope, the driving force behind its boundless pragmatism. There is no theory of society or a philosophy of history here. Underpinning Obama’s program is a consistent problem-solving orientation founded on pure hope.
But foolish or not, the optimism that Obama has injected into American politics has already laid the foundation for a transformed society. The energy it has unleashed not only in America but in the rest of the world provides the kind of game-changing impulse that we all sorely need in this complex crisis-ridden era.
Few leaders have earned as much goodwill in an election campaign as Obama has. He stuck to the issues even when it was more tempting to trace America’s problems to the personal shortcomings and greed of its leaders. He spoke without resentment even while alluding to the historic injustices committed against his country’s racial minorities.
A few black leaders derided him for not being black enough, but he held on to the promise of the nation’s founders of a single nation emerging from the diversity of its peoples, united in the dream of an equal society.
This is quite different from the secular modernity of European democracy. In America, we encounter a large residue of frontier-type spirituality that thrives in small gospel communities. Obama traces his faith to such intimate churches, where members find themselves, in his words, being “summoned” and “moved” by a “higher truth” to “embrace a common destiny” and to achieve what had seemed impossible.
This unique blending of spirituality and secular pragmatism is expressed in the writings of William James. If the American nation has a homegrown philosophy, this is what it is, and President-elect Barack Obama has abundantly tapped into it.
(Barangay OFW sought to re-publish this article by Prof. Randy David because of the transformative change that the President-elect of the USA represents. It is the kind of change that we must seek as OFWs and as Filipinos. )

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Pinay Nigerwife in Enugu, Nigeria

By: Maynard Flores
in Nigeria since 2006

After a year in Lagos doing marketing coordination job for a Lagos-based company, I was transferred to Enugu State in Southeast Nigeria for an expansion project.

I was full of apprehension of what life would be in Enugu. I haven’t heard of any Pinoys there. But a friend, Guiller, who had worked in Enugu for 3 years, assured me that Enugu is fine and peaceful. So there I went in September 2007, on an Arik plane heading for the hills of Enugu.

After a week in Enugu, I was beginning to feel like I was really the only Filipino in this part of Nigeria. Then in December, Jaime Lumbay came as maintenance engineer for the Pepsi Bottling plant in Enugu. We had known each other back in Ikeja, Lagos where we met in one of those regular Sunday gatherings and Family Days.

Guiller called to tell me about a Filipina doctor who is married to a Nigerian (hence the term 'Niger-wife') and has been living in Enugu for quite a while. I decided to look for her bakeshop. To my pleasant surprise, it was just within walking distance from our lotto office.

I decided one day to pay her a visit and went to Faye's Bakeshoppe at Ogui Road. Only her Nigerian staff were there, but the moment they saw me, they asked if I was looking for my 'sister'. In Nigeria, a compatriot or fellow-countryman is described as 'my brother' or 'my sister'.

I said, “Yes, I'm looking for 'my sistah'.”

"Is madam dey?"

"A dey", a Nigerian staff member replied.

She then called somebody. "Auntie, your brother is looking for you..."
(In Nigeria, 'auntie' and 'uncle' are terms of respect for somebody older than the speaker, even when not related by blood.)

I looked into the kitchen and saw an 'oniyocha' (white-skin) woman looking at me in astonishment. She was a typical Pinay, petite with Chinese eyes and as old as my mother.

"Filipino?" she asked.


"Eyyy, chinike (oh my god! )," she whispered as she came to cheerfully hug me.

As we were making the usual 'kumustahan', I sensed from her accent that she was not Tagalog. So I asked where she was from in the Philippines. She said she was born in Cebu, but grew up in Samar.

"Yay, Waray." I said, as we both laughed.

I have finally met Doc Fely (Fely Maglasang-Chioke), a retired doctor, and now a full-time businesswoman baking cakes and pastries and doing catering. She is well-known in Enugu as a doctor, and as a pesky, fighting 'oniyocha'. In her prime, she was an active officer of Enugu Nigerwives Club (composed of women from different countries who are married to Nigerians), and also a one-time Rotary official in Enugu.

Doc Fely (I call her 'Nang Fely') has been in and out of Nigeria for 25 years. Although she, her late husband and three children are also American citizens, she has chosen to stay in Nigeria.

After the death of her husband, she decided to retire from medical practice and put up a modest bakeshoppe. She’s running her business by herself since all her children are now working overseas.

I am so glad to meet Nang Fely. When I got sick of malaria (p. falciparum) and had thyphoid fever, it was Nang Fely who brought me to good clinics and also helped to treat me.

When I get hungry during lunchtime, I would go to her bakeshop for a free lunch. Lami gyud basta libre. – D

I am also her official taster. I am the first to taste her hamburger, hopia and peppered chin-chin, a kind of doughbread cut into small pieces. Good for ‘pulutan’.

It was through Nang Fely that I was able to go to Anambra to attend the traditional wedding of the daughter of a Filipina (from Butuan) who is also married to a Nigerian. There, I met other Filipina Nigerwives. There were at least four couples. I was also introduced to Nigerians who had studied and finished Engineering and Medicine in the Philippines. They have formed an association called PHILGRAN – Philippine Graduates from Nigeria.

Nang Fely is also the contact person of the Philippine Embassy in Southeast Nigeria. Once, Ambassador Umpa from Abuja called her and requested her to meet and accompany an arriving Filipina whose Nigerian husband died in neighboring Anambra State. It was the Pinay's first visit to Nigeria.

There are now three of us Filipinos in Enugu -- Jaime of Pepsico, Nang Fely, and I. Because of our varying schedules and Nang Fely being almost always fully-booked in the weekend, it is not very often the three of us can get together. But after nine months in Enugu, we were finally able to spend a Sunday lunch together at Jaime's house.

Through Nang Fely, we were able to meet Ate Mayette, a Filipina from Iloilo who is married to a Belgian expat. She invited us to the Anamco Expat Clubhouse in posh GRA, Enugu to celebrate her birthday and the independence day of Belgium. I was with Roland Rosales, my Pinoy colleague who was in Enugu that time for a two-week assignment.

Ate Mayette and her husband have been in Nigeria even longer than Nang Fely. She lived with her husband for a long time in a palm plantation in Benin City, Edo State before moving to Enugu. She invited me to play golf at Enugu Golf and Country Club, but I never had time for that opportunity. Sayang.

Nang Fely rues about the Filipino's lack of entrepreneurial interest in putting up business in Nigeria. She narrated that before the 'pure water' became a hit in Nigeria as a poor man's packaged water, she had already thought about doing it in Enugu, using the regular 'heat sealer' that can be bought commercially. But because she was still active as a doctor at that time, she was not able to pursue it, until 'pure water' business arrived in Enugu from Lagos.

Nang Fely told us stories about the late 70's to 80's when Filipino doctors, teachers, nurses and engineers came to Nigeria at the height of its oil wealth. She said those OFWs just preferred to be employed, take their money and go home, unlike Lebanese and Indians who made big bucks trading in Nigeria.

She said she will take a vacation to Cebu this December and try to check if she can attend a training at the TLRC on homemade ice-cream making. She's planning to introduce a ‘real’ homemade Pinoy ice-cream in Enugu, assuming that the Nigerian Electric Power Authority (NEPA) will remain good in Enugu.

At Nang Fely’s age, this feisty waray is still thinking about expanding into other business ventures in Nigeria.

As my time in Enugu winds down, I am feeling sad about the thought of leaving Nang Fely and Enugu. As of this writing, I haven't told her that I will be leaving for vacation next month and won’t be back in Enugu.

I have come to like Enugu. It is a peaceful place with good electricity. The police are polite to expats (unlike the Lagos police). I will miss the nkwobi, the ise-ewu, the ram suya, Raya’s Chinese Restaurant, quick beer at Polo Park with Johnny, shopping at Roban’s, Wednesdays at the New Haven market, swimming or boating at Protea Hotel/Nike Lake Resort, Abakpa , and of course, the cakes and pastries of Nang Fely.

So to the Pinoys and Pinays travelling to Enugu, please drop by at Doc Fely's Faye's Bakeshoppe at 84 Ogui Road, Enugu. She makes special hamburger, tasty pastries, and great cakes for all occasions.

Kachifu” (Igbo for goodbye)


By: Maynard Flores
In Nigeria since Sept 2006.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Arnel Pineda: Born to Sing

by Carmelita C. Ballesteros
Journey, one of the best bands in the world, was founded in 1975. It has a long and illustrious career. But since the departure of its most famous lead singer Steve Perry, it has signed up other singers but none could quite capture the Perry magic.

Founder and guitarist Neal Schon had expressed frustration over not having a lead singer for almost a year. It had been a long and exasperating search, but he never lost hope. Finally, on December 5, 2007, Journey announced in its website:

Born in Sampaloc, Manila. Orphaned at 13. High school drop-out. Homeless street child for two years. Tan. Five feet, three inches. Shoulder-length hair. Goatee. 41 years old.Band singer since 15. Singing since his mother conceived him.

Born to sing!
Neal Schon said that he was blown away after listening to Arnel Pineda’s soulful rendition of Journey’s signature ballad “Faithfully” and “Open Arms” on YouTube. Arnel sounded just like Steve Perry, yet he was original. His tenor is higher-pitched and has an unbelievable range.
Here are the opening lines of “Faithfully”:
Highway run into the midnight sun
Wheels go round and round
You're on my mind
Restless hearts sleep alone tonight
Can Arnel perform live to millions of loyal Steve Perry fans around the world? Performing in restaurant-bars like Hard Rock Café is child’s play compared to a world tour.
Rising to the occasion, Arnel’s been touring South America, North America and Europe since February 2008 and the reviews rave about his phenomenal talent and energy. The original Journey band members say they feel reborn.
Where does Arnel get the lung power that makes his tenor soar? Where do the awesome, raw emotions come from? Where does he get the inner drive to sing on and on and on?

Born on September 5, 1967 in Sampaloc, Manila, Arnel is the eldest among four children. His parents were both tailors. His mother loved to sing and always listened to and sang along Karen Carpenter’s and Barbra Streisand’s songs on the radio.

Arnel, being the first child, grew up listening to and singing along the same songs his mother loved. And he had the voice, the talent, and the interest. His father would ‘bribe’ him with new pairs of pants to wear to amateur singing contests.

He and his siblings went to Quiapo Parochial School. Arnel was involved actively in the glee club, the rondalla, and other activities. His family thrived although his parents had to work hard as tailors. Then tragedy struck.

After a long illness, Arnel’s mother succumbed to rheumatic heart, leaving the family bankrupt with huge hospital bills and unpaid rent. Even the funeral expenses were a big challenge to deal with.

Broke and broken-hearted, Arnel’s father had no choice but to move his grieving family out of their rented apartment. He decided to ask different relatives to act as foster families for his young children while he tried to put the pieces of his life back again.

Arnel decided to strike out on his own. He was thirteen.

The streets became his school; Luneta Park, his home. There were days when he’d go unwashed so he’d drink and bathe in the fountain at the Luneta Park. There were days when all he could afford to eat was a small packet of biscuits.

He found work buying and selling metal scraps, old bottles and newspaper. Whenever he made a few extra pesos, he’d go and pay a visit to one of his brothers who lived somewhere near. He’d give his brother some money.

Arnel had a friend, Monet Cajipe. Monet had a guitar and he’d ask Arnel to come to his family home. They’d sing and entertain Monet’s family who’d feed Arnel in return.

When Arnel was 15, he and his friend Monet joined the Ijos Band. It was the humble beginning of a 25-year career as a rock band lead singer. Arnel was paid thirty-five pesos a night and was given a small room as his sleeping quarters.

Arnel must have been so happy. He must have shared the wonderful news with his father right away. The same brother Arnel had been visiting every now and then narrates that his father came to fetch him from their relatives’ house.

Arnel had sent for him. Arnel had a job and a place to sleep. Arnel wanted him to stay with him. It wasn’t much of a bedroom. It was infested with roaches, rats, and mosquitoes, but it was theirs and they were happy. Two of them brothers had been re-united. And his brother Arnel sent him back to school.
Arnel has occupied his niche as a rock band lead singer since the time he joined Ijos Band in 1982. He and his friend Monet Cajipe would re-group and would form new bands with new names, but the two of them stuck together -- Arnel as the singer; Monet as the guitarist.

In the 1990’s, Arnel and his band found their way to Hong Kong. It must have been a steady, well-paying, and enviable gig, singing six nights a week. But Arnel lost another important woman in his life. It devastated him. He turned to drugs, unable to deal with the indescribable pain.

One day, he lost his voice. He just couldn’t sing any more. A doctor told him to retire from singing. He was only 27.

What?! Retire from singing?

It was a wake-up call for Arnel. If losing a girl friend had devastated him, losing his voice knocked sense into his head.

He went home to the Philippines and refusing to believe the Hong Kong doctor, he re-trained his voice. He stayed clean and sober, determined to rise from the depths of despair. Six months of disciplined vocal health care and training paid off. He was able to sing again!

In 2002, he went back to the Hong Kong rock band circuit. Somehow, in 2006, Arnel met Bert de Leon who convinced him and Monet to relocate to the Philippines. They signed up as talents under Bert de Leon’s entertainment company and formed a new band called Zoo. They began performing in restaurant-bars in Metro Manila and Olongapo again.

In 2007, a fan and friend, Noel Gomez, started posting on YouTube video clips of the Zoo performing songs by Led Zeppelin, Beatles, Air Supply, Kenny Loggins, and of course, Journey.

What was Noel thinking when he started videotaping Arnel’s gigs at Hard Rock Café? What was he planning when he started posting on YouTube Arnel’s performances with his band Zoo? What made him insist that Arnel reply to Neal Schon’s e-mail which Arnel had dismissed as a hoax?

Noel must have recognized the magnificent talent that Arnel is blessed with and a tiny voice must have told him to do what he had done. He was the bridge which connected Arnel and Journey to each other.

International stardom as a rock music celebrity has made Arnel hot copy. Everyone wants to interview him for a live TV show or for a print medium.

During some interviews in the US and in the Philippines, there were unguarded moments when Arnel would choke up with emotion. His voice would break, trail off, and he’d wipe a tear from his eyes. Those were the moments when he would be asked about his late mother and the homeless, hungry years he spent after her death.

Arnel’s mother was the first and most significant woman in his life. He said in his interview with John Blackstone of CBS that his mother taught him how to sing. She taught him to be brave, to fight on when the world isn’t too kind, and to keep on believing…

Such impact a parent has on a child!

Wherever Arnel’s mother may be right now (she must be in heaven), she must be singing alleluias in gratitude and with pride. Not only has her voice pupil become a phenomenal success around the world, but he has also remained humble and human.

A fan writes about the precious pre-concert moments Arnel spent with her and her wheelchair-bound brother who has cerebral palsy. Arnel thanked them profusely for coming to the concert, for buying Journey’s new CD, Revelation, and for supporting him.
Eric Caruncho of the Philippine Daily Inquirer writes that Arnel doesn’t think of himself as a rock star. He says, “I’m more of an OFW than a rock star. I’m just like you guys—I’m working.”
Today, Arnel is on vacation in the Philippines. Having performed in 69 sell-out shows in South America, North America and Europe, his vocal cords need plenty of rest and he deserves time with his family.

He has announced on Philippine TV two pieces of good news. First, he’ll be organizing a foundation for streetkids. And second, he and his fiancee are getting married early in 2009.

How did Arnel pop the question? He didn’t say, but he must have sung one of Journey’s signature ballads:

So now I come to you, with open arms
Nothing to hide, believe what I say
So here I am with open arms
Hoping you'll see what your love means to me
Open arms
This was originally published in the Filam Weekly MegaScene, Illinois, USA on October 14 & 17, 2008. The publishers may be reached at
Copyright © 2008 to Barangay OFW. All rights reserved.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Mr. Ajith, Fellow Overseas Worker

by Arjaye Llamas Peria
Saudi Arabia
This article was originally published in Color and Visions (Volume I / Issue 1), official corporate publication/newsletter of Astra Polymers ( as a feature article from one of its (former) employees, Mr. Rjaye Llamas Peria. Mr. Allan V. Adan, Editor-In-Chief of Color and Visions, has given Barangay OFW his kind permission to re-publish this article. You may reach Mr. Adan at or
It was not a typical Saturday morning. Something had changed in him. He smiled at me though I sensed the freshness of his face had succumbed to the dark shadow that he tried to conceal. I knew by intuition that Mr. Ajith was hiding something from me on that day.

I knew there was something wrong. But I was not accustomed to asking him questions that might give me an embarrassing retort. Besides, I knew Mr. Ajith pretty well and therefore, asking a question if he was all right or not would be nonsensical. It was logical to hold that action speaks louder than words.

I lowered my eyes and nailed my attention to his right hand. He was holding a piece of paper. When he noticed that I was staring at it, he slowly handed the paper over to me. I glanced back at him after going through it. I was totally astounded.

The truth was, we had had many instances of short conversations whenever he came to clean my office. He told me that he came from a poor family of four siblings. He was second to the eldest. He dreamt of working abroad not for himself, but for his parents and his own family. He wanted to help them in their daily survival, and hopefully, to help them enjoy an average way of life. A way of life that was conventional in his country.

His first experience of being away from home was in 1999. It was an ill-fated experience. He was a roomboy in a lodging house in Kuwait. After four months, an untoward incident occurred that forced him to leave Kuwait and fly back to Sri Lanka. Once again, he embraced the difficulties of life which he had hoped to change.

It was in the early part of the year 2000 when another opportunity crossed his path. This was his chance to work in Saudi Arabia. Mr. Ajith was determined to pursue his dream for the sake of his extended family. Without a second thought, he gave himself another try. He left Sri Lanka hoping to seize one of the stars in order to illuminate if not the whole portion of his life, at least a part of it.

“Do you wish to see your father for the last time?” I asked.

While saying this, I looked back at the piece of paper he gave me. It was a short fax message in Sinhala; “Tata mala en ne gadara.” (Your father died come home).”

He shook his head. His face was unfathomable. After a while, he murmured in broken Arabic, English and Sinhala, “Ana mafi go, me send money to them. They need money. Me mother old.”

Then he whispered with a trembling voice, “Egollanta mudal awassai bumithanam viyathamata.” (They need money for the burial).

As a Filipino, I was stunned. I’d fly home whatever it took if I were in Mr. Ajith’s place. I didn’t know what to say. Silence, so silent it hurt, reigned between us.

Was it about the expenses of flying back to Sri Lanka that made him insensitive and unsympathetic? I was cynical whether to admire or accuse him. Softly, he shuffled out of my office. His steps were slow and heavy as if he were dragging himself. It was then I realized the gravity of his loss and the grief he was dealing with.

It was a short encounter between Mr. Ajith and me on a Saturday morning. It was not a typical Saturday morning. Something had changed in him, and in me. It left me with a heartbreaking thought – to love is not solely to give oneself but to learn to endure each pain in order to fulfill a more noble cause.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Aikido School in the Middle East

by Mel Villareal
Saudi Arabia

Yoshinkan Aikido is a modern Japanese Martial Art taught to the Japanese kidoutai, which when used for self-defense can counter many different attacks. Yoshinkan Aikido began in 1955 at a Dojo (training place) in Tsukudo-Hachiman, Shinjuku Tokyo. Now, the headquarters (Honbu Dojo) is located in Kami-Ochiai, Shinjuku Tokyo.

The All-Japan Yoshinkan Aikido Federation and International Yoshinkan Aikido Federation were founded in 1990, both of which are now led by Shioda Yasuhisa Kancho, the son of the founder Shioda Gozo Soke. All of these organizations contribute to the spread of Yoshinkan Aikido not only in Japan, but all around the world.

The Dojo
Our journey is to master and understand the basics utilizing the Yoshinkan approach. Powerful, flowing, and dynamic movements should only be attempted once a good understanding of the basics has been established.

In this dojo, we train very seriously, and yet interact with each other like family members. Our instructions are minutely detailed, as we pay special attention to the position of the hands and feet, guided by kihon dosa/waza - an innovation by the Yoshinkan Foundation to help the beginners and advanced students understand the fundamental principles.

We practice basic techniques over and over to learn how to move our bodies in response to different types of power exerted by the opponent. Repeated and correct practice of these basic techniques eventually enables the aikidoka to react instinctively and to apply the appropriate technique in the situation in which he finds himself, whether it takes place in the dojo or at unexpected moments in daily life.

Chief Instructor
Romuel Villareal, Chief Instructor, began his study of Aikido in 2000 under the direction of Mr. Flor Bisin and Mr. Alvin Valero. He took over the day-to-day operations of the dojo upon Mr. Bisin’s retirement in March 2005.

To further his study and understanding of Yoshinkan Aikido, Mel made two very significant trips. The first was in March of 2006 when he went to Japan and trained at the Yoshinkan Honbu dojo and at the Yoshinkan Aikido Ryu dojo where he was tested and awarded 6th kyu by Tsuneo Ando Shihan.

While visiting the honbu dojo, Mel was also privileged to observe proper testing protocols as administered by Inoue Kancho and Chida Dojocho, the former director and chief instructor.

The second event took place in 2007 when Mel visited Mr. Sonny Loke, Yoshinkan 6th dan, while vacationing in Malaysia. Mel spent several days training at Mr. Loke’s dojo.Upon meeting all the requirements of his advisors and the honbu dojo in May 2008, Mel was awarded his shodan and level 6 instructor certificate by the Yoshinkan Honbu dojo, making him the first AYF registered instructor in Saudi Arabia with grading authority to 4th kyu.

Mel is assisted by Aikido Instructors Fernando Sakay, Roque Amparo, and Omar Seracarpio.

Dojo (place of training)

We welcome all those interested in learning Aikido, and we assure you that you will enjoy your training with us whether your reason for training is cardio-vascular exercise, self defense, or just simply working out. More so, Aikido teachings adhere to the same principles of anger and risk management. At the end of the day students become fit, strong, and ethically disciplined to better serve the community.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

'No' to Bilateral on OFW Pension Funds

by Elizer Peñaranda
South Korea
The author, Editor-in-Chief of Sulyapinoy Newsletter in South Korea, has given Barangay OFW his kind permission to re-publish this article. You may reach Mr. Elizer Peñaranda at
SEOUL, South Korea--Various Filipino organizations are opposing the National Pension Scheme-Social Security System (NPS-SSS), a bilateral agreement on social security between South Korea and the Philippines.
An ongoing signature campaign widely recognized and supported by the majority of the 51,051 members in different Filipino communities here is paving the way for all Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) to band together in protest. With the help of the religious sector, information and encouragement on the issue are also disseminated to churchgoers.
Regardless of gender, religion and visa status, OFWs are currently calling for immediate revision of the agreement and its planned transfer of the NPS lump-sum refund to SSS. Workers are worried about the vested interests of some allegedly greedy public officials in the Philippines, whom they fear will use their money for anomalies, unscrupulous plans and personal interest.
OFWs, owners of the NPS Lump-sum Refund benefits, feel they have been inadequately consulted by the SSS and the Korean officials on this Bilateral Agreement.
Article III - Bill of Rights, Section 7 of the Philippine Constitution states that "The right of the people to information on matters of public concern shall be recognized. Access to official records, and to documents and papers pertaining to official acts, transactions, or decisions... shall be afforded the citizen…"
The procedure in the formulation of the Bilateral Agreement clearly violated our constitutional rights, resulting in the loss of workers’ small business opportunities upon return, unfair compulsory coverage in the NPS-SSS social security agreement, and the vulnerability of our refund to corruption at home.
All these have triggered the EPS workers, led by the Filipino EPS Workers Association (FEWA), to launch a massive campaign for social awareness and participation by all OFWs.
The Filipino Employment Permit System Workers Association (FEWA) and SULYAPINOY spearheaded the signature campaign, supported by the Hyehwadong Filipino Catholic Community (HFCC) led by its chaplain Fr. Alvin Parantar, MSP;
the Kasan Migrant Workers Community (KMWC); Changhyun Filipino Catholic Community; Human Rights Welfare Organization Filipino Community (HRWOFC); Ansan Filipino Catholic Community (AFCC); Philippine Migrant Workers Association in South Korea (PMWAK); Filipino communities in Busan and other parts of South Korea.
The SULYAPINOY website’s current online signature campaign has demonstrated the online participation of other workers, who cannot sign the petition letter in person. They number an unprecedented 1095 at this writing.
With support from Philippine radio program like DZME, the issue has reached the Philippine Senate through the office of Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, Chairperson of the Foreign Affairs Committee.
Our campaign program against the NPS-SSS social security agreement continues to empower all concerned workers with the necessary information. We strongly believe that justice should be served for the general welfare of all OFWs, to foster solidarity among Filipino communities and awareness on issues concerning Filipino migrant workers all over the Korean peninsula.
Our struggles are for our families in the Philippines who have been making great sacrifices due to our migration. They keep on praying while waiting for our return, hoping against hope that our end-of-contract refund-resources would be sufficient to rebuild the broken pieces of our lives under social injustice, poverty and unemployment in our own country.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

“Till Death Do Us Part”

by Carmelita C. Ballesteros

Tio Primo, my father’s brother, was my last living uncle. He was 79 when he passed away on November 10, 2007. I don’t think he ever wrote a book nor planted a tree. But he had definitely assured himself of immortality with his fourteen children. In fact, he has scores of grandchildren and great, grandchildren.
Auntie Gloria, Tio Primo’s wife, is 80 years old today. She took care of Tio Primo who never fully recovered from a stroke for thirteen loooong years.
There are wives who always complain about their husbands, but not Auntie Gloria. And there are husbands who openly criticize their wives, but not Tio Primo. I never saw them argue nor hear about any argument between them.
There were, of course, many problems and many issues to resolve with such a huge family. They probably talked them over in private.
I have always marveled at Auntie Gloria’s fortitude. Giving birth to 14 children is a feat! What’s even more marvelous is that she has aged gracefully, elegantly, and with a quiet dignity.
Her hair has turned pure silver, but her eyes still sparkle like a child’s full of curiosity and joyous anticipation of simple things like hot pandesal.
It must have been an unshakeable faith in each other and in God’s providence which have kept Tio Primo and Auntie Gloria’s marriage solid as rock till the very end.
Other couples with fewer children always complain that they don’t have enough of this and that, but not Tio Primo and Auntie Gloria. I never heard them complain. And they always had enough. They were never rich but they were never in need.
It must have been Grace from Above which has kept their family together through all of life’s rollercoaster rides. All 14 children, kids-in-law, and the scores of grandkids and great, grandkids are alive!
All 14 children, kids-in-law, and the scores of grandkids and great, grandkids were at Tio Primo’s wake. Seven of the 14 children are Canadian citizens. Would all of them be able to make it to the wake and funeral? Would they even bother? They did.
The final wake was a riotous informal reunion among cousins, nephews, nieces, grandkids from this branch and that branch of the family, friends, and relatives from all over.
On the day we laid Tio Primo to his final resting place, we were worried that Auntie Gloria would weep, faint, collapse, have a heart attack, etc. But she was composed. Crying quietly, she stood in front of Tio Primo’s tomb until it was sealed.
It must have been love in the purest sense of the word that have kept Tio Primo and Auntie Gloria together through more than 50 years of marriage. When they took that vow on their wedding day, they must have meant it:

“… to have and to hold,
from this day forward,
for better or for worse,
for richer or for poorer,
in sickness and in health,
to love and to cherish
until death do us part.”

Thursday, September 18, 2008

“Pinay sa Singapore”

“Pinay sa Singapore”
It's the first Sunday after payday, and I’m dragging my feet to Lucky Plaza. Located on Orchard Road, near the MRT station, it is a shopping mall where many Filipinos go to make remittances, to shop for Philippine goods, to eat Filipino meals, etc.

I need to go to Lucky Plaza to remit the monthly payment for my house in the Philippines. The place is crowded just like every Sunday in Singapore. And just like every Sunday in Singapore, I see Filipino women…in groups:

- sitting under some trees eating their favorite home-cooked meals;
- sending money to their loved ones;
- walking around dressed skimpily with 80% of their skin exposed;
- eating at McDonald’s with an Indian fellow who pays for their meal;
- flirting with a Filipino guy who works as a seaman;
- looking around with shifty eyes watching out for something, or someone?

I see Filipino women…alone:

- shopping for clothes to send home to her family;
- queuing to pay her monthly SSS / Pag-ibig dues;
- calling up her family on a payphone;
- crying while talking on the phone… to her husband? children?

I see Filipino women with foreign men:

- flirting with an Indian fellow;
- cuddling the head of a Bangladeshi guy on her lap;
- sleeping on the shoulder of a Burmese man;
- holding hands with an Indian guy…

Most of the time, the Filipina in the above scenario seems to be more than 40-year old, married, and have five children!

These are frightful sights for me. And it hurts me whenever my male officemates joke about it.

“Women at Lucky Plaza are cheaper. It will cost you just a meal at first. Then, they would come digging pink bills out of your pocket in time.”

“What do those guys like about flirting aunties at Lucky Plaza?”

And they’ve even asked me, “Is it true that when Filipino women age, they become more aggressive? Watch your age then!”
These scenes at Lucky Plaza amuse Singaporeans and other races. They make fun of our fellow OFWs. It makes me sad. It makes me mad.

A year ago, on the first Sunday after my payday, I was so eager to go to Lucky Plaza to remit the payment for my house in the Philippines. When people asked me of my nationality, I had proudly announced, “I am a Filipina. I am an OFW.”

Today, my bag of mixed emotions sometimes overwhelm me. Yes, I am a Filipina. Those flirting aunties are Filipinas, too. And we are all OFWs.

I rationalize my pain and sense of shame by telling myself that it is the ‘oldest profession.’ There are women of other nationalities who also ply their wares on Orchard Road, especially in the evenings.

If I had a magic wand:

I’d zip the mouths of my male colleagues forever;
I’d turn Lucky Plaza into an enchanted queendom where well-meaning wishes are granted;
I’d build the Philippines into thousands of Singapores;
I’d bring an end to the OFW phenomenon!

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Perils and Challenges of Working Overseas

by Romulo L. Panganiban
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
This article was originally published in Color and Visions (Volume II / Issue 5), official corporate publication/newsletter of Astra Polymers ( as a feature article from one of its (former) employees, Mr. Romulo L. Panganiban. Mr. Allan V. Adan, Editor-In-Chief of Color and Visions, has given Barangay OFW his kind permission to re-publish this article. You may reach Mr. Adan at
Considering the sagging economy and high level of unemployment in most South Asian and South East Asian countries, the job market in the Middle East has proved to be a lucrative alternative for those aspiring to break free from joblessness and monetary insufficiency. Not only that the Middle East offers employment opportunities for many blue-collar workers, but it also contributes in generating economic rewards for many third-world countries through dollar remittances. Thus, many have left behind their loved ones with hopes and expectations that working in the far away desert would make their dreams come true – a better life.
Risks and Uncertainties
However, working in another country in favor of greater economic gains has enormous risks and uncertainties. Stories have been told about men and women who lost their psychological balance for not being able to handle the pressures of the new environment. There have been many accounts of maltreated workers who had to find desperate means and run away from abusive employers. Similarly, one cannot ignore the sad tales and tragedies about broken marriages, disintegration and moral degradation among families of overseas workers.

Being an overseas contract worker is certainly not easy. It takes a higher level of maturity and emotional strength to tackle the many issues besetting the home, relationships, financial needs, survival at the workplace, and cultural differences. People who opt to work in a far away region are compelled to relinquish the direct and close supervision of the household, child-rearing, family affairs, and family budgeting, among others; and go through the complicated acclimatization process as they set foot in a foreign land.
Emotional Balance and Open Mind
Working in another country does not solely revolve around going to work every day and sending remittances home at the end of each month. Psychological and emotional readiness in living independently and combating homesickness is necessary, as overseas workers should be able to conclude each working day without losing sanity. Hence, a high level of self-determination and self-sufficiency is essential.

It is likewise important that migrant workers possess an open mind to survive the demands of the new job. They must unlearn stereotypes and outdated points of reference and adapt to the new work environment with due consideration to certain factors such as power distance, organizational hierarchy and corporate culture to keep themselves afloat. They must find ways to battle through political bickering, departmental frictions, hostilities, leadership styles and many other challenges, which they will surely encounter within the four corners of the workplace. It is easier said than done. But capitalizing on humility, dexterity and flexibility will surely make them travel far minus the bruises and pains.
A high degree of socialization and interaction with people in the new environment could help manage homesickness and yearning for loved ones. Peer groups and companionship are means by which an overseas worker could establish connection with people, from whom he could seek assistance and company. More importantly, bonding with peers and friends through activities of common interests such as hobbies, sports and recreation expands horizons and enhances social development.

Although overseas workers should remain proud of respective ethnic origin and cultural heritage, they should recognize that thriving in a foreign land requires understanding and respect for other cultures as well as opening their minds to learning and adapting to a few local customs and traditions. The concept of ethnic superiority has long been discarded by modern social scientists. Instead of building cultural fortresses, overseas workers should recognize cultural diversity and assimilation. Instead of passing judgment based on other people’s cultural practices, they should try to look through the intricacies of the interwoven behavioral patterns until they understand the assumptions and beliefs that define them.
Commitment to Marital Fidelity
Working in another country is often more complex for married people. While the covenant of marriage is said to guard couples from infidelity, husbands cannot be certain of their wives’ quandary and private actions. Similarly, some men are quite weak in handling intrinsic physiological desires and end up having extra-marital affairs.

Although fidelity is indeed a challenging vow, couples could survive long distance relationships by centering on commitment, communication and self-control. Overseas workers should remain wary of being hooked into affairs that could lead to marital separation, unwanted pregnancy, and even health troubles (i.e. sexually transmittable diseases). Quite intricate, but such could be achieved through periodic priority checks and keeping one’s focus on the motivations of working abroad – the family. Equally significant, however, spouses back home should exert the same effort in battling momentary separation and support their husbands’ or wives’ quest for economic advancement.
Being Absentee Parents
The harsh reality of not seeing their kids grow is a far more taxing emotional burden among parents working abroad. Though some children have grown normally without the physical presence of their father or mother, a strong parental relationship would certainly have a more positive impact on any child’s psychological and social development. Hence, it is essential for the spouse back home to keep a constant reminder and memory of the father/mother to the kids as well as establish regular communication and interaction with the distant parent. Information technology and modern telecommunication devices are of great use in this aspect of remote parenting.
The Challenges of Returning Home
Returning home to family, friends and community is another challenge for those who have worked abroad over a long period. Some overseas workers find it hard to re-integrate themselves and experience a feeling of detachment and indifference from families and old pals. There is also the pressure of living to the high financial expectations and impression among relatives and friends thereby creating more strain and pushing them to further distress.

These perils and predicaments are just a few of the many challenges that baffle the spirit of overseas workers each day. Additionally, there is the demand of achieving the financial target and reaping the payback of long-term separation from the family.
Frugality and Financial Prudence
Material wealth is fleeting and no overseas worker is spared from the spiral relationship between income and spending. The increasing costs of living, growing demands of family members, and the desire for personal gratification are forces that constantly shake the hard-earned wages of overseas workers.

Overseas workers must imbibe frugality and prudence in their way of life. Financial stability is achieved through efficient management of limited resources and regular assessment of net worth. One should learn the art of spending within reasonable means and channel a portion of his/her income into a savings account or sound investment venture (e.g. real estate, entrepreneurship, marketable securities). Otherwise, the sacrifices invested and the opportunity costs incurred in working abroad will simply lose their essence.

It is likewise advised that they savor the fruits of hard labor by allotting a portion of their income for personal consumption purposes. Youth and time are irreversible occurrences and engaging in reasonable recreation and leisure activities are equally important in living a balanced life.
Employers’ Role
Employers also play a vital role in helping overseas workers survive and thrive in a foreign land. They (Employers) should have a good grasp of the psyche of overseas workers and respond accordingly by providing support mechanisms in the form of proper and adequate job orientation, organized social activities, adequate time for rest and recreation, and coaching and counseling. All these would increase the chance of survival among overseas workers as well as induce efficiency and long-term commitment to the organization. Likewise, empathy and encouragement from supervisors and co-workers would augment the longing for family affection and care.
The Invisible Costs of an Overseas Job
These challenges, uncertainties and risks are the invisible costs of any overseas employment contract, which a number of workers fail to realize and consider when accepting job offers (as they are often fixated on the monetary reward).

Whatever overseas workers make out of their life abroad depends on their personal agenda, priorities, coping skills and way of life. And although the majority’s standard measure of success is centered on tangible and financial accomplishments, overseas workers might consider looking at these priceless indicators whether working overseas genuinely results in a “better life”: relationship stability, family cohesiveness, peace of mind and self-worth.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

A Room for my Mom

by Anthony Diala
People’s Republic of China
I grew up with a happy family. My father was a policeman and my mother was a stay-at-home mom. My childhood days are still fresh in my mind. Though we lived in a small house in Pampanga, I remember how happy we were. I remember the joy I felt whenever my Mom would give me my baon of around 50 centavos (that was in 1979). And I would spend most of it on kakaning-kalamay and tibok-tibok (local delicacies of Pampanga).

Amidst our simple life, my Mom and Dad would always have visitors in our house. Most of them would be asking for help -- either relatives or strangers whom I had never seen in my life. But my parents were generous to a fault. Don’t get me wrong. As a grown-up child, I admire the generosity of my parents. I remember my Mom sacrificing our own needs just to lend something to our needier relatives and friends.

Needless to say, it was my Mom’s relatives in the U.S.A. who sustained most of our expenses in school. My siblings and I went to a private institution. My Dad’s salary as a policeman was just enough to pay for our monthly food expenses; nothing more, nothing less.

When I was in third year high school, my daily expenses and those of my brother and sister had become a financial burden to Dad and Mom. Though an uncle of ours paid for our tuition fees, my parents had to take care of the expenses for projects and many school activities.

And so Mom decided to work abroad. But Mom had never held a job and had never been away from us. Besides, she was only a high school graduate. What kind of job could she qualify for?

Dad told me that she would work as a domestic helper in a Chinese family in Hong Kong. But before this decision was made, I recall that my parents tried to engage in export. However, it did not succeed, though I witnessed how my parents gave their best effort to their fledgling export business.

So it did come to pass. Mom flew to Hong Kong to work as a domestic helper while Dad continued his work as a policeman. At this stage, my brother, sister, and I had to make drastic adjustments in our lifestyle. We were forced to cook our food and wash our clothes whenever Dad could not come home due to red alerts and other police operations.

It was a painful adjustment and a rude awakening. We missed Mom. Terribly. We never appreciated her presence. When she was around, we ate our meals, put on our uniforms, and went to school without bothering about the logistics of running a home. Most of all, we missed Mom’s loving presence. We missed the presence of two happy parents.

Dad tried to cope. Even though he had just come home from an all-night police operation, he would wash our clothes by hand (we didn’t have a washing machine then). I felt sorry for Dad. Many a night, I would see him lie awake. Then he’d get up at dawn, silent, absent-minded, and looking out of the window at nothing. I knew he missed Mom so much.

After a difficult year of adjustment, we thought Mom would be able to come home. We were sorely disappointed when we learned that she needed to complete her two-year contract. We adjusted to the situation the best way we could.

I was in second year college when a shocking news devastated me. Dad just had a stroke and was in the hospital. My dad’s relatives stopped me from breaking the news to Mom. But alas, after almost two weeks of fighting for his life, Dad departed. The responsibility of breaking the news to my Mom fell on my shoulders. I couldn’t utter the words. They were words which broke my heart. My tongue felt heavy and my jaws felt tight as if I were afflicted with tetanus.

At the airport, Mom joined me and my dad’s sisters in the car. We hugged each other lifelessly. Mom had been away for more than a year; she was in shock and was speechless.

“So, Mom, how’s Hong Kong?” I asked stupidly. I knew they were not the right words to say, but I didn’t know what to say.

At the wake, Mom tried to stay strong, but I saw her escaping to an empty room and I heard her weep. My only comfort then was crying on the shoulders of my ex-girl friend (my wife). It was a very tough moment for all of us.
I was offered an option to continue Dad’s service as a policeman, but Mom refused. She was determined to start a small business out of what she can get from Dad’s death benefits but another tragedy struck. Mount Pinatubo erupted and most of the city where we lived was in complete disaster. We had to evacuate to the house of my girlfriend’s family and we stayed there for about three months. We had to spend the money from Dad’s death benefits, and only my Mom’s relatives in the US served as our lifeline.

It was a very tough decision, but Mom signed up for another contract in Hong Kong. Her employers were asking her to go back to Hong Kong, and amidst the hardship we had to endure, she accepted. She left me, my brother, and my sister to take care of ourselves in a small, rented apartment.

Mom worked abroad for the next ten years, going back to Philippines once every two years. Through all those years, she supported us with everything she earned abroad. My brother and sister had gotten married just like me, but Mom never had a chance to attend any of our weddings. We never did have a royal life, but Mom gave us her best. Come to think of it, she even gave up a happy married life for our sake.

Right now, Mom lives in the US. Her relative’s petition for her has been finally approved. Ironically, she has to continue working for a family in America. Life is tough as well. Up to now, just like my uncle who sent us to school, Mom still sends financial support to my brother and sister.

How can we repay them in return?

I promised Mom that she would never live in any home for the aged. As my tribute to her, when I finally build my home, she will have a room in it and I will support her in return.

Not that I must pay her back for what she has given us all her life. In fact, I can never repay her for what she has given up. But I want her to know that she is very special to me. It was she who carried me in her womb for nine months – I owe my life to her. She invested the best years of her life in me and my siblings. Selflessly, she gave us her all so that we can have a better future…
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