No doubt, for a majority of overseas Filipinos the incentive to work abroad is economic. We can earn incomes potentially up to 20x more than in the Philippines.
My initial reason for leaving was simpler: love.
My then-boyfriend (now husband) had been assigned to the UK the year before I left. We both agreed that a long-distance relationship wasn’t sustainable, so I left a fairly comfortable job in Makati to apply for a UK role within the bank I worked for. Thankfully I got in.
It wasn’t an easy decision for me to make, but I’m no stranger to OFW life. My dad, trained as an engineer, decided to work abroad in Indonesia in the early 1990s and left my mom behind to care for me and my siblings. Like most middle-class Filipino families, we had domestic helpers to assist in daily chores but my mom was effectively a single parent for a few years. She also decided to keep on working.
We were never in want during those years. But I could see it was tough on my mom: she and my dad often argued over the phone, usually about money, and I spotted her crying by herself a few times. I remember how unnerving it felt to see her in such a vulnerable position – for a kid, seeing a parent cry meant something wasn’t quite right in the world. I wrote in my diary that if I ever had a family of my own, I would never put them through something like that and dreamed of the day we were all together for good.
Eventually, my dad managed to bring us all to live with him in Jakarta, which made things much, much better.
Two decades later there I was, on the cusp of following in my dad’s footsteps. Right before I left, my mom and siblings gave a me a blank scrapbook to fill with memories of the new life I was about to have. There were short and sweet messages from family and friends pasted throughout the pages, but right on the inside cover was a printed e-mail from my dad (he had just moved out of the Philippines again, this time to work in the Middle East). He said:
“In my own view, OFWs are always confronted with a dilemma; that is, to know when to stop if he/she prefers later to go back for good, or to stay permanently in a host country of his choice. Either way, you have to be resolute in your decision. The difficulty is that you can’t do this unilaterally. There will always be pressures from relatives, peers, even from your would-be spouse and children.
I’m jumping the gun here. I should be saying… enjoy and build a career! Seriously, be focused and build one while you’re still young!”
A decade on and here I am, still abroad. Still building, still dreaming, still finding my voice.
Think critically dear readers,