When I was in high school, I vowed never to be an OFW.
I promised to myself that I would graduate and stay in the Philippines to serve “Inang Bayan” and not add to the diaspora of Filipino intellectuals as well as skilled and domestic workers who venture into some foreign land to serve other nationalities. My education from the first grade to my university years were subsidized by the Filipino people. Instead of paying the full expenses per semester of around P60,000, I only had to pay around 10 percent of that amount. It was my moral obligation to stay and serve the country with my talents and skills.
Almost 10 years after I made that vow, I am working somewhere in the Middle East, exhausting the best of what I have to offer in a foreign land to serve other nationalities. Compared to University of the Philippines graduate and nursing board exams topnotcher Jomel Lapides, I am a leech if measured by the standards I set in high school. And I am a no-good Filipino if we go by the standards of some people.
But is the real hero the one who stays here or those who go abroad to seek “greener pastures”?
Don’t get me wrong. I have utmost respect for those who decide to stay and serve the nation. But I tell you, no OFW will tell you that it is better to work abroad than at home. Being home is better. Psychologically, it is way better when you enjoy the comforts of your home with your family who will be there to support you when times get tough. In a foreign country, you are alone, or at least you are not with people you can truly depend on. It is easier to leave the house for work knowing that you will see the people you love at the end of the day. If you work abroad, you would be lucky to see them once a year.
In Pinas, you enjoy the privileges of being a Filipino in your own land. Abroad, wherever you may be, you are treated as second-class citizen. Racial discrimination is there, especially against Filipinos.
Yes, abroad is where the “greener pastures” are but there you also find the feral wolves of loneliness and racial discrimination.
Did I have the choice of staying in Pinas? Yes. My compensation was a bit OK considering the low salaries that my course (BS Food Technology) commands in our place (Davao City).
So what triggered my decision to add to the brain drain and forget the vow I made during my carefree and younger years?
My father’s death. My father died a few months before my college graduation in a public hospital in Davao. I don’t want to point fingers anymore but during that time, we were dirt poor and we had no choice but to send him to a public hospital. It was a nightmare I will never forget (those who have love ones in government hospitals can attest to this). I realized during our time in that God-forsaken place that life is unfair and it discriminates between those who have and those who don’t have. Such discrimination happens whether you are in malls, banks, hospitals or any place. It is a sad fact that will probably not change. Being poor complicates your life.
And the answer to this is to earn more. It is not the fault of OFWs if they cannot find jobs in Pinas that give the kind of compensation they want in order to live a better life. And who will say he does not want a better life?
If staying here to serve the country is considered heroic, then it is equally heroic to leave the comforts of home, risk a life’s worth of savings and opportunities to work for some foreign bosses with the hope of landing that dream job with that dream pay. And many OFWs do not even get what they expected.
Going abroad is a sacrifice in itself. It may sound selfish, but it is necessary to raise one’s dignity in an unfair world. Going abroad is a choice that should not be considered unpatriotic. You will not find any expat with as much pride for one’s country as the Filipino.
No one wants to go abroad just for the fun of it. In fact the easiest way to be free from all the miseries an OFW has to bear is to catch a plane back home, hopefully Philippine Airlines, with their adobo meals, and have your mother pamper you with your favorite kare-kare with your favorite askal at your feet.
John Q. Miro, 23, is a graduate of the University of the Philippines Mindanao and works as a food safety officer of a fresh fruit and vegetable firm in the Middle East.
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