This post is quite a personal one as this tackles my story and I believe part of the story of millions of Filipinos who have an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) parent/s.
The OFWs are called the unsung heroes of the Philippines, with their contributions giving back billions to the economy annually. A lot has been written about how their sacrifices enabled kids to be sent to school, houses built, businesses put up, and a list of all the benefits that we, their loved ones left here, reap. My story is most probably not unique, but the person who this post is about certainly is.
My father is an OFW. Given his age now, he has lived abroad longer than he has spent here in the Philippines. He saw an opportunity back when he was just a young man and took his chance on working in a foreign country away from everything he is familiar with. Together with my mother, it was difficult to raise a young family in a foreign country so my brother and I were raised by my grandparents, aunt, and cousins. Weekly phone calls, letters, and voice tapes were the form of communication back then, cellphones much more video calling were but a dream.
Every summer my parents would have their yearly vacation to coincide with the months we don’t have classes. Those times were always joyful with trips to the beach, eating out, and playing around. Looking back, we didn’t have gadgets or annual trips abroad but we were happy and my siblings and I kept ourselves preoccupied. Growing up my father would always remind me to be kind and love my siblings. He did not get mad or confront us if ever we were unkind to each other but he would just remind us to love and be kind to each other anyway. He would imbibe his value of being neat and clean so he would always check on our nails if it were too long, and clean our ears for us.
My father has certainly sacrificed a lot. He was not there for most months of the year so he missed out on the little things that make up mundane days – the things that we usually take for granted like being driven to school, doing school projects together, or trying not to wade in floodwaters which only happen during rainy months. But he makes up for it when he is home. He even drove me 40 kms away to my university when I was in college and up to now that I am working, he still drives me and fetches me from work. He must have felt lonely, sad, and longing for most of the time but he is strong enough not to get those emotions get the better of him since he has a family depending on him. We are most thankful for his sacrifice because it enabled us to have food on the table, a roof over our heads, and a chance at a good education.
I would always get sad when he is about to go back abroad and I can’t believe that after decades of feeling like this, it still has not changed. We would never get numb to the feeling, do we? But maybe more so for him. He would always say that if he was given the choice, he would love to stay here. But money goes down the drain faster than we can earn it here in the Philippines as a middle-income family.
How will it be in the next 10 or 20 years? Will it still be like this for us Filipinos? Will it still be a toss up between staying with your family and getting by, as they say “isang kahig, isang tuka“, or going abroad and giving your family better opportunities? The answer is a complex mix of different factors. If there would be jobs here that can sustain a growing family I’m sure that these capable men and women would choose to stay in the Philippines. There is no better feeling than seeing your loved ones everyday, being in your own country and living in the culture that you grew up with. But until then, there would still be millions of people each year that would join the diaspora, there would still be families that get to see their mother, father, or siblings for a month or two in a year.
Are you an OFW or do you have relatives who are OFWs? Share your thoughts. 💖