The other week, Juleebee Ransa, a Filipina Overseas Foreign Worker who was raped, impregnated, murdered, burned and thrown in the midst of the Kuwait dessert allegedly by the young son of her employer, was laid to rest in her Philippine hometown as her relatives, neighbors and friends cried out for justice over her gruesome death.
This is nothing new for Kuwait. The body of another OFW, 29-year-old Joanna Demafelis, was found inside a freezer in an abandoned apartment in Kuwait in February 2018, prompting a deployment ban to that country.
Not all unfortunate and tragic OFW stories, however, ended in death but may even be as painful as losing one’s life.
On the same day of Juleebee’s death, another OFW in Kuwait (given the pseudonym “Mary” for security reasons) escaped physical abuse from her employer by jumping from the third floor and ended in a hospital with a fractured spine, broken legs and became paralyzed from the waist down.
One of the more remarkable cases in my overseas assignment as Labor Attache was of a young lady who ran away from her employer, assisted by another OFW.
However, instead of taking her to the Philippine Embassy, she was brought to a “brothel” where she was sold to other Asian expats, who were forced to serve about ten men a day for ten days. She escaped by giving herself to the guard. Ashamed and afraid that the humiliating experience would be known to the public, she just asked to be sent home and the case be kept secret from her husband and family. We requested the recruitment agency that she be escorted.
She was met at the airport by her husband and when I saw a picture of the couple hugging each other, which was sent to me by FB messenger by the escort, my heart bled and I cried for the innocent husband of what her wife had gone through and also of the haunted conscience of the wife if the incident would continue to remain in sealed lips.
During my stint in Oman, I met Fatima, an OFW who wrote and gave me a copy of her book, Finish Strong: Go Home for Good, OFW.
I can relate much to Fatima’s story because as an Officer of the Philippine Overseas Labor Office for about four years (Embassies of Rome and Muscat), I was an OFW myself, although in different circumstances.
I also left my family in Dumaguete, lived alone in an unfamiliar environment and worked 24/7 (OFWs especially those working in the homes of their employers would call for advice and assistance late during their free time, evenings or very early morning).
Most of us at the POLO were always on our toes as distress calls may come like a “thief in the night”. Unanswered calls from anybody including those from the Isumbong Mo Kay Tulfo program or the Secretary of Labor may mean a recall from the foreign service.
Worst were the guilt feelings for unheard calls from or about distressed workers who are in “between life and death” situations.
Like Fatima, I know the journey of OFWs. I feel their struggles and fears. I share their hopes and dreams. I was with them in their victories, fellowships and parties, sports games, camping, outreach services, etc.
I was also with them when times were bad, when they were worried due to physical, mental and sexual harassments, inhuman work conditions, incarcerations for crimes they did not commit, unfulfilled labor contracts, hospitalization for accidents without insurance.
And they also had to contend with news of unfaithful spouses from home, while some undocumented victims of illegal recruitment and human trafficking “kapit sa patalim” practices for the undocumented victims of illegal recruitment and human trafficking, resorted to selling themselves just to survive and worst, were sometimes raped and imprisoned for illegal pregnancies.
There are many horror stories not written, not printed nor posted on social media from thousands of runaway and rescued OFWs in the Bahay Kalinga of our government in the different POLOs, mostly in the Middle East.
Yes, it is painful to leave our families. Children growing up without mothers and/or fathers, or worse, growing up without both their parents not being able to witness their first steps nor hear the first spoken word/s. These conditions leave deep wounds in the hearts of the OFWs that dollars cannot offset.
While the decision to work overseas was mainly for the brighter future of the family, some children go astray, coupled with sad stories about spouses passing away without being able to say goodbye. In Tagalog, they say sumakabilang buhay.
There is also another Tagalog expression for erring spouses, sumakabilang bahay. Broken homes, dysfunctional families… Damn if we do, damn if we don’t! It has become a life between the “devil and the deep blue sea” for unfortunate OFWs.
Fatima discovered, as I did, that some of us went home old and tired, broke and with shattered dreams. Some went home to restore marriages, a number feeling alone and had to start all over again.
These unhappy and sorrowful stories are coupled with uncertainties for OFWs who were not able to save, invest nor were able to prepare for emergencies, unfinished contracts and retirement. The pandemic gave us a vivid overview of the real situations of most OFWs when thousands were repatriated.
Yet, there are also many good and excellent experiences of OFWs who, in fact, are sending annual remittances in the trillions of pesos to our country. But when compared with the social costs including broken homes, shattered dreams, parentless children and mental anguish of many OFWs, one wonders if the cost was worth it.
Author’s email: [email protected]