Friday, March 25, 2016

My life in Korea as “Artista”

 by Rodel Portulazo 

Annyeong haseyo…(Hello in Korean.)

I am Rodel L. Portulazo, artista*, 34 years old, and hails from General Santos City.

Since I graduated from high school, I had already started to work and earn a living to help in the family expenses. At an early age, I had learned to falsify my birth certificate just to get hired in companies that deny work to minors. At age 16, I was hired as sales representative by LUX Marketing (ELECTROLUX) Company, because I made them believe that I was already 18.

After about 10 months, I had an opportunity to work at another job.   I also had a chance to study in college and took up a two-year course. I have always believed that any educational attainment will further improve my chances of providing for my family. My job brought me to another city of Mindanao, Davao City, and from there I traveled to Manila.

Still not contented, I attempted many times and tried my luck at applying for jobs abroad. I waited for months and years. Meanwhile, I worked in a photography studio even if I did not have the skills in handling a camera. Since I came from the province, people would always assume that I was kind and responsible.

In one of my attempts at finding a job abroad, I was victimized by an illegal recruiter in one of those placement agencies in Malate, Manila.  The work was supposed to be in Korea.  I had lost more than PhP 40,000.00 to them. It was such an unlucky time for me.

Also hoping for a better life abroad, my sister joined a foundation that matched Korean men with potential brides. She got lucky and easily got married to a Korean. She encouraged me to apply for a tourist visa so I could go to Korea but I was denied.  The consular officer told me that parents are the first priority and not siblings. Hence, after my mother was able to visit, another sister and I were able to go as well.  

We were only allowed to stay legally in Korea for three months. I had a fiancé’ back home then and I had asked for her hand in marriage.  I had not expected my visa to be granted.

I never planned to overstay; but, I wanted my siblings, nephews and nieces to finish their education. My sister who had accompanied me to Korea had married an Indonesian. I became the sole bread winner for our family.

I chose my family over my own personal happiness but God has been so good and has blessed me in so many ways. Most of my nieces and nephews were able to finish college.  Moreover, I was also able to build a house for my parents.  Since most of my younger siblings have settled down, the family has relied on me to provide for our parents’ needs.

It has been more than seven long years now since I became an artista. Quite unlike what others think, life in Korea is difficult.  My life consists of working, staying home and going to church.   There are only a few opportunities for going on vacation and these are during holidays when only a few immigration officials are on the lookout for artistas.

Nevertheless, I never lose hope and my situation was never an obstacle for me to join groups and community organizations to be of service. I do volunteer work, taking care of Korean women at the home for the aged, run by the nuns of the Missionaries of Charity. I am an active member and was elected P.R.O. of the Gwangju Filipino community (GFC).  I also serve as official photographer during church events and other community activities. I also help at the CARITAS Gwangju Catholic Migrant Center.  Each year Filipino migrant workers and their families in Gwangju would come together for summer games, friendship games, and other fun activities.

I also gained recognition as a photographer because of my fondness for taking pictures and posting them on social media. I became part of  FILIPOS or Filipino Photographers in South Korea, based in Seoul. I came to meet so many amateur and professional photographers in the group. We exchange ideas on photography through Facebook and we have annual workshops during the Chuseok (Thanksgiving) holiday.

In time I got to know another Gwangju resident who is also into photography. Since FILIPOS is based far away from us, we decided to start our own local group. I became one of the four founding officers of our photo club we call Junior Photographers Explorers of Gwangju (JPEG). (JPEG is affiliated with FILIPOS).

Our organization continues to maintain its steady growth. The activities of the photography club helps alleviate my stress from work. It particularly relieves me of my homesickness since I feel I am in the Philippines when I am surrounded by Filipinos. Life abroad can get so weary that you need to do something to overcome the sadness of longing for home.

Homesickness is a mix of joy and sadness. It has been seven years of not being able to go home to a country with a better climate. Korea has four seasons and the beginning of autumn in the months of September and October, signals the start of very cold weather. It is a difficult time for me - cold in the morning, warm at noon time, and cold again at night.  I would get sick because of the allergies I develop during this period. Work becomes doubly hard when one is ill.

It is also so expensive to get hospitalized if you do not have a health card. I am fortunate though that generous individuals would lend their health cards to lessen the pain in my body as well as my pocket.  Still, despite my sickness or ailments, I would always feel safe because I know that God is always protecting me.

Most people here are busy with their work in order to survive. Even if I have a sister in Korea I cannot rely on her even when I get sick. She just manages to call or send text messages.  She can only visit me on a Sunday if I am in the hospital.  It would be just a bonus if she has time for me since she also has her own life and her own family to care for.

Because of my desire to be of help to my family, I have had to endure all these obstacles and hardships of an undocumented migrant worker. The fiancé whom I truly loved and left behind is now married with children. I, on the other hand, have remained single and looking for another woman to love.  Still I am enjoying my life as a bachelor especially here in Korea, where there are so many beautiful places to enjoy and activities to do. But the uncertainty of an undocumented alien remains my biggest concern. Documented migrants get free food, housing and other benefits, while an artista has to pay rent, water and electricity. At times I just manage to eat once or twice a day. I would be lucky if I get to eat dinner because I would already be too tired and sleepy by the time I get home at night.

My only advantage is that I get to choose where I can work. If I do not like the work arrangement and management, I can readily leave and look for another company to work for. In fact, in a span of a single year I moved to at least five companies because of communication gap. It is not easy to work with Koreans if you cannot communicate well with them.  It is a must that you have a working knowledge of their language before coming to Korea. Otherwise you will hear but not understand all the bad words and expressions they can say.

I do not easily give up because of the difficulty of the job.   I surrender because of job- related stress, in particular, if I am at the receiving end of bad mouthing and harsh words in front of my co-workers. If one has a very weak personality he/she will not last and may even end up in the mental hospital.  

I am not constrained with my status as an artista. Having come to terms with my situation, I have no more qualms if ever I get apprehended or even arrested.  So I continue to live just like any other migrant worker here. 

Even if I am just an artista life goes on and I still have my dreams. I know that eventually, the immigration office will catch up with me. And they will deport me to my home country. But the big question is will I be ready by then? (My Indonesian brother-in-law, just had a chance encounter with immigration officers and he was deported back to Indonesia. His life is a mixture of joy and sadness. He is happy because he is back to his family, but also sad since he does not enjoy the high salary which he had here.)

But I thank God because of His blessings and His mercy.  I have faith that He will always guide me and give me the courage and determination to help me overcome all the challenges that come my way.  I live it to luck and pray to God that I be given the courage to surrender, at the right time, on my own accord. May the good Lord have mercy on me.  Thank you for reading the story of my life as an artista here in Korea.  God speed… Fighting!

(*artista, is the euphemism used for undocumented OFWs in South Korea. Like movie stars, they are continually being pursued by paparazzi, in their case, chased by the police.)

Rodel L. Portulazo, factory worker, South Korea. Selfless, he gave up a lot of his personal interests to perform his role as a dutiful provider for his family. His present situation as undocumented worker does not deter him from pursuing his passions: interests in photography and church volunteer work. After working undocumented in South Korea for almost a decade, he is now looking forward to see his homeland, the Philippines.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Easing homesickness through radio

By Gennie V. Kim

I was told that the story of my life makes for good movie material. So here is my personal story.  Judge for yourself whether it will pass the silver screen.

I was born in Bayawan City,  Negros Oriental but grew up in Cebu City. In 1996, I was managing a boutique when I met my future Korean husband. After four years, we got married and were blessed with a son. In 2003, I decided to bring my son to South Korea to provide him with a better education and to be rooted to his Korean heritage.

I left my husband in the Philippines believing that he will fulfill his promise to follow us. I lived with my mother-in-law in Juan-dong, Nam-gu District, Incheon City. Strangely though, my husband continued to stay in the Philippines.  He never contacted me and I totally lost communication with him for a very long time. But instead of turning hopeless, depressed and abandoned, I decided to make the best of my stay in Korea.

At the start, I had very little knowledge of the Korean language. Language barriers cause a lot of misunderstandings. Among my painful memories stemmed from miscommunication problems with Koreans and fellow immigrants.  I soon realized the importance of mastering the language to be able to communicate properly so I resolved to devote myself to learning it.
I had to fight homesickness too, and it was not easy living with my mother-in-law. A few years back, it was rare to see foreigners in Korea.  People would look at me whenever I walked around the neighborhood. I would hear the same stories of hardship from other foreigners I met. While Filipinos and South Koreans share many cultural similarities, there are many differences as well. 

Part of my early struggle was providing for the family.  After I got my spouse visa, I worked in an assembly group for a motor brake shoe factory.  It was a dangerous job which entailed piling up seven to eight kilos of steel. After six to eight hours of this back-breaking job, only your eyes could be seen because dust would have covered all of your body. There were days when I would really cry wanting to give up such hard labor that was both physically and emotionally draining.

Despite the hardships, working in a factory provided me the experience of learning from different cultures. I was exposed to the attitudes of Koreans and other nationalities as well. My Korean workmates would frown at me if I cannot communicate with them properly. During winter, the working conditions can be challenging. Working hours were longer and I would endure occasional hunger pangs since I avoided eating outside to be able to save money.

My next job was at a cellphone assembly plant which employed twenty-three Filipinos. Although factory work was not easy, I managed to excel and got noticed in my work.   In just one year, I got promoted as a team leader. To my surprise, however, my good performance earned the ire of my co-workers but this situation did not deter me from continuing to do my best.

One good trait among Koreans is their penchant for providing opportunities to maximize your potentials once they discover them. The president of the factory told my manager to have me trained in the Korean language. I made sample products of the company that were sent to clients and he wanted me to be more familiar with the machines. Having learned the language, I also became the mouthpiece of Filipino workers in the company. Unfortunately, because of the economic crisis in 2006, the factory suffered and I resigned in October of that year.

Since my mother-in-law would take care of my son, I would dutifully give all my salary to her. One day, however, I discovered that my husband was having an affair with a Filipina and had gotten her pregnant.  From then on, I worked nonstop and focused on my personal development.  I devoted my time to my son and to volunteer work.

I worked as a marriage counselor at the Women’s Human Rights Commission of Korea. While our training provided us skills to address victims of domestic violence, the calls we received ranged from the most trivial concerns to sensitive issues such as working conditions, marital problems, and extra-marital affairs.

In 2010, the Philippine Embassy in Korea held a Philippine Independence Day celebration in Incheon. I was asked to be one of the emcees during the event since I am a resident of the city. I was introduced to the Human Resources Development (HRD) Service of Korea since they had just opened a training program for Employment Permit System (EPS) workers. I then started working as a translator for HRD Incheon every Sunday and I have been doing this for the last five years. I also hold lectures for workers under the EPS. My stint at HRD Korea in Incheon have brought me closer to Filipinos, who would tell me their problems and stories.

I have since gained a wide experience working in public offices and in various fields.   As an English teacher, for example, I was able to help fellow Filipinos in language interpretation. My exposure helped boost my self-confidence and contributed to my personal growth.  I am grateful for all those trainings, workshops, meetings and other educational opportunities where I got to learn new things.

I continued to take on new challenges in life. My insatiable curiosity led me to the DJ booth of the Multicultural Family Music Broadcasting operated by Woongjin Foundation and Digital Skynet.  It was something I had wanted to do, to be able to narrate my life and work experiences in Korea which could be of help to my fellow Filipinos.

In 2011, I guested in a radio program which was then hosted by DJ Regina, a Filipina student on scholarship at Ewha University. The director who happened to listen to the program gave his card and encouraged me to apply for a part-time job in case of a vacancy. I never really took it seriously since I did not have any background in broadcasting.
When there was a job opening, however, I tried my luck though I lacked the qualification for it. I was also competing with other younger Filipino scholars studying in Seoul. Fortunately, they called back and I got the job.

I had to undergo training for three weeks before I finally went on air last March 18, 2013. Since I came from the Visayas, I was so anxious about my Bisayang Tagalog accent. I would feel nervous whenever I did my recording. As I continued doing several segments, however, I became less conscious of my accent and more focused on the benefits that I can give my listeners.

I prepare all my materials – from punchlines, audiences’ stories, and music selection.  Even my minutes spent commuting are used to research on news to be shared to my listeners. I take no breaks even on Christmas Eve I would be recording my program while playing Christmas songs.

My radio program does not only entertain my fellow Pinoys, I also do marriage counseling.  The multicultural radio program aims to ease the loneliness of Filipinos in South Korea and to improve their quality of life.

The radio program also provides information for Filipinos who want to come to Korea. It is also helpful to those who are working far away from the places where Filipinos would normally gather on a Sunday. In a way, I am instrumental in relieving them of their homesickness. Aside from speaking in Filipino, I also play Pinoy music and original compositions of OFWs or their cover of famous songs.  They can send their song as an MP3 through our e-mail:

In May 2013, my husband came back to Korea to ask for a divorce. Less than a month after the divorce papers came out, my ex-husband officially registered his new marriage with his new Filipina wife. After all the years of financially supporting my mother-in-law here in Korea, I was relieved to have a new status in life.  I embraced it gladly without any animosity in my heart.

I had moved on even in the literal sense.  Since May 2014, I now live separately from my in-law although my residence is quite near her house. I have not told my son that I am divorced from his dad. It is one of my burdens in life. I do not want my son to know about it, so he will not be stressed with his studies or be bullied in school. I am considering going through a counseling session when I finally decide to tell the truth. My greatest dream is to be able to provide what my son desires. I believe that doing what is best for your child will always lead you to the right direction in life.

With my accomplishments in life I am confident that I have, at least, secured the future of my son. With regard to my personal happiness, I do regret the mistakes that I made; but, I do not want to dwell on how unlucky I am in love. I spend my time productively on many other things.

I am happy with my work now and have left a former job that pays well. I chose to concentrate on social work.  It is my desire to fully appreciate Korean culture and I want to share my knowledge to other Filipinos here in Korea.

My days are now filled with my job and volunteer work. My main advocacy is on issues affecting migrant workers especially their marital concerns.  I see to it that I am available and accessible to them. I can easily empathize with their stories.  I may be terse with words or lack the eloquence of politicians but I definitely have the heart of a marriage counselor. I do not consider myself superior to my listeners but I journey with them; and this sincerity endears me to them.

My advice to everyone is that you should use your hardships as opportunities and not give up even if things get really rough and tough. Never forget the struggles and difficulties that you went through before landing that nice job.  Remain always true to your ideals. Have faith in God and always be thankful for His gifts and blessings.

 Gennie V. Kim, radio broadcaster, South Korea. She left her husband who preferred to stay in the Philippines and brought her son to South Korea where they are now settled. As a marriage migrant, she went through the hardships of working in a factory, volunteering, counseling and now doing her passion of being of help to others as a self-made radio broadcaster. Through her radio program she provides information and Filipino music to ease homesickness among OFWs and Filipino migrant wives and also to those wanting to  go to South  Korea.  Also, she help facilitates social welfare assistance to Filipinos living in Korea.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

I Am My Work Experience

by Annie Cabansag

I am Annie Cabansag. I have been in Singapore since 1997.  At age 23, my sister-in-law's cousin encouraged me to work here. They told me that I would earn more and that life here is better than the Philippines.  Of course I believed them because they all looked happy and it seemed that they really enjoyed working abroad.

I was then working and receiving a minimal wage but I was contented with my earnings.  I kept the money all to myself since I did not have a family to support. But everything changed when my mother, who was the sole bread winner of the family, got sick. Bills started to pile up and my youngest sibling was then about to enter college. I felt responsible for them because I am the only one they can depend on.  My brother has his own family to support and my father had already passed away.

I was not quite ready for the big change in my life, but I had to sacrifice.  I consulted some of my close friends, and even a priest and a nun about my plans of working abroad.  They were all concerned about me, especially about the country I have chosen to work in.

I had mixed emotions of leaving my job to work abroad because it meant leaving my comfort zone.It broke my heart when I said goodbye to my family and my boyfriend, the love of my life,  but I needed to be strong to be able to support my family.

As I boarded the plane my tears fell and I said my prayers. But my sadness turned into joy when the plane started ascending.   I felt the excitement of riding a plane for the first time and looking forward to seeing another country with that beautiful image in my mind.

When I arrived in Singapore, the Immigration officer asked me to sign documents. Then my agent brought me to the hospital for medical examination. I had lunch at the agency where I was introduced to my first employer. I would be working for a couple; their two children (a baby aged 5 months and a kid aged 6 years);   plus the mother of my female employer. Although my parents had trained me well for house work, I was not prepared for the daily tasks which proved to be physically exhausting.  I would hand wash the clothes of five people even if they had a washing machine. I had to clean the floor using my hands. Apart from all these, I still had to look after the two young children.  The kids’ grandmother who lived with them scrutinized my every move.  

My lady boss or her mother would scold me several times each day. Yet I took their criticisms positively and motivated myself to do better. But they continued to abuse me verbally, physically and mentally.  They would slap me, kick me, and pull my hair. To make matters worse, they would not give me food so one time, I had to steal a slice of bread and peanut butter spread. I would cry each night but I continued to pray and sing praises to God. I would ask Him to give me the strength to carry on. I was in misery for two harrowing months until God gave me a better chance.

One day, I was sent out to run errands and I took that opportunity to inform my agent about my situation. My agent called my employer and asked to see me immediately, with my bruises and marks still visible.  When my agent saw me, she hugged me, and in tears, took me away from my employer and transferred me to another family.

This time my employer turned out to be kind.  However,  after I had finished my contract, I was told that my services were no longer required since the children were already independent. One was in secondary school and the other was already undergoing his compulsory military service.

With a heavy heart I looked for another family.  I was blessed and hired by an employer from the United States of America. Since then, in my eighteen years of working here, all the families I have worked for were families of expatriates in Singapore. I have worked for six expats and for two local families.

Some say that working for expats is a bed of roses, but I know that this is not true based on my own experience.   I worked for a family whose members had difficulties handling emotions.  I worked for a family whose members had difficulties handling emotions. I felt pressured but I tried to ignore and endure my situation. I almost had a nervous breakdown because of all the screaming and tantrums when the day seemed imperfect for them. But despite all these, I never retaliated or quit my job. Why? Because I always waited for God's right time. He had gifted me with a fighting spirit.  I am not a quitter. I continued to pray and to strive always to be a good worker. And after four years, God heard my prayers.  The family moved out of Singapore.

My life as a domestic worker is very challenging because of the variety of people and culture that I have to deal with.  There is also the transition of living from one family to the next. Expats do come and go, there is no definite time for their stay in Singapore. I also have to work hard to fight my homesickness and loneliness. But I never feel abandoned by God’s love and grace. I always feel that He blesses me and cares for me. He constantly protects and provides for me.

I have been blessed with generous and kind hearted employers and through them I am able to take evening classes to earn a diploma. God had even helped me fulfill my sister's dream of finishing college. My mother was able to visit me here in Singapore. I have gained friends and I now belong to different religious organizations like the Legion of Mary and Couples for Christ.  I consider them  my second family.

I do not have any regrets working abroad to support my family, even if it meant losing my boyfriend and going through that unhappy incident with my first employers. I am what I am today because of what I have learned from my work experiences. These have taught me to have a forgiving heart, to be patient, and to be strong. I praise and thank God always despite my life circumstances.

For those aspiring and wanting to work abroad I advise you to leave the country of your origin as a legal worker possessing the necessary documents.  You should have undergone very good training. BE PREPARED! Life
 abroad is not easy as depicted by some OFWs or as seen in pictures shared in social media such as Facebook and Instagram.

If you get sick, nobody will cook and take care of you.   And sometimes, even when you feel unwell, you still need to get up and work. You also need a friend that you can count on.  Choose a good community of Filipinos or join and be active in church activities where you can find reliable friends as well.

Also, before you leave, discuss matters on finances and remittances with your family, not only between couples but children as well.  There should be openness about how to properly use and save money.

I encourage you to enroll and attend classes on financial education by such institutions like the International Labour Organization (ILO). For example, I was able to attend a training program on financial education.   It helped me check on my finances which I had neglected for the past years. There are also training courses offered in cooking, baking, being a nursing aide, among others. All these classes could help me in my work and in the future.
OFWs should remember that we will not work abroad forever. There will come a time when we would have to go back home because of our age, health, or when our services are no longer needed. All of us yearn to be with our family and to be with them during special occasions, so start thinking of saving instead of spending.  Lastly, we should hold on to our faith in God and always ask for His guidance.

Annie A. Cabansag, domestic worker, Singapore. She considers her life as domestic worker as very challenging but never regrets working abroad to support her family. She has gone through most of the typical experiences of domestic workers with abusive employers. Yet, she never surrenders in her goals which is to provide for her family. As she continues to learn financial literacy, she is also encouraging OFWs to  save and invest for their reintegration once they stopped working abroad.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016


by Gemma Comiso

“Then there are those who plant. They endure storms and all the many vicissitudes of the seasons, and they rarely rest. But, unlike a building, a gardener never stops growing. And while it requires the gardener’s constant attention, it also allows life for the gardener to be a great adventure.” 
– Paolo Coelho in Brida

I used to believe in fairytales because my parents had given us the best childhood that one could ever ask for. They created a wonderful world for us. My Papa was a great provider and Mama is a loving mother to us. But that beautiful world that I used to know was shattered.  It was only short lived.  At the age of 10, I lost my father to kidney failure.

My father’s passing was the beginning of our family’s unending struggles. My mother was not prepared to be a widow and to take care of us by herself. Hardship became my constant companion while growing up. Nevertheless, our condition did not deter me from persevering and achieving my goals. I graduated valedictorian of our class.  I became more determined to deal with adversities.  I promised myself that I will change our dire situation.

I never dreamt of working abroad because I was so idealistic at that time. However, because of my desire to help my family, I decided to apply as a caregiver in Taiwan. No one knew of my plans.  I chose to keep it from my mother because she was not so keen on me working outside the country.  I processed my papers secretly, and my family only knew about my plans when I asked help for my placement fee.

My godmother, who was then working in Taoyuan, Taiwan, gave me financial support and facilitated the processing of my application. I will forever be grateful to her for ensuring that I found a good employer.

In January 2002, I had to leave my day job to concentrate on processing the necessary documents for my application. The following month, on February 6, 2002, I flew to Taiwan as an OFW.

The real challenge began when I arrived at my employer’s home. The elderly woman could not speak English at all. The language barrier was a big problem.   I did not have any language training in Mandarin. As far as I can remember my pre-departure orientation seminar (PDOS) was only for two hours. It consisted of topics on savings and insurance.  Someone had offered their service of opening a bank account for free.

My patient, Yeye, and I communicated through sign language, but sometimes we just could not understand each other. One early morning, for example, she had gestured that she wanted to read the newspaper but I had thought that she wanted me to cook some dumplings. What worlds apart – a newspaper and a dumpling!

I felt that she was so eager to get to know more about me but I just did not fit in. Yeye would always try to translate our conversation but the situation was so frustrating that at some point it had drastically affected my self-esteem. I always cried, but I tried my best to cope with the circumstances. I jotted down whatever Mandarin words I would hear from the old woman. Little by little I was able to understand Yeye and she became fond of me.  

After a month of working, a real problem occurred.  My broker had deducted Php 6,000 from my salary, insisting that I had a loan from the Philippines.  I did not recall signing any agreement with the agency but they showed me a piece of paper with my signature on it. Then I recalled that when I was about to leave the airport bound for Taiwan, my agent had asked me to sign a blank sheet of paper.  I admit it was my fault, but at that time, I could not think straight because I was anxious and excited.  I feared that if I did not sign the paper, the broker would not allow me to leave.

I also encountered a problem with a so called “friend” who had borrowed my Alien Registration Certificate (ARC).  Without knowing it, she had used it for a personal loan with me as a guarantor. After a month, her patient died and I was left with the responsibility of settling her financial obligation.

In time, however, things became better.  In my thirst for knowledge, I would read a lot during my free time. I created my own blog.  I would write short stories and poems and even won in an essay and a poetry writing contest.  Yeye was so proud of me.

I had no problem communicating with my family. I was allowed to call them twice a month for free and my family would always send me letters. Every month I would send my whole salary to provide for the education of my sister and my eldest niece.

I had many good memories of Taiwan that I continue to cherish even today. I worked there for nine years.  I consider Taiwan as my second home.

I am now back in the Philippines.  I have been here for almost three years now. I still communicate with Yeye.   We constantly exchange e-mails. We talk a lot and she would even help me financially. Although she is now more than a hundred years old, she never forgets to send greetings and gifts during special occasions. She would always remind me of how her family is so grateful and appreciative of the time I spent with them.

I miss working and taking good care of Yeye. I miss our bonding moments like spending our leisure time in the park every morning and our food trips.  I remember our common interest for books.  We would stay up late at the Public Library in Minsheng, browsing and reading books that interest us.

Since I returned home, I was able to pursue further studies. I made sure that part of my savings would be invested for my future education.  I finished my nursing studies with flying colors. I also studied Massage Therapy at Saint Paul University for a year and obtained my certificate from TESDA (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority) and DOH (Department of Health). I also trained in Acupuncture. I worked in Medical City in Ortigas but left after a year. I decided to pursue my other calling - volunteerism for the causes and issues affecting overseas Filipinos workers (OFWs) and their families. Since I do not have a family of my own, I have time to do volunteer work.

I have been an active volunteer of Pinoy Expat/OFW Blog Awards (PEBA) since 2009, currently serving as its Manila-Luzon Coordinator. PEBA is very active in social media and garners more than 300,000 “likes.”  We handle cases of abuse and other concerns of distressed OFWs. PEBA is also a member of the OFW Advocate Coalition which lobbies in Congress and Senate for the protection and welfare of OFWs. I also represent the organization in meetings with government agencies like DOLE, POEA, OWWA, which deal with OFW concerns.  We also promote OFW issues through radio and TV appearances. 

I am also a Red Cross volunteer. I donate blood every three months as a way of thanking God for the blessings of good health. Because I love animals, I also assist the Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) as well.  I make it a point to visit the shelter at least once a month to feed and play with the animals. Spending time with rescued pets renews and reenergizes me, helping me deal with the challenges of life.

Moreover, as my own initiative, I reach out to less fortunate children through the Lapis at Papel Project which provides school supplies to my grade school alma mater - the San Roque Elementary of Bato Catanduanes. I believe that everyone can make the world a better place if we share kindness and love for one another.

I want to share my piece of advice to those who plan or dream of working abroad. Training is a must. Educate yourself, know the basic language of the country you plan to work in. Know their laws, rules and regulations.  Of equal importance is the need to equip yourself with diligence, perseverance and determination to be able to reach your goals and your purpose of working abroad.

Step with dexterity,
For my soul has wandered off,
I am in a cliff hanging,
All I can see are shadows of unwanted pains.

I want to collect the warmth of summer,
While the sea is calm,
I want to smell the fragrance of blooming flowers,
While I enjoy the wind.


The shattered mirror reappears,
The weather's gone bad.

In the midst,
I am floating,
Falling hard.

Gemma B. Comiso, caretaker, Taiwan. Her story is concluded by a sad poem entitled Jaded. Despite its melancholic theme, she believes that the past helped her to become a better person.  She believes she is  stronger and more resilient. She also considers that everyone is capable to overcome their issues and struggles even in their most jaded situation in life. And for her the key to transcend it is dedication to personal empowerment and development.