Flordeliza Decolongon was once an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) – a domestic helper in Hong Kong. For 10 years she slogged in homes before she finally made up her mind to return to the Philippines for good. What helped her decide was the fact that her eldest son, who had graduated from maritime school, was working as a seaman and was in a position to support his parents and siblings financially.
Although like most of her peers, Flordeliza had made many sacrifices to provide for her children, she was aware that she was one of the lucky few whose family did not end up blaming her for abandoning them – a common situation in most homes where either parent is an OFW. All the years that she was in Hong Kong her husband, Percy, made sure that the money she was earning was put to good use – children’s education, family livelihood and savings. “What proved different for me was that my children and husband understood why I had to go and they knew they had to cooperate. My husband took care of the kids who, for their part, were expected to study well. And they did not disappoint,” she explains.
In fact, with the earning her son has been sending every month the family has managed to build “our own house and buy a two-hectare rice land, which is now our main source of income”.
Flordeliza’s is indeed one of the rare stories of success, as research done on female migration in the Philippines does not paint a very optimistic picture. According to the findings of ‘The Impact of Female Migration on Filipino Families and Strengthening Support Systems in the Community’, a project supported by cosmetics giant, The Body Shop, most families left behind find it difficult to cope, particularly if it is the wife or mother who has gone overseas. Most of the time it’s the teenage children who are the hardest hit – adolescent girls become pregnant, young boys start cutting classes and join ‘barkadas’ (slang for a gang of friends) to drink and do drugs. Moreover, even the husbands end up having illicit affairs with different women, destabilising the family structure further.
Today, although Flordeliza feels that “children and husbands have to learn to handle themselves responsibly so that the sacrifices of the women do not go to waste”, she also knows that things will change for the better if women don’t have to leave their homes and go to distant countries for years to ensure a decent future for their children. “We need stable work opportunities here so that our wives, mothers, fathers and husbands would no longer have to work abroad and leave us behind,” she asserts.
It’s been a decade of hard work for Flordeliza. As the president of a well-known OFW support group, the OFW Dumangas North Chapter, she has been regularly liaising with the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) and other concerned government agencies, so that families can get access support – like insurance claims OFWs who pass away overseas or livelihood grants from the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), skills trainings from the OWWA, and so on.
And that’s not all. The OFW-turned-activist’s group has also done some remarkable work in initiating livelihood projects for the OFWs who have decided to come back for good. “We feel that is a need to start such projects so that returning OFWs can develop financial capability and stability even while staying here with their families,” elaborates Flordeliza.
From its initial membership of 15 in 2002, the OFW Dumangas North Chapter now has over 400 members. All of them regularly attend the association’s monthly meetings as well as the trainings that are conducted by the Iloilo Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office (PSWDO). Over the last few years they have learned diverse skills – from preparing formal project proposals to livelihood activities like food processing.
In 2008, the DOLE approved a P280,000 grant for their bangus, or milkfish, processing project. After 30 chosen members received training in milkfish processing, the project was formally initiated. Today, processed ‘bangus’ products – deboned and stuffed – are being sold to visitors through their unit and also as food exhibits during special occasions like fiestas and tourism festivals.
Flordeliza acknowledges that government agencies like the DOLE, Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Department of Science and Technology (DOST), the OWWA and Technical Education Skills Development Authority (TESDA), have given her group a lot of support by providing timely financial assistance. But she believes that “the problem is that our efforts have been sporadic, particularly because of the lack of commitment of our members who want to see immediate benefits. They do not see the need to invest hard work, time and money for the projects to pay off,” she explains.
But Flordeliza is committed to her cause. As she concludes, “This has become some kind of a mission for me. We want to create livelihood opportunities so that people in the OFW community can have a stable source of income. And we are doing it.”