Those were not exactly the most endearing words of goodbye, but for a 5-year-old girl who would be left behind by her father who was departing for work in Maldives, oceans away from home, those six words succinctly painted the pain in her young heart.
But, as a father myself, I believe, without a shadow of doubt, that the pain in the father’s heart was beyond what his young daughter’s mind would ever conceive—never even in a million years! The recent gut-wrenching farewell between father and daughter at the Davao International Airport is just one of the growing number of untold stories of separation of families due to a loved one’s employment overseas.
In fact, the number and frequency of such departures have increased significantly over the years that absenteeism seemingly has become deeply ingrained in the Filipino psyche, so much that it has become commonplace—an ordinary effect of a normal cause.
BY all means and measures, overseas employment has been a financial lifeline for millions of Filipinos. It has provided for the most basic of human needs: food and shelter for family; education for children; hospitalization for sick loved ones; fund for start-up business; and allowances for little luxuries in life.
Given the current global socio-political shifts and financial vulnerability, economic pundits also credit to the steady inflow of overseas Filipino workers (OFW) remittances the ability of the domestic economy to stay afloat despite the erratic ebb and flow of world economy.
As of September 2016, overseas Filipinos’ cash remittances have reached $20.025 billion, up by 4.8 percent from 2015, according to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.
But while family purses stay full and national coffers remain oiled, the cries of that heartbroken young girl reverberate in the immediate background…pleading to wake us from the stupor that only monetary gains bring, and petitioning us to take a hard look at the long-term implications of labor migration.
All truths are parallel: Separation takes its emotional and psychological toll on both the one who leaves and the one who gets left behind.
For the migrant worker, it has always been a battle against homesickness, lonesome and boredom in a faraway land. Add to this the bout against discrimination, aggression and insecurity in a foreign workplace.
For the family left behind, it has always been separation anxiety, abandonment and disconnection. And none of these make for a healthy, nurturing relationship.
Bridge the gap
WE cannot change the fact that, for as long as there are not enough qualification-commensurate, high-paying jobs locally, there will always be well-intentioned loved ones who would seek better employment abroad. And I can bet my last cent that the main consideration behind this difficult decision is still the good of the whole family.
How do we bridge the gap, then? How do we make it work?
Families with members working abroad swear to the helpfulness of constant communication. The operative word here is constant. It doesn’t take a genius to know that even the world’s fastest Internet speed means nothing if family members won’t exert effort to connect and communicate at all times. Technology has afforded us the means, it’s up to us to find ways to nurture our relationships—particularly long- distance ones.
In an article, Dr. Gina Hechanova-Alampay, psychologist and founder of the online counseling site OFWOnline, was quoted giving the following advice to OFWs: Save your money. Build your dream or plan your future while you are still in your destination country. You will not be in that country forever; you have a family to come home to. Put your plan together early and realize it with your family before you become strangers.
Put the money into good use. Save. Plan. Realize your plan with your family. Words of wisdom for all, not just for struggling OFW families.
And, finally, the government must also go beyond the rhetoric of “Bagong Bayani” and finally put flesh and substance into the policies and action points that will guarantee the safety of OFWs in their foreign workplace and assure their valuable reintegration into local economy and society once their tour of duty abroad is done.
Somehow, we owe that 5-year-old child the promise that the day would come when she would get to hear her daddy say, “I love you, Anak. Daddy is home to stay.”
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For as long as the population keeps ballooning and FDI remains low, I dont see the Philippines can provide decent employment to its citizens thus overseas employment will continue to persist for the next generations!