I was blessed with the opportunity to undergo an exposure program on Migration as part of my formation in the period of my internationality experience. I thank Sr. Ailyn Binco, one of the member of the Ministry team in the Philippine Province who facilitated the exposure program in collaboration with the Center for Overseas Workers. I’m also grateful for Michelle Bugay staff of COW and with Ma. Lorda R. Talavera the general Manager of the Malorata International Manpower Agency for the guidance and the opportunity they gave me to have personal encounter with their OFW clienteles.
“As mission partners (lay and sisters), we struggled to find a way to address global issues. We identified the most pressing needs of today as poverty, human trafficking, forced migration, refugees, gender inequality, violence toward women and children, and religious intolerance.”
(30th Congregational Chapter Direction Statement-Energized by the Spirit, We Risk together for Mission)
Responding to the challenges on the issue of Migration in the Philippines, the Center for Overseas Workers – COW was established on 16th June 1980 by the Good Shepherd Sisters. It seeks to promote and uphold the interests, rights and welfare of Overseas Filipino Workers. The center is now under the St. Mary Euphrasia Integrated Development Foundation Inc. –SMEIDFI.
My exposure started last June 8, 2016 at the Center for Overseas Workers, attending the pre-departure orientation seminar given to the migrant workers who were about to leave the country. There were about 23 participants that day. The orientation session and the documentary film on Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) stirred in me a strong interest to KNOW more about them. The questions I previously had in my mind as to the reasons why large number of OFWs leave the Philippines, the types of works that they are involved, the challenges and difficulties in their country of destination are somewhat being answered.
Personal interaction with the participants made me become aware how the OFWs contribute a lot for the country’s economy. They are brave enough to work abroad just to earn enough to support the family they have left behind in the Philippines. To provide good future for their children and families is the basic motivation for them to seek for better paying jobs abroad.
Solidarity experience with the migrant workers
June 9th 2016 was unforgettable day for me, as I stepped into the Malorata International Manpower Agency, Quezon City. The agency provides shelter for the women migrants coming from the distant provinces in the Philippines who are applying for employment to Pakistan and Kuwait. There were 30 women at that time. This number however is not steady due to the arrivals and departures that occur daily. Living with them for three days enabled me to have a glimpse of their life situation, their difficulties and struggles as OFWs. Each one has their own bitter story behind the veil of their smiling faces. My heart was moved with sympathy and compassion as I listened to their stories. I realized that poverty, unemployment, low wages and absence of sustained economic development, continue to force them to look for employment abroad.
During their stay at the agency, some of the women hired themselves as part time cleaners and servers at the nearby restaurants. “I earn 750 pesos (USD 16.00) a week, I send the 500 pesos (USD 11.00) to my family back home and keep the 250 pesos (USD 5.50) for my needs here.” says Myraflor Lim one of the applicants.
I experienced them as hard working, friendly, reliable and can work with minimal supervision. I thought that, maybe these are some reasons why there is so much demand for Filipino domestic helpers to work abroad. While it gives them opportunities to earn, yet, it is causing disadvantage to their children in Philippines as they grow up wanting in the loving care of their own mother.
“I need money and I have no other opportunity” says a 27 year old applicant whose five month old daughter is suffering from a heart disease. I was touched by her sacrificial love. It was also painful to hear some of them being cheated by their live-in partners and left behind with three or four children. Being alone to support their children, they have to work hard so they could provide them food and education, even if sometimes, they are faced with physical and psychological challenges.
This exposure is an opportunity for me to experience the hospitality and innate goodness of the Filipinos. Though I was a stranger to them, they looked after me as their own sister. I recognized the presence of God in their midst! When Rose, one of the applicants offered me her ‘only mattress’ to sleep on, I remembered the teachings of Jesus when he pointed to his disciples “the poor widow who offered two small coins in the treasury box in the temple” (Mk 12:42). “Giving all what she has for her living” became very concrete and significant for me at that moment. The goodness of their hearts softened mine and the presence of God was strongly felt. Living in discomfort or in uncomfortable state did not stop them from enjoying whatever was available at the agency. Trusting in God with faith, they dream of a better future; that they will find a fair employer, be able to work and send money to their families for the needs of their children. It is inspiring to see them remaining hopeful in this journey of life!
“The service needs of migrants are complex and extensive – from language skills to health care, to listen to their experiences, accompany them, and develop programs to serve their multiple and varied needs.”
-Good Shepherd position on Migration
Though we were together physically for three days but in reality we lived in two different worlds. My reality is that after my exposure I go back to my comfortable room in the convent, a soft and nice bed and good food. But the migrant women have a life of constant uncertainty, instability and risking. In India some of the migrants go from one state to the other facing the language, culture and religious barriers within the country itself. Now, I came to understand how difficult it is to be a migrant worker to another country like the OFWs. I pondered what the world might look like from their view; how they thought about life, what they learned about people and how they understood God. It is a challenge to search the living God in the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, imprisoned and lonely (Mt 25:31-46).
On one side, I too am a migrant. I move from one community to the next as I participate in the mission. In religious life, there are also frequent “goings and comings”. This solidarity experience with the migrant workers has broadened my thinking, enabling me to embrace internationality with its successes and failures. I ask myself, as a Good Shepherd sister what is my call today? What is God asking of me to respond to the needs of the migrants? How do I live my religious life to the full and be in solidarity with the poor? This exposure has given me an opportunity to dialogue, listen, co-learn, and network with others. It also prepared me to take effective steps in my future assignment to work with women. It is an eye opener to recognize the face of God in the society and to allow my life to be changed.
“We continually update on migration issues – patterns, legal requirements, and status so as to advocate for change in systems and structures. We work so that the most vulnerable migrant will receive protection, welcome, and opportunity that every human person ought to be accorded.”
– Good Shepherd position on Migration
“You are called to be so many Good Shepherds” SME