Thursday, January 28, 2016

Behind the smile, a hidden sorrow

by  Esther A. Quiba

In each gleeful laughter, the heart experiences contentment. In every sacrifice, there’s a goal to reach. In every luxurious treat, there’s a pain disguised. Behind the smiles are hidden sorrows.
Why are there OFWs? No easy answer! Some may be happy to share their stories, but others are unwilling, and when forced, they have to fabricate and invent tales to make them feel better.

I am called a hero in our country.  I am a simple and ordinary citizen - a daughter able to deal with loneliness; a mother capable of giving; a wife ready to sacrifice for her loved ones.

Poverty was the reason why I left the country in 1984 to work in Brunei at the age of 24. In my journey, my simple dream was to provide a better life and prosperity for my family. Although I am a college graduate, it was not easy to get a job.  To provide for my family, I had to be away from them. Unsure of what might happen, only my determination and trust in the Lord kept me strong.

For the first week of my stay abroad I felt as if I was on a different planet. I had to adjust since the working conditions were also challenging. I could hardly eat the food and the weather was totally different from the one I am familiar with.

Foremost was the difficulty of understanding and dealing with the attitude of other nationalities and culture. I found that the life of an OFW is not easy. It was not the life I imagined it to be. It was hard to love something new,  particularly doing all the household chores alone, not being able to rest since you have not finished all your work.

I felt like a robot run by a battery and operated by remote. I had no choice but to obey every time a button was pressed. I would tremble and become weak-kneed each time I felt discriminated by people around me. I can endure the pain of a tired body but not the thoughts that bring me pain. But since I chose this kind of job, I had to deal with it no matter how difficult it was.

When I was lonely, the photographs of my loved ones kept me company. I would have loved to talk with them often, but it was only through telegram that I would be able to relay my ‘hello’ and tell them that I miss them. Sometimes it would take weeks or a month before they were able to read my letters. It was such a big concern when a member of the family got sick and I was not able to visit. There were special occasions I never had a chance to attend.

All I could do then was to think that soon – any time, any day, any week or any year my contract would end.

Even if I wanted to go home, it was not possible. I would just imagine the possibility of swimming the vast ocean or flying on the wings of a plane just to visit my family. It was not easy to sacrifice. But I knew that everything I did was for my loved ones’ future.

Although life abroad was difficult, still there was joy that matched each moment of loneliness. I spent eight years in Brunei and I was able to help my parents, siblings and other relatives. I believe that all my sacrifices were worth it.  Knowing that they are happy also made me happy.

After eight years as an OFW, however, I decided to come back.  I was glad but sad at the same time. I was glad because after a long time of loneliness away from my family, I had a chance to be with them. When they received me with their smiles, all my sorrows melted away. On the other hand, I was sad because for eight years, I was not able to save for myself. My family did not know that every pay day and end of contract, only receipts remained folded in my pocket. I am a single mother, blessed with an only child. I felt the painful truth that even if we were together there would be a void and emptiness if I were not able to provide for my daughter.

It was not an easy decision to make.  I was not able to raise my daughter. My presence and love were missing since I was too far away from her. There was that constant fear of her going astray, becoming rebellious, and growing up lacking the guidance of parents.  But my biggest concern was her future. Nothing would happen if I decided to stay with my daughter since we did not have enough money to live on. For that reason, I decided to work abroad again.

This time I applied for work in Singapore as a domestic worker. It was a painful experience since my employer had a bad attitude. I experienced getting sick because of fatigue and overwork. I thought I would be able to finish my contract and extend my patience; but, after a year and a half I ran away and went to the Philippine embassy to ask for help. God was kind and I met a person who was instrumental in sending me home to my family. I am grateful to that person.

While my daughter was growing up, her financial needs were also increasing. Again, despite my fear of going away, it was overpowered by my desire to provide for my daughter’s future.  I did not want her to suffer the same fate I had. I decided to go to Kuwait.  

Upon setting foot in that country, my fear doubled. There were so many grim and harrowing stories experienced by OFWs in Kuwait. I went through another adjustment period. The place is totally different from where I have been. This time it is a desert. The climate is extreme.  It can get very cold, like living inside a fridge, during winter. On the other hand, it is very hot during summer. It is as if the sun is your neighbor, the extreme heat sometimes induces headaches.

In Kuwait, my employers abused me. They were so heartless that they kept me locked inside the house. They would hide food from me. They made me work like a slave animal. They would slap me and I will never forget one time when I almost fell down the steep stairs while they were hitting me. If they were still not contented with punishing me, they would hide food to keep me hungry. I would scavenge for their left-overs and if unlucky, I had to go to the extent of digging the trash can just to find some food.

I experienced all kinds of their inhumane treatment. In my self-pity I blamed myself and regretted choosing to leave my daughter behind just to go through such an ordeal. At that time, I did not have any other choice anymore.  I was cut-off from any outside communication and prayers were my only hope.

One day God answered my prayers. While doing my chores, my mobile phone, which was hidden by my employer, suddenly rang. My agency unexpectedly called and asked about my situation. I told them my ordeal and asked for their help before something bad happened to me. Finally I was freed.

I prayed that I did not have to go through the same experience again. A new employer took me in.  She has a daughter named Lulu. While the kid was growing up it was discovered that she was autistic. She would strike or kick me whenever she would go on a tantrum. I ended up with bruises, scratches, and sometimes even bites. Living with a special child was a new challenge for my strength and patience. It was not easy to understand her, but despite her condition, I chose to care for her. In three years, the family, especially their daughter, became so close to me.

I consider them my second family. Both mother and daughter became dear to me  because they showed the same love for me. They would always tell me that they need me. I would stand as a surrogate mother to Lulu whom I raised as my own daughter.

I worked for them for the last 10 years because they were so nice to me. They helped me have a better life. Because of them, I was able to provide for my daughter.  She had since finished her schooling and now has a good job. I was also able to provide for the education of my other relatives.                    

In my more than 30 years of work abroad I learned a lot despite the hardship I went through. I may not have built a mansion, but the biggest prize for me is to see my daughter complete her studies. It feels like heaven in our bungalow whenever we are complete as a family. 

As they always say, there are no such words as ‘I am tired’ for a parent like me. For every sacrifice, there is a sweet reward at the end. It is so fulfilling to remain standing and not give up. 

At present, I am blessed with a new partner to complete my happiness.  Moreover, I became a member and administrator of a social media community group called Pinoy Expats/OFW Blog Awards (PEBA ) that provides assistance to other OFWs. I actively participate in sharing information for OFWs in our on-line advocacy.

I hope that my story and experience will serve as an example for other OFWs. I believe that God will always bless us with good health, and an endless determination to face all of life’s challenges. God is good. Never lose hope. With God’s grace all difficulties could be forgotten with each passing day. With the struggles I went through, I am convinced that He is always there, ready to embrace us whenever we need help. He will not give us challenges that we will not be able to deal with. God will never abandon us and will always be on our side. We can also depend on our family who will always be there to love us.

Esther A. Quiba, caregiver, Qatar. Good education for their kids is a prized trophy for most OFWs. Esther has been an OFW for 30 years as a domestic worker and caregiver. She has gone through ordeals just to provide good education for her daughter. Esther is currently with a good employer and taking of her ward with autism. Her free time is spent with online volunteer work and advocacy for other migrant workers. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

PMRW Newsletter Third Quarter Issue 2015

July-August-September 2015
On this issue:

1) OFW Coalition Questions Balikbayan Box Policy
2) My Personal Reflection on the 20th National Seafarers' Day (NSD)
3) 20th National Seafarers' Day Celebration Photos
4) Consultation Meeting of Migrant Chaplains Held
5) CMA Consults NGO on CEDAW Report
6) A New Home For DAWN

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Inspired and Inspiring OFWs

by Jebee “Kenji” De La Cruz Solis 

I was born in the Southern part of Mindanao, the eldest among four siblings. Our father left us when I was six and our mother died of cancer when I was in high school. Because of our family's circumstances, I learned the dignity of working hard at an early age.

I was so poor that I graduated in high school through the help of my group of friends. I called them “INCREDIBLE.” My late guidance counselor-teacher even paid for my scholarship exam fee worth PhP35. Fortunately, I passed the exams and was admitted to the Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology. I had to work as a househelp during my stay in Iligan because I did not know anyone there. I cleaned the house, washed dishes, and fed pigs in exchange for meals and lodging. I was a “kasambahay” and scholar in one.

When school became difficult and the housework became taxing, I decided to use my stipend for a bed space in a boarding house. My money was not enough and it only lasted six months in such an arrangement, until someone adopted me. I helped in the household chores in exchange for a meager allowance that was not even enough to pay for my fare. I had to walk several kilometers to save on transportation expenses.

I was convinced even at that time, that sacrifices will bring blessings.  If not immediately, then someday. I was also determined to finish my studies because I firmly believe that education unlocks the door of opportunities. This was my motivation and inspiration so that I can realize my dreams and be able to help my siblings realize theirs. Fortunately, I was elected president of our college because of the leadership I had shown. I graduated and received the university’s leadership award.

After graduation, I landed a job in Cebu and later transferred to Manila as a young chemist. I continuously searched for better employment until I was employed as a junior chemist for a water treatment facility in Pasay City. After five months, I received an unexpected call for a job offer abroad. I informed the caller that I did not apply for work abroad. The caller turned out to be the former HR Manager of one of the companies where I had submitted my resume. She was already part of a recruitment company sending workers abroad. I reported for the interview, got accepted, and three weeks after, I was bound for Dammam, Saudi Arabia.

I arrived on September 23, 2004. It was the Saudi National Day, the day I became an Overseas Filipino Worker. I vividly remember that foreboding anticipation when I was left behind at that time.  Most of the passengers in my flight were already fetched by their employers. Some fellow OFWS gave me money to call my contacts and to buy food. Since I was the youngest and a first timer; they were concerned about my situation. I kept calling the company that hired me but to no avail. I had to sleep in the airport. It was only through the graciousness of some friends, that I was able to leave and later settled to my company.

I became a part of an all-Filipino team that was commissioned to build a water bottling company. All my other five colleagues were former OFWs who were in their mid-40s and 50s already. I was the newbie. I realized then that we OFWs need a lot of provisions when going abroad – among them, a strong determination, faith, patience, understanding, and humility. Loneliness and boredom were just some of the obstacles that I needed to face and overcome.

In the course of my work I had a chance to deal with different nationalities.  Once, there was this Italian engineer named Tiziano who worked and stayed in the plant for a week. He has traveled the world because of the nature of his job. He has a wonderful family living in Milan, Italy. We were having a conversation one day, about family and his country, when he asked me how old I was. I replied, ‘28.’ He then asked me why I was in Saudi Arabia. I asked him what he meant and he explained that since I’m young, I should be in my home country swimming in our beautiful beaches, flirting with pretty ladies, and enjoying the best years of my life. I was taken aback by his remark but I just smiled. Our definition of living our lives to the fullest differ.

To defeat boredom, I started blogging about my life and my thoughts about Saudi Arabia. Thoughtskoto ( was born in 2005.  After three years of blogging, my wife (who later joined me in Saudi Arabia) and I decided to create our own blogging award.  At that time, the Philippine Blog Awards was also being established and Thoughtskoto was  nominated in the Bloggers Choice Awards. However, when my wife and I looked at the roster of nominated blogs we were surprised not to find other blogs from other OFWs. Aware that there were many bloggers around the globe linked to our blog, we then decided to make our own award for those wonderful and inspiring bloggers.

We named it Pinoy Expats/OFWs Blog Awards (PEBA). The organization serves not just to recognize and honor the best and inspiring OFWs and expats stories through their blogs and creative skills,  but also to become the voice of OFWs in the social media, particularly on Facebook.  It is registered under SEC and BIR as a non-stock, non-profit organization.
We started with a handful of volunteers. I tapped the support of some bloggers to be my partners in our first run. Among them were Pete Rahon, an OFW based in South Korea; Lionel Gonzaga, an OFW from Dubai; and NJ Abad who is based in Jeddah. The online nomination, judging, and awarding were done successfully through the collective efforts of individuals from different parts of the globe that formed the core members of PEBA.

Today, PEBA has evolved as an international organization of OFWs which provides sound, clear, and consistent advocacy initiatives on important issues affecting them, their families, and the nation.

So what makes PEBA unique and different? I would like to answer that with a quote from the 2010 opening entry of PEBA president, NJ Abad: "PEBA will not just be an organization that will give annual awards for exemplary blogs but it will proactively act on issues that will make a difference in people's lives, especially the young children, and the OFWs and their families." Being a non-profit organization, proceeds from any of our activities and other funds raised were judiciously spent for the awarding expenses; scholarships for outstanding yet poor students; and for PEBA projects like PEBA CARES and PEBA HELP, the social arm of PEBA in helping distressed OFWs around the globe.

Given the credibility that the organization has achieved both online and offline, PEBA continues to make a stand on issues that directly concern and affect OFWs and their families. In 2008, we established the blog awards.  By 2009, we have already emphasized the OFWs’ role in our country and the good we are doing around the world.

In 2010, we made a stand on one of the biggest issues that confronts OFWs: family disintegration.  It is a sad reality with its complex and compounding social cost to the nation and Filipino culture. I do not know how we can stop it but we continue to explore possibilities and ways of alleviating them, particularly through the use of social media.

Together with the hardworking and dedicated PEBA administrators in more than 24 countries, the organization has become a popular and recognized hub of OFWs in social media with over 300,000 followers on Facebook and Twitter. PEBA posts reach more than 75 countries, and there are millions who participate on a weekly basis - sharing, commenting on, and expressing their “likes” to, our postings.  On the issue of the Balikbayan Box*, for example, our postings reached up to 16 million participants with more than 4 million total “likes,” “shares,” and comments on our posts during the height of the issue. With the potent presence of OFWs online, I am hoping that it would be translated to political power in electing public officials who have the welfare of OFWs and their families in their hearts and minds.

*The issue stemmed from the directive of the Secretary of the Bureau of Customs to open Balikbayan Boxes (box containing items and goods like canned foods, soap bars, lotion, perfume, shoes, t-shirts among others collected over time and sent by OFWs through a forwarding/cargo company to their families in the Philippines) which were allegedly being used for smuggling purposes. 


Jebee "Kenji" De La Cruz Solis, chemist, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. But first and foremost he is husband to Shiela, and father to their kids Hevyn and Gael.  He started as blogger writing his personal and family experiences as an OFW to educate and inspire others.  He is the founding chairman of the Pinoy Expats/OFW Blog Awards (PEBA) that started as an award giving body and now transformed as a platform for OFWs to advocate in the social media (Facebook) the protection and promotion of migrant workers rights.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

2015 Month of Overseas Filipinos & International Migrants Day

Month of Overseas Filipinos & International Migrants Day National Forum on the 25th Year of the Migrant Workers Convention “#Step-it-Up_MWC25: Thinking Globally, Acting Locally”and MAM Awards
Posted by Philippine Migrants Rights Watch on Sunday, December 20, 2015

Monday, January 4, 2016

Photos of the Cultural Show by the Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group organized by NCCA

Month of Overseas Filipinos & International Migrants Day National Forum on the 25th Year of the Migrant Workers Convention - Cultural Show by the Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group organized by National Commission for the Culture and the Arts (NCCA)
Posted by Philippine Migrants Rights Watch on Sunday, December 20, 2015