Last week I was standing at the waiting area of NAIA Terminal 1 when my attention was caught by this family who obviously can’t seem to contain their excitement upon seeing a family member emerged from the airport. I can’t help but smile at the way they were shouting her name, Anna. An old lady, who clearly was Anna’s mom was even jumping with joy together with Anna’s nephews and nieces or children, while an old man, who I presumed was Anna’s dad, was wiping his tears with a hanky. If there were no metal barriers, I would have imagined them running and engulfing Anna in a tight big hug right then and there. But with the guards and the metal barriers restraining them, they just contended themselves with waving furiously and shouting her name over and over until she was finally with them. Anna I believed was one of the hundreds of OFWs arriving that day to be with their family.
Funny but after a few minutes, that scene was replaced by me and my family jumping with joy too as my sister came into view. Yes, she is part of that hundreds of OFWs arriving that day to spend a week with us. Though she only works in nearby Singapore, the reality of not seeing her everyday and not being with her whenever she is sick or lonely is really quite hard. It didn’t help that she is living there by herself since she doesn’t have a family of her own yet and is she sick of diabetes. I imagine that it is a lot worst for other families though whose husbands/fathers work in far away Middle Eastern countries that have much stricter employment policies than Singapore and can only go home after two years.
The difficult plight of our OFWs in foreign countries is not something new to us. We oftentimes hear in the news how some of them have fallen into the wrong hands of drug mules and were being used as drug traffickers. How some have become victims of sex slavery and abuse. And how some have been forced to sign contract substitutions by their foreign employers that make them easy victims of employment malpractices. Aside from these, there are of course safety and protection issues that they have to deal with everyday. Like the case of our OFWs in Syria who have been the center of repatriation efforts by the government lately due to continued violence in that country.
Working overseas as I imagined it is indeed difficult as it leaves our OFWs vulnerable to cruelty and mistreatment everyday. I remember how I sat in horror as I listened to one of my closest friends in college share how she was aggressively stalked by a Lebanese admirer and how she was emotionally bullied and harassed by the guy’s powerful family after she had him put in jail in Doha, Quatar. It took the intervention of the Philippine embassy there, who secretly brought her back to the Philippines, to put an end to her ordeal. My friend obviously had the good sense to seek the help of the Philippine embassy but it made me wonder, what about the others who had no means of escape and had no way of knowing where to go to seek help. I am sure there are many of them who have the same or even worst case than my friend who have not been reached by help yet.
My cousin also relayed once in email how she and her companion were brought to the dark dessert when they rode a taxi in Dubai, and how the taxi driver took all of their belongings and made them walk the dark way home. It left her traumatized and it got us thinking, thank God they were only held up, it could have been worst.
And there are of course those OFWs who get sick in these foreign countries as work stress takes a toll on their body. My sister’s diabetes became worst when she started working in Singapore five years ago. My cousin’s husband has been battling cancer for the past months now in Kuwait too. Not to forget also Alfredo Salmos who got electrocuted while performing his job in Saudi Arabia late last year. Though there’s no denying that these countries probably have more advanced medical treatment facilities, being sick in a country without your immediate family by your side and without the necessary financial means are clearly daunting.
Threats to employment, protection, safety, medical issues as well as loneliness, alienation, stress, these are just some of the things that our OFWs face everyday in their earnest desire to provide their family a better life. People often think that OFWs are lucky for having that opportunity to earn dollars as compared to the others who are left working here. But it makes me wonder, are they really? Would you call it luck when the ones left working here enjoys the comforts of being with their family, of working with people who comes from the same race as them, and of living in the safety of their own country? It’s not luck really if you think about it but more of perseverance and sacrifice, for they obviously have to give up a lot just to earn the dollars.