Thursday, February 25, 2016

Our Journey in the Land of Smiles

By Eunice Barbara C. Novio and Josemari V. Cordova

Thailand was never our choice of country if ever we would emigrate. But fate brought us here and eventually our dreams are becoming reality. Khap khun ma khap, Thailand.

Embarking on a Journey


On May 2009, I received an email from my organization that I needed to go to my placement – Thailand. I arrived on June 1, 2009 and was assigned to work with the Policy and Planning Bureau of the Office of Basic Education Commission (OBEC) under the Ministry of Education in Thailand.  My organization had a Memorandum of Agreement with OBEC regarding the documentation of migrant children from neighboring Southeast Asian countries. It was supposed to be just a short-term volunteer placement but it was extended for another six months. When my work was about to end, some Thai friends encouraged me to stay and look for a teaching job, upon knowing that I was an educator in the Philippines.  After six years, I am still here, teaching. 

I first worked for the PTT (an oil company) education project with ties to Kamphaeng Phet Rajhabhat University in Kamphaeng Phet province.  The placement was in a village school in Lankrabue where I taught high school or Matthayom students. This is also the site of Thailand’s biggest oil field, Queen Sirikit.

Though part of Kamphaeng Phet, Lankrabue is approximately 60 km from the city but only 52 km from Phitsanulok. We decided to rent a house in Phitsanulok since there is a large concentration of Filipinos there and the area is more progressive. It was a tough decision which entailed daily motorcycle rides to and from Phitsanulok since my wife and I were both working in Lankrabue.   At the same time our youngest son, Kairos, who lived with us,  was also studying kindergarten there.

When my contract ended in 2013, I applied in some schools in Phitsanulok and nearby provinces, but to no avail. One time, while visiting a friend in Nakhon Ratchasima I applied at Vongchavalitkul University.  Fortunately, I was called for an interview in May and started teaching the following month.  

Although I was accepted, one of the most difficult things I had to deal with was my separation from my family. I commuted seven hours every week to visit my family in Phitsanulok.  In 2014, we decided to move to Nakhon Ratchasima or Korat. My wife resigned from her job at one of the top public universities in Thailand, Naresuan University, giving up her huge salary so we could be a family again. This affected the remittance we would send to our son who was then studying Geology in Bicol. Luckily, my wife’s family provided additional support.

I am still with Vongchalitkul University with my wife. Kairos is now in grade 4. 

Emigrating to Thailand 


In 2009, I was in the middle of my masteral studies, under scholarship at the University of the Philippines in Diliman. Our relatives took care of our three children - Malcolm, who was then aged 11; Karina Thyra, aged 10; and Kairos Luther, aged 4.  It was difficult taking care of three growing kids even with the help of my aunts and grandmother. While Josemari was in Thailand, we decided to take our kids there for a one-month vacation. We then realized that only Kairos could readily adapt to the environment. 

After I finished my Master’s Degree, Kairos and I migrated to Thailand on May 3, 2011. Karl and Karina were already in their second year and first year of high school, respectively.
We enrolled Kairos in a Thamada (regular) school, where all subjects were taught in Thai. Government and private schools are mostly Buddhists. Temple visits and meditation time every morning form part of school activities. Aside from learning the language and the scripts, Kairos survived the Thai way of life and embraced Buddhism.  He is now fluent in both Thai and English, an advantage he will later use in life, particularly because of the forthcoming full integration of ASEAN.

Raising Kairos in Thailand

While in Phitsanulok, we were lucky to find an apartment owned by Ajarn Sunee, a retired teacher,  and Uncle Woody Chom-in, a retired military officer.  They treated us like family. Ajarn Sunee became Kairos’ “grandmother,” who even tutored and took care of him when I was at work. We stayed there for two years.  (Since we moved to Korat, we would make it a point to visit them during long holidays.)

In Korat, we would cook Filipino foods, like adobo, sinigang, tinola, or menudo during weekends to expose Kairos to his Filipino heritage.   But food sets him apart from his classmates. One time, Kairos told me that his classmates did not want to taste his food because it is Filipino; not spicy, not “aroy” (delicious). Despite mingling with Thais five days a week, Kairos could still not eat spicy foods. In spite of his looks, his ability to speak and write in Thai, he is still considered a “farang” (foreigner).

Personal Struggles and Success

When Filipinos get to know that I am a partner of the Center for Migrant Advocacy, many seek my help - from debts to visa problems and off-loading. Until now, I continue helping and facilitating matters for Filipinos in distress and link them to the Philippine Embassy. Since 2012, I also started writing regularly for the Global Pinoy Section of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.  Because of my efforts, I was nominated by the Embassy to the Migration and Media Advocacy in 2014.

In Korat, we rented a townhouse and bought a secondhand car. Ever Sunday, we would attend mass at Our Lady of Lourdes Church to meet other Filipinos. There is a strong Filipino organization in Korat but because my husband and I both work in a University, we hardly have the time to participate.

In the latter part of 2013, I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder and took medication for a year. (This was also the reason why we moved to Korat.) But these years were also my most productive years. I did a lot of research and my papers were published in journals. These were accepted in international conferences but limited funds allowed me to participate only in those held here in Thailand. 

Nationalism and Challenges 

In 2015, our daughter also joined us.  At present, we are into another phase of our family life.  While communication with our daughter during her high school years were only through Facebook and Skype,  the dynamics now are different since we are living together. We are all adjusting to each other’s presence.

In the case of Kairos, we hardly have time to tell Him about our heroes, like Bonifacio and Rizal, because we are too occupied with work. His heroes are Lady Yamoo of Korat and King Naresuan the Great, who fought the Burmese. One time I caught him waving the Philippine flag while singing Thailand’s national anthem. My husband and I taught him “Lupang Hinirang” to let him know the anthem that is associated with the flag.  We realized that it is time for him to know Andres Bonifacio, Jose Rizal, and not only Manny Pacquiao (the famous Filipino boxer).

We are raising him in an Asian country, similar to ours, yet also very different. Our people may look the same, but we are still divided by our different beliefs. In this milieu, Kairos and the hundreds of Filipino children in Asian countries are facing similar situations, adapting to the cultures of their host countries, yet still considered outcasts. Thus, it is important for them to build their identities as Filipinos.  They need to know our heritage, be it through food, or by simply telling them “Tayo ay Pilipino.” 

Eunice Barbara C. Novio and Josemari V. Cordova, teachers, Thailand. Our Journey in the Land of Smiles, is the story of the wife and husband. The couple tells about their struggle raising their kids while living away from them to earn for the family's upkeep. They also relate the challenges of having their son appreciate Filipino heritage and nationalism from the culture and tradition which are now strange to him.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Faithful to Mama Mary

By Alberto B. Ballares

I was born to a poor family in Bohol, the eldest of two brothers and a sister. My father is a farmer and our mother is the most dutiful housewife I know. Early on in life we were already trained to do household chores. We are a religious family. We celebrate fiestas even we if have to walk for about six kilometers, just to attend the mass. Such was the simple and happy life we had despite our economic condition.

I was second year high school then, when, one night while in bed, I had a vision of Mama Mary. Her crown’s rays of light were so bright for me to be able to see her beautiful image.  From that day on Mama Mary became part of my daily life and I would always pray to her. 

I was already 22 years of age when I finished my high school studies. Then, in exchange for working for the children of a former employer, I was given the opportunity to study in college.  I travelled to Manila and enrolled at the Philippine Maritime Institute graduating at the age of 26. I approached some heads of government departments to ask for recommendations to local shipping lines. 

On January 31, 1978 I was accepted at Sweetlines Inc., at their Cebu office.  I was assigned on board MV Sweet Loves as apprentice engineer. One Sunday, while our ship was put on repair for three months in Mandaue, Cebu, the personnel manager came on board.  He was looking for available engine staff to serve as temporary oiler of the new cargo ship that just arrived from Japan.   At that time, I was just on board resting since I did not have money to go around.  I volunteered and luckily got accepted.  Due to my diligence and good performance, I became a regular employee of the company. 

At the age of 28, I took my fourth engineer examination and passed thru God’s grace.  But my big break happened when I went home due to a tooth problem. The lady dentist inquired about my work and offered to help me get on board a foreign vessel. She gave me a good recommendation addressed to her friends for a manning company in Manila. In more than two weeks, after preparing all the necessary documents, I saw my name in the company’s bulletin board with my vessel assignment. I signed my first contract for a German ship, with the position of motorman and my salary in dollars. 

I visited Luneta Park, thinking of my good fortune.   I could not help control the tears which flowed from my eyes. I thanked Mama Mary for her unending help to me. On March 7, 1980 I joined my first foreign vessel. I learned from this experience that if you keep doing well you will definitely reap good fruits.  I also learned not to expect anything but instead pray and thank Mama Mary for all her blessings. 

Aboard my first foreign vessel, I realized the importance of communication skills since most of our officers were German nationals. They were also very strict in all aspects of work.  It so happened that my first engineer was with the German army during World War II so he was very disciplined. 

My second assignment was in a big super tanker owned by an American company that plies the Atlantic Ocean.  The salary was good which was commensurate with the challenge and danger of the work. One time the main engine was put on emergency stop in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. It took time for the foreign engineers to diagnose and find the trouble, so I suggested a practical solution to our Japanese Chief Engineer.  My recommendation was implemented and the engine started immediately.   Unfortunately, however, our Chief Engineer did not acknowledge what I have done.

My third foreign vessel was a tanker with friendly British officers. It contained very risky cargo so the salary was quite high. The voyage was along the Atlantic Ocean.  One time, we encountered a problem.  The steering block slipped out and fell down so the engine stopped in the middle of the ocean. During lunchtime, I had an idea about how to solve the problem so I quickly finished my lunch and proceeded to the engine room.  Before the engine staff came back, the problem had already been remedied. The Chief Engineer praised me for the good job. I thanked God and Mama Mary for always guiding me.

In my seventh vessel, I was promoted to third engineer.  On board, I was the only bachelor and my co-workers encouraged me to settle down. I wrote to one of our neighbors now living in Mindanao and asked for the hand of any of his daughters. One of his daughters wrote back and we started communicating through letters. We got married when we felt it was time for us to settle down. Following the suggestion of my father-in-law we just had a simple wedding. 

When I was second engineer, my chief engineer was British.  One time while we were at the port of Saudi Arabia he asked me to run the two auxiliary engines so the vessel would be ready in two hours for departure. I started the engine but it did not start because the drive gear fell into the gear box.  That created a very big problem since it would take another 10 hours in order to disengage the gear box. Helpless in my predicament, I uttered Mama Mary’s name for help.  Then I tried using a small steel wire and had it lowered deeper into the hole of the gear box. With my eyes closed in prayer, the end of the wire came into contact with the drive gear. In just 30 minutes the problem was solved. I was not able to contain my emotion and I cried and again gave thanks to Mama Mary for all her miracles and wonders. 

With the extra money that we saved, my wife and I bought a property close to Cagayan de Oro City. It was our first property after our marriage. We rented an apartment near the house of my father- in –law.  On the fourth year of our marriage we were blessed with a baby boy. 

On Nov. 11, 1993 we started building our own house. My company had called informing me that I was promoted to Chief Engineer and was advised to report for immediate deployment. I spent a total of eight months on board. When I came back for vacation, we had our very own comfortable home. We also got a car that we would use for sight-seeing.  In 1997, my second son was born and in 2000 my wife gave birth to a baby girl which made us all very happy. In 2001, we were blessed with another boy, my fourth child, and our home became even livelier with an additional member of the family.  

By 2008, most of my children have grown up and studying. My eldest son had graduated from high school. We bought a lot in a good subdivision located on top of a hill and surrounded by mountains and lots of fresh air. Then we built a two-story house that is more comfortable for our kids.  Our home is also close to the church where we always attend mass every Sunday. 

Most of my memorable experiences at work were through the help and assistance of Mama Mary.  One instance happened at the port of Houston, Texas, in 1998 at 6AM.  For some unknown reason, I checked on a tank of the main engine room.  It was not part of my task as a Chief Engineer but I did just the same, and to my surprise, the tank was full of water.  I immediately called all my engine staff to check the possible reason for the problem. I spoke with the captain and called the attention of the technical manager. I proceeded to the engine room and drained all the water out of the sump tank. I assigned my men to clean and check the coolers. I was able to retrieve 1500 liters of lube oil then purified it and mixed it with 3000 liters of fresh lube oil.  The vessel was then scheduled for departure at 1700 hrs and luckily we were able to have the engine ready an hour before departure. 

Another happened one afternoon in 2002.   While we were in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, the second engineer told me that the main engine had stopped. I immediately investigated the problem and found that the feed oil pump had tripped off. I ordered the men to dismantle the pump and found that the bearing was damaged. Unfortunately I was told that the required spare bearing was out of stock. I went to my cabin to think about how to deal with the problem. I could only cry for Mama Mary’s help since we were in a precarious situation. By chance, however, I opened my drawer and found a bearing. The size happened to be exactly the same size as the damaged one, so the main engine resumed its normal operation.  

 Again, in 2004,  while passing along the Malacca Strait, two pirates armed with guns climbed on board our vessel. Luckily we were on the alert at that time. Everybody assembled on the monkey island (on top of the ship) and the captain on the bridge activated the emergency alarm. The pirates saw what we were ready for them and they did not pursue their bad intention. In such situations I could only pray and ask the good Lord for help and for Mama Mary’s mercy.  

In 2009 while channeling in California, our main engine experienced trouble and it stopped in the middle of the traffic separation.  Not long after, the US Coast Guard came aboard our vessel to verify the situation.  I became too preoccupied but never forgot to say my prayers and again asked the guidance of Mama Mary. Having been guided to do the right thing, the main engine went back to its normal operation. I then invited the US Coast Guard to join us for our dinner.  I also spoke to the cook to prepare a sumptuous dinner.  Satisfied with the nice food and my explanation, he gave us no deficiency. (Officials usually dread the visit of the Coast Guard for inspection since it would determine whether one can be allowed to stay and leave the port peacefully.)  

In June of 2014, while passing in Capetown, South Africa the weather was very bad. Moreover, one of the engine units of the main engine was in critical condition due to scavenge fire. I made a quick investigation and ordered a cleaning.  When the weather improved, proper maintenance and overhauling of the affected unit were successfully carried out. When all the necessary job was completed, we resumed the final voyage and luckily no problem recurred. Again, I only have Mama Mary to thank for our safe voyage.  Despite weather disturbances we were always protected from danger. 

Now that I am already at the peak of my career, I continue to be busy doing my best to realize my plans and fulfill my other dreams. Prayer is a part of my life so every day I would always ask for the continued blessings of the Almighty through Jesus and Mama Mary.  In particular I pray that my four obedient and God-fearing children be blessed and successfully finish their studies.

Alberto B. Ballares, seafarer, Chief-Engineer. Alberto claims that the Blessed Virgin Mother appeared to him. Since the apparition, he has been a firm believer of the Blessed Mother’s wonders and miracles. Whenever he encounters problems, Engr. Ballares would just invoke Mama Mary's name and support and assistance comes his way.  Now at the peak of his career, he hopes that his kids would finish their studies with the guidance of the Blessed Mother.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

In my father’s shoes

by Capt. Cecilio E. Rahon Jr.

I remember having a fatherless childhood because my father was a seaman.  He was always absent and out of the picture most of the time.  I then resolved never to be a seaman. 

One time, my father’s ship came to the Philippines with foreign officers and a Filipino crew on board. My mother and I traveled all the way from Ilocos Norte just to visit him in Manila Bay where the vessel was anchored. I was in my elementary days then and I can still recall the experience. I got sick when I had a tour of the engine room where my father worked. That incident was strike two for me to never venture into seafaring as a future career.

Fast forward to 2015, I am now a father of two children and a seaman myself. What changed my perspective for this profession?

My parents have always believed in a good education. I studied in a provincial science high school in Laoag City.  I stayed in a boarding house since our hometown was at least an hour’s drive away from where I studied. I had planned to take up veterinary medicine at the University of the Philippines, Los Baños campus, (UPLB). Unfortunately, I was not able to take the UPCAT (University of the Philippines College Admission Test) or entrance exam since I had already spent my allowance for that week.

Instead, I enrolled in Bachelor of Science Major in Maritime Studies in one of the private schools in Manila. The school’s slogan that I read in the newspaper advertisement was, “See the World Free”. That was very tempting for a young adventurous person who dreamt of stepping on foreign shores and meeting diverse groups of people.

My father did not encourage me to take up this course. It was my mother who broached the idea. One summer, before the opening of the first semester, my mother told me that I still have other siblings that will need my help in sending them to school. (In our culture, it is the responsibility of the older siblings to help the younger ones to finish their education, especially when parents could not fulfill such responsibilities anymore.)

I finished my three-year academic schooling without much trouble. Unfortunately, however, the school’s building was razed by fire including the registrar’s records. It was quite a predicament constructing our grades and looking for our previous instructors. Due to the lack of necessary papers, the college dean turned down my request for a guarantee letter so that I can take a scholarship to a maritime cadetship to Japan that year.  Hence, it took a longer time for me to process my documents.

After arduous months of waiting and completing all the requirements, I was able to take and pass the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) cadetship program. I belonged to the third batch. The cadets came from different maritime schools in the Philippines. We stayed at the Philippine Merchant Marine Academy (PMMA) for two weeks prior to our departure for Japan. We were treated like regular PMMA cadets. We did the exercises and other activities of a regimented life inside a military academy. My body ached from the exercises but later adapted to it. Discipline and orderliness were emphasized.

When we arrived in Japan, we still had the mentality of a military cadet.  We stood still and sat up straight and were very quiet in the classroom. The Japanese instructors in the school told us to ease up because they felt intimidated. We stayed for about two months in the Marine Technical College (Kaigi Daigakko) in Ashiya, Hyogo Ken. While waiting for our respective ships to arrive in Japan, we studied college core subjects as refresher courses, including the Japanese language and culture 

The school’s dormitory was located near a housing complex.  I observed that the streets were always deserted.  Even the homes always seemed empty and quiet though the lights inside the houses were turned on. The municipal library’s books, audio and video collections were impressive. I always went there to watch classical movies like “War and Peace” and “Gone with the Wind.”  I would stay there for hours when I did not have my regular classes. The dormitory was just walking distance to a mall, secondary school, tennis courts, Junichiro Tanizaki’s Memorial Museum and other museums. The school also conducted a tour, and together with the other cadets, we visited Kyoto, the old capital city of Japan, and the port of Kobe. In Kyoto we went to see the Kinkakuji Temple, while we took a boat and toured the working port of Kobe.

I was twenty years old when I first went onboard. It was a Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC) vessel plying Japan- Middle East Asia carrying crude oil. (The ship was just one year younger than me then.) The higher ranking officers were Japanese while the junior officers and ratings were Filipinos. In the 1990’s, the vessel had a radio officer, chief cook, second cook, messman for officers and one messman for ratings.

Nowadays, ship owners observe the minimum manning requirement per flag state where the vessel is registered. Some of the crew complements were removed to reduce the cost of the ship’s operations. Due to fewer work crew, the workload became heavier. With the advent of more regulations imposed by maritime organizations for safety and security reasons, more paperwork and documentation needed to be accomplished. Technology required job automation which required a steep learning curve for non-techies. It also made the vessel’s turn-around in port faster, giving no respite to seafarers who like to go for a shore leave. 

The policing of the Port State Control became a venue for corruption in some countries. As officer of the vessel, you would never want your ship to have deficiencies, so one can negotiate for a “clean chit”. Sometimes ship management makes a stand against these kinds of practices and the problem is reverted back to the ship captain for him to solve. Port stay for seafarers is becoming more stressful because cargo operations, bunkering, provisioning, inspection and emergency repairs, would happen almost all at the same time.

With regard to my family life, I have two teenage kids. My wife died way back in 2010 but I am very lucky that my sister looks after my children. I missed their growing up years due to my work. Fortunately, online mail is now available onboard so I would send my kids email on a daily basis.  I also call them weekly using the vessel’s satellite phone to keep in touch with them.

Being a guilty absentee parent, I would substitute my presence with presents. I would usually treat my children to out-of-town swimming and overnight stays in resorts, or visit museums and nearby interesting places in the Philippines. I always tell them that it is better to see the beauty of the country first before going abroad for vacations. Recognizing the importance of an extended family, I would always look forward to the usual little get together meal with the rest of my siblings and their children, whenever I arrive from my stint onboard. This is a time to be reunited, bond and talk about life and plans of the rest of the members of the family.

There was no turning back for me after my apprenticeship program in maritime studies. Being now in my father’s shoes, I also long for my family whenever I am on-board or in the middle of tempest at sea, far away from my kids. I missed birthdays, anniversaries, deatsh and burials of close relatives, as well as graduations and school events of my children.

At 43 years old, I am presently taking up Master in Maritime Administration Specializing in Maritime Education, Training and Certification. Once I finish my graduate studies, I will be qualified to become a maritime instructor in case I opt to stay on land for an extended period of time.  It is also a preparation for my retirement. I want to be active in this profession in one way or another, for as long as I can. 

Like my parents I also put a premium on education. I believe that quality maritime education is the key for the country to keep its number one position as the preferred manning capital of the world. I have been asked by parents and relatives of maritime cadets to assist them in getting an on-board experience, although this is supposed to be the duty of the maritime schools. In shipping, there is an issue of the lack of maritime officers and a disproportionately oversupply of graduates of maritime courses. Finding solutions to address this dilemma will help solve the sourcing of capable seafarers by the maritime industry as a whole, as well as the employment problems of young people in the country. This is going to be my advocacy and I do hope to make a difference.

I have experienced fair and bad weather.  I have lived through our ship being swayed by big waves or chased by pirates.  I have worked through extreme heat and cold conditions.  I have faced discrimination but also the kindness of those I have met overseas.

In one way or another, I was able to help my siblings finish their education. Although I was not able to study in UPLB, I managed to send one of them there. I have mentored younger seafarers for them to understand the intricacies of our job and I am happy to see them rise from the ranks as cadets to officers. I traded a lot to be in my present position but I hope that someday, my children will understand the sacrifices that I did. Just like my father did before me.

Cecilio E. Rahon, Jr., seafarer, Captain. Like any parent, raising kids is one of the many big challenges of an OFW parent.  Capt. Rahon would see to it that whenever he is on vacation he balances his attendance to trainings and schooling for his career advancement with spending quality time for his kids.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Domestic Work is a Decent job

 By Katherine R. Millares

I still remember that day when my maternal uncle asked me why I wanted to work abroad. I had simply answered, ‘I just want to.’ The truth is I just wanted to escape the kind of life that I had.  After taking a two-year computer course through the support of some relatives, I worked for only a year in a construction company, and then I resigned… 

The following year, a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to work as a domestic worker in Lebanon and I eagerly said yes. I met the owner of the Lebanon-based agency in a hotel lobby in Malate where he was staying. He interviewed me and my documents were processed the following day.  

I visited my uncle for the last time before leaving the country for Lebanon.  On March 2006, I arrived in Beirut. 

Being a first timer is never easy.  I had to adjust to the food, climate, language, traditions. Moreover, although I knew for a fact that household chores are done differently in other countries, in my situation, I had to relearn and do them according to my Madam’s instructions. But since I was determined to embrace their culture and my new situation, I was able to adjust and things became easier for me after a few months. 

When I first met my employer, I had initially thought that my contract would last for two years. But I was wrong. My Madam had become hot tempered and was not happy with my work. One time, she hit me with a broom while I was cleaning the windows. I just stood still and never cried during the incident. I tried my best to keep my composure.  After only seven months, I was sent back to the recruitment agency.  I had to explain what had happened. Thank God I was freed from such an oppressive situation and was given an opportunity to find a new employer.

It was in 2006 when the civil war hit the country and some Filipinos ran to the Philippine Embassy so that they could go home. But I chose to stay put. After a few weeks of staying in my agency, I was assigned to a new employer.

This time my employer was a retired diplomat.  Only he and his wife (who was then working) lived together because their children were based in Canada. Although the house they occupied was big, I had no problem cleaning and arranging stuff because I enjoyed doing them. 

Aside from household chores, my responsibilities included gardening and fruit picking in their farm. It was my first time to learn those skills. It was fun, educational and I loved it.

One of the challenges of the job was cooking or preparing meals.  I never cooked in the Philippines. I did not know how to cook and I did not have the passion for cooking.  I was not proud of it but I could not fake something just to impress or make them believe that I was good at it. My employer, on the other hand, loved to cook, so he patiently taught me how to prepare Lebanese food. 

After a few months of working in their home I called my uncle in the Philippines to ask if we can start a small business.  But my uncle suggested that I send my youngest brother to college instead so that he could continue his course in Architecture.  (My mother had passed away a long time ago and my relatives, especially my uncle, had become our guardian. He accommodated my youngest brother in his house in Valenzuela City while I provided  for his allowance and tuition fees. My father lived in Manila with my eldest brother.)  I had kept all my salary from my first employer while I budgeted my earnings from my second employer. I would save part of my income and send the rest to my family. I would call home from time to time.  

My focus was my family back home. Back then I never entertained the idea of falling in love.  While some men showed interest, I had managed to keep distance and treated them only as friends. I knew my limitations and priorities in life. Living abroad entailed a lot of difficulties and challenges. I had to be strong. Besides, I felt I was not mature enough to be in a romantic relationship. 

I tried to hide the pain and hardship I was going through because I did not want my family to be concerned about me. I always believe that my mother would be happy if I am also happy.  Some people I know in the Philippines think that our life here abroad is a bed of happiness and money. If they only knew the kind of loneliness we go through each day. Nevertheless, my life abroad has made me more mature and a better person than what I used to be. 

After two and a half years with my employer, I sought refuge at the Philippine Embassy.  My employer had just hit my face one day. I ran to my room and cried. I talked to his wife but she prevented me from filing a legal complaint against her husband.  I stayed at the embassy shelter for three months. 

My stay in the shelter was one of the most difficult parts of my life as an OFW.  There were almost 100 of us, Filipina OFWs, with different cases of maltreatment and abuse.  My situation was compounded by the fact that my youngest brother had dropped out of school. I prayed every day that one day I would be with my family again. I could not think straight.  Thoughts were racing through my mind: ‘What is going to happen to me here?’  ‘How will I survive?’  ‘How about the other OFWs here?’ ‘How are they going to live?’  I must say that my experience at the shelter had taught me to be stronger and smarter in life.

In 2009, I returned to the Philippines to start a new life but after some time I tried my luck abroad again.  I wanted my brother to finish his four year course. Hence, in 2010, I travelled to Kuwait to work. Unfortunately, my brother did not want to go back to school.  After reaching his third year in college, he had decided to look for a job instead. I am proud of him so I really made sure that I could provide him the support he needed. 

The salary I earned in Kuwait was sent to any family member who needed money. Honesty I did not have any savings. My first employer in Kuwait was strict but I still managed to do my job. But perhaps I was not just so lucky. Again, I was sent back to my recruitment agency after nine months. I was sold by my employer to another recruitment agency to find a new job.  And this time I thank God that he had sent me a wonderful employer.

From 2011 up to the present I am still working for the same boss, and in 2012 I became a Patnubay Riyadh Online Volunteer for Kuwait. As trainee of Sir Joseph Espiritu, I became more aware of the human rights of OFWs. I assist and handle some cases in the Middle East coming from KSA, Kuwait, UAE, Jordan, Qatar, Bahrain, among others. These are cases of abuse, maltreatment and imprisonment. I would spend even my own money to make calls to their mobile phones or send them chat messages via Facebook (FB). I do my best to let them feel that there is hope and encourage them to assert their rights as OFWs. 

I help evaluate their requests for assistance and send them to the embassy, POLO (Philippine Overseas Labor Office), or OWWA. I also check inbox messages on Patnubay's FB page for some inquiries. I post links of informative news, articles and other educational stories. Throughout my journey in Patnubay Riyadh, I am so thankful that I am able to provide advice, hope and care to OFWs who come to us in need of help. 

FB has become the easiest way for OFWs to connect with one another and their families. It is also a platform to do advocacy for OFWs. Hence, in 2013 I expanded my engagement and online volunteer work by becoming an administrator of the Pinoy Expats/OFW Blog Awards (PEBA).  Through the trust of Sir Jebee Solis based in Jeddah, KSA, I became part of one of the most popular and active social media groups on FB. I had promised myself that, after having gone through the same hardships that distressed OFWs have to undergo, I will help make their lives easier for as long as I live.

Through my hard work and sacrifice abroad, my youngest brother was able to get a very good job. He currently works as a supervisor in a company in Makati. He is earning well and is capable of supporting our father’s need. His company even extends free medical and health services for our father as his beneficiary. He is also starting to pursue his dream and career in photography.  My eldest brother, on the other hand, now has his own family. 

Our family dreams of having our own house someday so we do not have to rent anymore. I also plan to invest in agriculture, particularly rice farming, but it all depends on finding time and managing my expenses. As for my personal life, I am currently happy and in love with my boyfriend even if it is a long distance relationship.

I am an OFW, and even if people look down on household service workers or domestic workers, I want to prove them wrong. I am proud because my job is decent. And as an OFW, I will always be proud of every Filipino who leaves their families behind, takes risks to work at some foreign land, just to give their family a better life.

Katherine R. Millares, domestic worker, Kuwait. For her, domestic work is a decent job. Through her work she was able to send her brother to school who now has a stable and good job in the Philippines. According to Katherine, as an OFW, she will always be proud of every Filipino who are taking risks to leave their families back home just to give their families better lives.