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…
Copyright © 2008 to Barangay OFW. All rights reserved.

Friday, September 5, 2008

My ‘Addiction’ to Photography

by Manuelito N. Dagohoy
Saudi Arabia

It all started with the eyes, my eyes. I use these eyes to see things differently in multi-color, black & white, lights, emotions, patterns, nature, and people. I appreciate the many beautiful creations around I encounter outside and inside my home, office, school, shopping centers, outdoors, streets, my trips in and out of the Philippines, and others. But my human memory chip can not store all those beauties and savor all those moments. Thus, I have turned to my camera to help me capture those moments and share them with others.

Back in high school, I got interested in photography when a classmate showed me his SLR camera and different photography books. However, the realization of having my first film SLR camera (Olympus) came about only when I started working in Saudi Arabia in 1998. I took that camera to Germany and Brazil in 2000 and my eyes had a feast taking images of those beautiful countries, particularly the mega city of Sao Paolo. Then I went back to the Philippines in 2001 and took pictures of my hometown in Mindanao.

Unfortunately, a film camera has disadvantages in the digital world. Films are expensive in areas of exposures, development and storage. Like other photographers would say, you can take a million shots to get one beautiful image. Imagine using hundreds or thousands of film rolls to get that one ‘Kodak’ moment’. Film negatives are difficult to store for future development. Exposure to the elements can damage films. Moreover, film development is expensive compared to digital post-processing using computer applications like Photoshop and GIMP where I can do the processing myself.

Thus, I bought my first digital SLR, the Olympus e500, two years ago. Recently, I bought an Olympus e3. Why I’m into Olympus cameras is another story. Where I got these? From the same shop in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia where I bought my first film SLR. The digital SLR has helped me in many ways. Cost-effective, the compact flash memory cards can be re-used to capture thousands of images. I can store the images in my computer external hard-disk. I can do in-camera editing and I can do my digital post-processing in my PC (admittedly I’m not yet good at this digital processing thing). Printing the picture is now cheaper.

In many ways, digital photography opened the door to more knowledge in photography techniques, equipment, networking with other photographers and business opportunity. On-line sites for photography techniques, reviews, brand forums, SLR buy & sell abound for digital SLR users.

Photography is social networking. To hone my skills in photography, I joined a photography workshop in Riyadh. I met several Filipinos and others from different countries. These photographers share their views, techniques, gears and their photo sites. On-line photography forums are available from the Philippines, UK, Canada, Saudi-Arabia, UAE, the USA and other countries. Some photographers -- enthusiasts, hobbyists or professionals -- joined the forums from other countries thereby expanding the network, skills transfer, and techniques.

Many of the workshop attendees found out that other photography buffs are just two corners away from their homes or offices. Some live in nearby streets or cities. This realization led to the formation of photography clubs. Filipinos in Riyadh formed a photography group called, ‘Desert Fox Shooters’ or DFS.

The members come from different fields of profession. There are interior designers, engineers, technicians, nurses, pediatricians, graphic artists, teachers, bank & supermarket employees, salespersons, and others. You can view the images from our Desert Fox Shooters website . The club has also helped our spouses and children become budding photographers. We have our ‘kulitan’ in the on-line forum. Most of all, members share their images, techniques and photo opportunities. You can view my photos from this site.

Our group has expanded from Riyadh to other cities in Saudi Arabia. Other members who had left Saudi Arabia for other countries linked with other ‘Pinoy’ photography clubs, i.e. Gulf Photographers Network. Well-known photographers and digital artists from the Philippines have also joined our network. These well-known artists offer huge discounts to club members in their workshops.

We are into different photo coverage for the Filipino community in Riyadh. We cover sports, weddings, school activities, embassy functions, corporate events, glamour shots, portraitures, food & product shoots. Most of these are done free of charge. We also meet for in-house photo sessions where we invite other Filipinos like a Chef for our food photography, families for family portraits, and models for glamour shoots. Sometimes, other photographers pose as models, too. We do these to enhance our skills as photographers because we simply enjoy shooting images. At the same time, we scout for opportunities to grow in the photography business.

Business opportunity in photography is where I plan to invest my retirement as an OFW. Why? I love seeing beautiful images of different people, places, and events. And I’m not alone. There are so many people who are not photographers who want to capture and relish special moments in their lives. This is where the business opportunity comes in.

People want to share their images taken when they were young, growing up, in groups, in events, in their weddings, graduations, parties, and trips. Other than individuals, there are corporate business opportunities like shooting products of a company, clinic, and sari–sari stores and there are opportunities from government functions like conference, tourism, town fiestas, fashion shows and school sports development.

Admittedly, photography is not a cheap hobby. Some say it’s a very expensive ‘bisyo’. For me, I’d rather have this kind of vice which offers a business opportunity. Compare my kind of hobby to others who splurge on designer clothes, who play mahjong, or who go night-clubbing and drinking. I can use my camera anywhere and get paid, that’s the big difference.

Others dream of becoming famous photographers featured in National Geography, Getty Images, Time, Sports Illustrated, etc. I choose to live and see the colorful world and at the same time learn, earn and enjoy my hobby.
A few years from now, the photography equipment I have purchased will be relocated to my new studio in the Philippines. My camera will be with me to capture that magic moment!

Copyright © 2008 to Barangay OFW. All rights reserved.