I Tondo, Manila, one warm Saturday in January

I woke up to a rising sun in Tondo, Manila, one warm Saturday in January and was led by my half-awake eyes to our dirty kitchen.

There I saw my mother, Marissa fully awake, preparing our breakfast. I am greeted by her sunny smile where I was billeted, when she saw me and say “Anak, kain na.” (Let’s eat.). I am already sitting alone on our small dining table when my eyes lazily averted to a woman inside our television delivering her morning news about OFW showing the statistics of how many Filipinas chose to go abroad for better opportunities.According to a study entitled Migration and Filipino Children Left Behind, the Philippines is a major supplier of labor migrants to more than 100 countries and roughly 1 out of 4 Filipino children are left behind by their parents.

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In the 2015 Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) survey, the number of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) who worked abroad had reached approximately 2.4 million. This figure consisted of  female overseas workers at an estimated total of 1.

250 million workers than the estimated total of 1.197 million male workers. When Filipino women leave their families to find work abroad, they view migration as a necessary sacrifice to obtain the two things that will secure a future for their children: a home and an education.But for the some 96,000 women who left the Philippines in 2010 to work as domestic workers, this simple aspiration comes at a cost that cannot be translated into monetary terms.(picture)In a country where unemployment is a colossal and ongoing fact-of-life, working in a foreign country and the resulting remittances, offers a way out of omnipresent poverty. Overseas work helps in decreasing Philippine unemployment as well as feeding, sheltering and clothing entire households.In short, because of an entrenched poverty, Filipinos view overseas work as the only alternative to escape from debt and hopelessness.

  OFWs will travel to foreign nations, legal or not, to escape the dark cloud of poverty and they often do without considering the possibility of suffering inhumane abuse from foreign nationals or worse, jail. The OFW phenomenon is a dynamic and a rising sector of Filipino society. The exodus of Filipinos to foreign nations began in 1974 and has yet to show any signs of slowing down.I stopped watching the television and continue ravishing the omelet in my plate. I realized that many of these OFW women, however, working abroad is no paradise because they are separated from their children. Indeed, the social cost is high; children have to grow up without one or both parents.

 My mother is without doubt the most important person in my life and the most complete individual I know. She has the kindest eyes that I have ever seen. She not only worked hard to ensure that I had a good upbringing, but was also very strict and often punished me whenever I went wrong. Even though I did not like the punishment then, I now look back and realize that it was meant to lovingly correct me and help me to follow the right path when growing up.

I suddenly look at my mother who is busy doing the laundry not so far from where I was seating. Her full attention is on the clothes in her hands. I wonder if how many kilos of laundry did she do until now. I wonder if she has ever get tired of pampering her five children almost all her life. I wonder if she is one of the many domestic workers abroad working 24/7 for us. I felt stiff. Cold even. I couldn’t imagine living my life without her.

And I don’t think I will be satisfied seeing a ‘balikbayan’ box every year without seeing her. I won’t survive. If I will, I’d die soon after. Unhappy.Women are among the most vulnerable population groups in society.

Filipinos always define a mother as the “ilaw ng tahanan” (saying: The mother gives light (guidance) to our home). The mother is the one who looks after the children. She is the provider of every home, giving discipline to her children and making the best effort to feel safe at all times. But can a mother provide all this needs if she’s not around?(interview)According to the above survey, the total remittance sent by OFWs was appraised at 180.3 billion pesos (3.

8 billion USD). These remittances included cash sent home (135.6 billion pesos), cash brought home (37.

3 billion pesos) and remittances in kind (7.4 billion pesos).A mother’s presence is deferred for the promise of economic gain. Years that would have been spent seeing her children grow up are spent watching over other people’s children.

And for the many who are working as undocumented migrants, there is no option to travel back to the Philippines to visit. The separation drags on for years.Over the last several years, the Philippine government has posted the highest GDP growth in the region—but the country continues to have the highest rate of unemployment.For many women, migrating to find work becomes a cycle of leaving and coming back, only to leave again when economic opportunities in the Philippines prove to be insufficient.

The numbers tell a sad story, as sad as the stories of overseas Filipinos who long to be with their loved ones instead of toiling in distant lands. But this is the story of our many mothers, millions of them, scattered around the world. They long to come home but for many of them, such a dream remains elusive. And even if they want to come home, what do they have to come home to? 


I'm Mary!

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