Long regarded as modern day heroes, many people look up to Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) as paradigms of success. They go out of the country in search of better opportunities and higher wages while playing an important role in sustaining the country’s economy.
Oftentimes, you can find an OFW success story being featured in blogs, social media, or local news outlets, proving that there’s a promising future waiting ahead for those who persevere. But behind the glimmer of these success stories, is a life of an overseas worker far from being a fairy tale dream. Unbeknownst to many are the hardships and life challenges OFWs have to face while working abroad in exchange for turning their dreams into reality.
What are the life challenges faced by OFWs?
Filipinos are so tight-knit, that’s why it’s hard for our OFWs and migrant workers to be separated from their families and loved ones. And it’s even harder if they miss out on the special or important events like birthdays and graduations. They have to bear the pain of not seeing their children grow up just so they could provide a better life for them in return.
Luckily, through the advent of technology nowadays, just giving a quick video call to their loved ones will ease up the feeling of homesickness and makes the journey a bit bearable.
Problems within the family also arise like problematic in-laws who takes over the control of the household and financial aspects, spouses involving in extramarital affairs, and children going into rebellion mode because there’s no one to reprimand and watch over them.
These circumstances brings emotional and mental distress to OFWs on top of the stress they get from their respective job abroad.
Culture differences and language barriers
Working in a foreign land, it’s not surprising that a lot of Filipinos get culture-shocked. They leave the familiar corners of their homeland and try to adapt to a new cultural and social environment. This may cause stress and anxiety if not addressed immediately in the right way. There are ways on how one can cope with culture shock, starting from keeping an open mind and taking time to get used to these changes.
It is known to us that the major reason why many Filipinos try their luck abroad is to earn big salaries enough to provide a better quality of life for their families and support children’s education. However, poor money management skills can lead to overspending and worse, huge debt. Here are some money mistakes OFWs should know and realize before it’s too late:
- Failing to save money- Many Overseas Filipino Workers commit mistakes of not saving or investing. Some become too complacent enough or spend most of their money on lavish lifestyle. It’s not bad to reward yourself sometimes, but you also have to set aside for savings and future investments.
- Falling into debt- OFWs fly off abroad in search for better opportunities, but before they can board the plane and land to their destination, they have to face high placement fees, pricey airfare tickets, and other expenses that entails their employment.
Most of them borrow money from lenders or take up loans from banks just so they can push through abroad, with the reason that the income they’re going to get will be enough to pay off these debts. But some of them get paid less than they initially expected, prompting them to make sacrifices just so they erase debts while providing for their family.
- Volatile peso values- Money remittances sent by OFWs contribute greatly to the overall growth of the economy. This may lead into the thinking that more dollars equates to more wealth, but sadly that isn’t the case.
As the dollar reserves in the country increases, it’s value against our currency decreases. Since most of the salaries of OFWs are paid in dollars, the peso value of their money decreases.
- Global gender pay gap- Do you know that female employees are paid 20% less than their male counterparts? This is another challenge faced by migrant workers belonging in the female group.
- Lending to family members or friends- Some friends or family members tend to reach out for financial help from OFWs. But when the time comes to pay the debt, some of them can no longer be contacted or make up excuses just so they can get away without paying what they owe.
Being helpful isn’t a bad thing at all– but you should learn how to set limits and when to say no without hurting the feeling of the person.
Falling victim to illegal recruitment
Many Filipinos skip checking in with the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) and fall for the smooth-talking of illegal recruiters. This leads to unprotected employment, exposing the migrant worker to employer abuse and exploitation.
When you decide to go overseas, don’t ever skip out on verifying with POEA if your recruitment agency is illegal or not. This will save you time, money, and effort in the long run.
Being framed up abroad
It’s one of the scariest (and we don’t mean to discourage you) things that could happen to someone who’s just searching for better opportunities in a foreign land. One unfortunate case was that of Pinay domestic worker Jakatia Pawa who was sentenced to death in 2017 after being accused of killing her employer’s daughter. Despite maintaining firm on her innocence and pleas from her family and the Philippine government, Pawa was still executed.
Jealousy, mistaken identity, or just finding someone to blame are the main culprits as to why OFWs are framed abroad.
Abuse and Exploitation
In 2020, about 5,000 cases of maltreatment of Filipino migrant workers was recorded; 4,302 of these report came from the Middle East. The abuse comes in physical, mental, and sexual forms, and even racial discrimination from their own employers.
Despite the government’s efforts, abuse and exploitation are still rampant in foreign countries, especially if there are no authorities keeping an eye on and protecting our modern day heroes from abusive employers inside the confinements of their homes.
If you ever found yourself caught up in such situation, don’t be afraid to ask for help from Overseas Workers Welfare Association (OWWA), the nearest Philippine embassy, or you could even reach out to the Filipino community in your host country.
Violence, calamities, and outbreaks
When the war between Russia and Ukraine broke out, a lot of migrant Filipino workers are repatriated for their safety. Two years prior, the world suffered from the threats of the COVID-19 virus. Unstable political situations, global health outbreaks, and natural calamities may also affect Filipino workers abroad. They may find themselves getting caught up in the middle of protests or their lodgings destroyed by typhoons or earthquakes.
Cases like these are beyond the OFW’s control and are not easy to predict that’s why disaster preparedness and awareness are extremely crucial and handy in such turbulent times.
Balikbayan box problems
We all know that feeling of excitement when receiving balikbayan boxes. They are big boxes aimed to bring delight and wonder to every member of the family. But that’s not always the case.
Family members sometimes get caught up in disputes on who’s going to receive specific items and don’t forget about your neighbor expecting something from you, too.
Better yet write or put sticky notes with the receiver’s name on the gift to avoid such alterations. It’s also handy to search or ask the Filipino communities online which cargo forwarders are reliable to ensure that your parcel will get taken care of and delivered.
A Story to Tell
Every Overseas Filipino Worker has a story to tell– the life challenges and experiences they go through abroad. But sometimes, they prefer to put on a big smile to hide all their hardships and carry on with the burden of not wanting their loved ones to worry. However, in order to find solutions to a problem, we have to acknowledge its existence first.
The life challenges and experiences of Overseas Filipino Workers included in this list are just some of the few risks that come with the decision of working abroad. While experiences may vary from one foreign worker to another, it is undeniable that these things do happen. Preparedness and sticking to what is right will surely make a huge difference in overcoming them.
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