Saturday July 21, 2018

Staying away to hold one's family together

JOBYL JIMENEZ was 25 when she began working overseas. It was something she had always planned to do, but becoming the breadwinner at a young age helped speed things up.

“Now, I don’t think about giving up working here, for my family’s future. Quitting has never come to my mind.

Although I’m still hoping that one day, we will be complete as a family living together,” said Jimenez, who has worked as a nurse in the United Arab Emirates for five years.

Her parents separated when she was in high school. Her mother died when she was 19 years, and Jimenez embraced her responsibilities as the eldest of four siblings.

Help from her uncle, aunts, and grandparents enabled her to get a nursing degree. Today, she is the one
supporting the education of her youngest sibling and caring for the rest of her family.

Many Filipinos are motivated to leave the country with high hopes of better salaries abroad, and the family members left behind are forced to take up additional roles and responsibilities.

Unemployment and underemployment are two factors that have changed the Filipino family. According to the Employment Situation in January 2015 report by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), 17.9 percent of all employed persons wanted additional hours at work or an additional job.

In the same period, unemployment was estimated at 6.6 percent of the labor force.

The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) also reported that overseas employment grew from 14,366 workers in 1972 to approximately 2.2 million overseas Filipino workers (OWFs) in November 2010. Of this number, 24.68 percent are women.

Married workers composed 73 percent.

“It was difficult at first to be far apart from each other,” said Joy Tizon, 52, a public elementary school teacher in Mandaue City. She is a mother of two daughters and the wife of an OFW. Her husband has worked in Saudi Arabia for nine years now.

Tizon and her husband wanted to give their children the best college education. They also wanted to have their own house, but their combined incomes were not enough. Their household income has increased by 50 percent with
one parent working abroad.

“But if there were opportunities available here similar to what other countries are offering, then I would rather have my husband work locally,” said Tizon.

Financial pressure

According to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, at least 100,000 Filipinos left for jobs abroad in Region 7 in the last quarter of 2016 alone.

“The truth is that OFWs go out to work abroad mainly because of financial problems,” said Rudilyn Gimena, overseas workers’ welfare officer.

A bigger salary is an effective incentive. “Compare the salary of construction workers here and abroad.

There is a big difference, and this urges Filipinos to choose to work abroad despite getting separated from their families,” Gimena said.

Part of the “social cost of migration,” she added, is the separation that families must endure.

Claudette Laude, 21, is a middle child whose family responsibilities expanded once her mother decided to start working in Dubai in 2004. Claudette was only nine years when her mother first left the country.

Laude said, “Since Grade 3, I’ve started helping and working at home. I practically raised my youngest sister.

It got tiring at times.”

“For many years, I’ve been longing for my mother, and I always envied others who have their mothers by their side. I longed for the emotional and physical support that I needed,” Laude added. Support from relatives and friends helped her endure.

The effects of a parent’s absence can vary from one child to another.

“One main factor for this is that it all depends on who gets left behind with them as they grow and what values they continue to exercise,” said Vincent Carlo Barcenilla, an overseas workers’ welfare officer.

For Kristy Naingue, 20, growing up without her father, a seaman, beside her was not that hard. Naingue is currently a nursing student, and she is an only child.

“I can’t recall when my father first left. I have lived without him at least nine months in a year before, and he only had one-month vacations. Our set-up has been like that ever since I was an infant,” she said.

“At first, it felt incomplete and I didn’t want him to work abroad anymore. However, I am used to it already.

I managed with the guidance, love, and full support of my mother,” she added. Naingue also stated that her father’s first reason to work abroad was to live his dream. “But when he met my mother and built a family, his reasons then changed.”

Just like any father who wants to earn a living for himself and his loved ones, John Cabilin, 38, worked hard abroad for 11 consecutive years before deciding to finally come home.

Cabilin used to work in Saudi Arabia, with the attendant loneliness and homesickness. A long separation, however, eventually ended his marriage.

For other OFWs, the price of working abroad often includes being away when the family goes through its inevitable trials.

Jimenez, the nurse, was working when she received a phone call in October 2016, informing her that her father had died.

“I did’t know what to do. I was at work, but my mind wasn’t working. And after that, I did not hesitate to go to my manager and I asked for bereavement leave,” Jimenez said. “Thank God she approved it right away.” After 10 days with her family, she had to go back, no matter how much she wanted to stay.

“But I’m still thankful that I have been blessed with what I am today; blessed with how God is redirecting my life, and knowing that my mother and father are just looking down at us, watching and guiding us,” Jimenez said.

“Trials come and go, and those are the real struggles of life…I will always be a proud overseas worker, and all my fellow OFWs should be proud of themselves as well.”

(Karla Joy F. Grengia studies Media and Communications in St. Theresa’s College, Cebu City.)(Karla Joy F. Grengia/Contributor)