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Archive for the ‘OFW’ Category

As of this posting, there have been some news that PNoy stopped the planned random checks of Balikbayan boxes sent by OFW’s to the Philippines, and the imposition of applicable taxes on the items in those boxes. Even so, I still believe I need to re-post this article I wrote (er, vented) in my FB page, because it was the collective cry of indignation made up of individual voices like this piece that provided the pressure needed by the President to rouse from his apathy and rectify an unforgivable transgression about to be committed by his government. Here it goes:

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Opening a Balikbayan Box from a loved one abroad is a sacred and highly-charged occasion. Imagine the scene: The whole family gathered around the box, some kneeling closer to it while others squatting further behind, forming an outer ring, seemingly providing a reinforcing perimeter wall around the sacred box.
The patriarch holds a pair of scissors, starting to snip at the layers upon layers of packaging tape in one corner of the revered box and everybody grows quiet. The air is tense with anticipation. What could be inside? For sure, there will be chocolates and biscuits, coffee and soap or even perfume! There definitely will be Spam, corned beef and canned salmon, and some other unknown (well, at least to the barrio folks) canned goods. The shoes requested by the teen-aged brother, or the 1 Direction shirt that the youngest sister begged to be included…
In those moments, there is a suspension of reality as the whole family forgets the separation and the longing, the poverty and lack. At that very moment, they are rich! All they could think about are the goodies inside the box, small tokens of love from their kin working abroad. An inconsequential albeit cherished gift, in comparison to the years of absence of a loved one.
Soon, each of them will have their gifts. Lovingly wrapped and labelled by their benefactor who packed the box full almost to bursting point. Usually these boxes are packed by our OFW’s after their working hours – the only time they have, to do something as tedious and labour-intensive as packing a truckload of items into a single box of love.
These boxes have been a symbol of love and devotion, a fulfilment of promises made to kids who were crying when their parent left them to work abroad. “Magpapadala ako ng mga laruan mo. Ibibili kita ng magandang sapatos mo,” all said by the parent while trying to extricate themselves from the tiny arms clinging around their neck at the airport.
These boxes show our solidarity as families, our generosity as a people as even neighbours are included in the bounty at times, our resourcefulness as providers and our drive to get what the world has to offer and give our families a chance to have them, too.

And then the BOC decides to tax these items, taking away the magic and violating the sacredness of this enduring expression of love and family ties. The OFW’s are hurt. They are the ones who brave the loneliness to provide for their families, helping shore up the economy and giving pride to every sitting President, Senator and Congressman, who, in their own conceited ways, try to claim the credit for a growing economy. The OFW’s are a big part of why the Philippines is growing economically. This very same government that claims the credit for the hardwork of remitting OFW’s, want to tax these boxes that they send to their families! They are being betrayed by the same government that should have given them jobs at home so that they did not have to leave in the first place. How can they be so foolish? Nincompoops!

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Home

Our family just arrived  from a 4-week holiday in the Philippines, where we did a lot of important things. Of course, we spent some time with our loved ones and that was really very good especially for my boys. They were able to hang out with their cousins, some of whom they have only met for the first time, while others, they have been acquainted with for years with whom they were just too eager to play again.

It was difficult for me to tell which part of it is the highlight of the whole trip – until I got back here in the UK. Looking back, the highlight of the trip is not one particular event or day. It is an inexplicable sense of belonging that I don’t feel anywhere else on earth. It is that feeling that for a certain period of time, I was safely home, where everything is familiar and yet acutely new as well, because I have been away for a long time.

We were there to have the boys circumcised, so understandably, we were holed in for almost two weeks in my parents’ house, unable to go anywhere else because the boys were still sore. But even then, I feel like it was not a wasted trip. Spending time with my mother, who was widowed very recently, re-acquainting with her world full of concerns for her school and even just simply seeing her again in the flesh after a long time of being away, made the whole trip worth it all.

I was not particularly happy with the state of politics in the Philippines at the moment, especially when major elections are fast approaching. I did not also enjoy the fact that our money seemed to evaporate into thin air right before my eyes everytime we went out shopping for food and other neccesities. And yes, “development” is still far off from my beloved country. But I don’ mind. For me, it is still the only place on earth closest to heaven.

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Meet our First Featured OFW

This is the first true-to-life story I am sharing here. I will be featuring some more of this kind as I gather more materials from around the world. People I will write about are not famous – only brave Filipinos who dared to make a life outside their country and emerge victorious and successful. This is the first one of them….

This is the story of a feisty Filipina, who has made something out of her life here in the UK. It is not something grand but at least, she is getting by and doing better than how she would have had if she stayed put in the Philippines. Not that I encourage leaving one’s own family and country for the sake of doing it. This is all about admiring this lady for her guts to dream big and follow that dream wherever it led her – against all odds, by the way.

Our story starts in a very poor province in the Philippines. Let us call her Tinay – a forty something Filipina living in the UK today with her lovely daughter and a loving, doting British partner. I met her through my husband, who met her in one of the hospitals he used to service as a Mobile Radiographer. Tinay would bring home-cooked Filipino food to work and share them with her colleagues, my husband included. That is how they became friends. Eventually, she would invite my husband whenever she hosts little BBQ parties in her garden.

She is naturally open, friendly and welcoming of her kababayan. In fact, I consider her my first friend here in England. I was just so taken by her enigmatic and feisty personality that I blogged about her right after that June night meeting in one of her BBQs.

Tinay’s life is so colored, exciting and full of twists that it is proving difficult for me to start doing it justice in writing. I will try anyway and beg for your forgiveness where I will fail.

It was in the 70’s, when she was just a Grade V elementary school pupil, that she was sent by her mother to borrow a sack of rice from one of her uncles (her mother’s brother), two villages away from their house. They had nothing more to cook for supper that day.

She walked on dirt roads with no slippers under the blazing sun for hours. When she got to her uncle’s house, she was not even offered a glass of water to drink. Worse, she went home empty-handed as the uncle refused to lend them even just half a sack of rice.

It was one of the saddest days of her life – she felt so sorry for herself and her family. To her young mind, that rejection was difficult to accept. When she arrived and told her mother of her unsuccessful errand, she saw her mother turn away to cry in silence. It must be painful to be turned down by one’s own brother at such a time of dire need. Tinay felt her mother’s pain and her heart bled just seeing her cry in silence.

Young as she was, she decided to do something about their life – to get out of poverty and give her family a better future. From where she was then, it was a tall order – still to graduate from Elementary School, with no hope of ever getting to university. But she believed.

Fast forward to the early 80’s, Tinay was studying Midwifery in Manila. Just to support her schooling, she stayed with her uncle (another brother of her mother’s), and helped in the house in exchange for her board and lodging. She recalls how her hands would bleed from washing clothes by hand, and how she balanced school work and being a maid in her uncle’s house. Her cousins treated her more like a maid than a relative. Tinay still remembers how one of her own cousins would not even look at her – like, she was not at all worthy of a glance.

One sunshiny part of her life was that, her Auntie – her mother’s sister, was kind enough to help Tinay’s older sister to join her in Jordan. At that time, her Auntie was working as a domestic helper in one of the royal households in Jordan. Her employer was the cousin of the ruling monarch at that time. The elder sister joined their Auntie as a domestic helper as well. The Auntie supported her schooling, while she stayed at her uncle’s house for board and lodging in exchange for her service.

Then, her kind Auntie discovered that she was treated more like a maid than a niece. She also learned that the uncle did not give the money she sent to Tinay the first semester of her first year (which he gave eventually when Tinay was about to leave his house). The Auntie decided to take her from that house and put her up in a boarding house.

She finished Midwifery with the support of her fairy godmother (her Auntie) and her sister. Right after graduation, not even able to practice her profession for lack of job openings in the Philippines, she left for Jordan to be a nanny in the same household where her Auntie worked.

After a few years of being a Nanny, this feisty, tiny waif got a job as a hospital assistant in that country – even assisting in open heart bypass surgeries! Not bad for a Midwifery graduate, I must say. All in all, she stayed in Jordan for 10 years.

To be continued…

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