I set off on the life as an OFW (Overseas Filipino Workers) at 27 years old, driven primarily by the financial draw of working overseas and the hope of providing a better life for my children. Now at 51, I have spent almost half of my life away from the Philippines and the journey has been one amazing ride.
Back in those days in Cebu, earning enough money to raise the standards of living was not easy and I had to rely a lot on my in-laws to provide for me. Although life was not exactly tough, I yearn for independence and wanted to work for my own money.
My first job saw me fly half way across the world to Saudi Arabia where I worked as a domestic helper. Adjusting to my new life there was not always the easiest thing as I had to change my mindset completely. The work load was relatively easy to deal with; it was the loneliness and sense of helplessness that was really difficult to overcome.
Luckily for me, employers treated me well and the pay was good. I had to adopt a different mindset in order to get through my days. As I was quite proficient in English, my employers got me to teach their children English and I managed to pick up Arabic during my time with them.
After working in Saudi Arabia for two years, I decided to try working Bahrain. My experience in Saudi Arabia and my ability to speak in Arabic made moving to another Middle Eastern country much easier. I am not boasting, but all my employers tried to convince me to renew my contract as they value the work I do, but I always wanted to try living in different areas and we parted on good terms with them
I spent about 18 years in the Middle East working in Kuwait, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Jordan, Jeddah, Lebanon and Qatar. After the Middle East, I worked in Hong Kong for a short period of time before coming to Malaysia. I was 45 when I arrived here.
I started working for an elderly Datin here in Malaysia and had renewed my contract numerous times to take care of her. She passed away last month and I am now a mentor for other domestic helpers here in Malaysia.
However, life in Malaysia is perhaps a little easier compared to other countries I have worked in. Of all the countries I worked in, Malaysia is the only one we have counsellors for maids in the agencies. We hear stories of how OFWs working in other countries kill themselves by jumping off buildings and it is really sad that this is happening. This is why I am happy that we have such a system here where girls can come talk to us about their troubles.
I enjoy my time as a mentor as life for an OFW is filled with much heartache we have to carry on our shoulders and not let it affect our work
When my father died, I just started work in Bahrain and could not see my father in his coffin. When my husband died, I was in Hong Kong and could not make it back as well. Those were painful times, but we need to press on in life.
This is our reality and we have to push forward.
Many of the girls come from the kampong and find it hard to adjust to the city life, so I provide them with some training and help them in some simple translation. Most of all, I lend them a listening ear as I have experienced it all and I try to get the girls to be strong. Many suffer not because of bad employers, but because of homesickness.
Working is supposed to be hard anyway, as long as the food is ok, the living is ok, the salary is ok and the employers do not mistreat us, then we should do our best. Apologise for any mistakes and let those employers know that we are willing to learn and have them teach us how they want things done.
As I look back on my life now, all these struggles are worth it as I was able to give my children the head start in life. My daughter is now working in a hotel in the Maldives and my son is in Canada. Malaysia will be my last stop and I will retire after this and join my children.