DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Ester Vargas-Castillo, an overseas Filipino worker here, has become the talk of the town after launching a book of award-winning poems while employed as a household service worker (HSW).
The book’s title, Biriterang Makata (The Poet Diva), refers to the author’s powerful soprano singing voice, her prowess well known among the Filipino community here.
“I am overwhelmed,” Castillo, who has been working in Dubai since 2017, shared during her book’s launch at a hotel in Al Qiyadah on May 14. “Hindi ko inakalang mangyayari lahat ito (I wasn’t expecting all of this to happen).”
“Ang laman po ng aking aklat ay mga tulang nagwagi sa iba’t ibang pahina ng panulaan na sinalihan ko. Mga makabuluhang akda na may mga importanteng mensaheng nakapaloob na magbibigay kalakasan at inspirasyon sa mambabasa,” she continued.
(My book is a compilation of poems which have won in different poetry competitions, meaningful poems with important messages that inspire and lend strength to readers).
Forty-seven of the featured poems are in English, 89 in Filipino – 136 pieces in all.
“Minsan kinakalawang na ang utak ko sa kaka-change ng nappy ng baby. Kaya poetry at pagsusulat ang nagpapabalik sa aking sanity,” Castillo said.
(Sometimes, my brain gets rusty living the monotonous life of a nanny, just changing the baby’s nappy over and over. Poetry and writing keep me sane.)
Castillo is one of the founding members of the Self Published x Movement (SPxM), an advocacy group of McKinley Publishing Hub, which published Biriterang Makata. She is also administrator of the Bigkis ng Panitik page, a group of poets; an honorary member of Horizons +, a home for talented migrant workers in Hong Kong and around the world; and a member of Kapanulat (Kapatid sa Panulat), Septon Poetry, Poetic Hearts, and SSTT (Sari Saring Tulang Tagalog).
“Tita Ester,” as she is fondly called, is also with the FilSoc Chorale, the musical arm of the Filipino Social Club in Dubai. The choral group, which has around 60 members, performed at the recently concluded Expo 2020 Dubai during its “Paskong Pinoy” event on December 3 – an event graced by Ambassador Hjayceelyn M. Quintana.
Born in Cagay-an, Lepanto, Alegria in Cebu, Castillo attended college as a full scholar at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (PLM), pursuing a degree in Computer Science. Her parents and seven siblings were living in the slums of Tondo, Manila at the time.
“Lumaki po ako sa hirap sa riles ng tren sa Tondo. Isang kahig, isang tuka. Subali’t hindi ito naging hadlang upang mangarap at magsumikap sa buhay. Iginapang kaming walong magkakapatid upang makapag-aral,” Castillo said.
(I grew up living in poverty, by the railroad tracks. We had a hand-to-mouth existence. But that didn’t deter us from aspiring and working hard. My parents struggled to get all eight of us siblings to college.)
Castillo, however, had to forgo her studies and get a job following the death of her father.
She could have opted for jobs in Dubai other than household work, but their salary rates were not enough to support her four children back home. It took her six months to finally decide to be an HSW, realizing that she would get to live with her employers, who she said treat her like family, and thus be able to save her full salary.
Inspiration to fellow HSWs
Castillo said she regretted not being able to finish college, at first. But this thinking of hers changed as time went on.
“Inilihim ko talaga na hindi ako nakapagtapos. Pero ngayon na-realize ko na kailangan kong i-inspire yung mga katulad kong kasambahay na kahit undergrad ka, pwede namang maging successful basta magsikap lang. Hindi hadlang yung wala kang diploma basta masigasig at may pangarap,” she said.
(I really kept it a secret that I was an undergrad. But now I have realized that I have to inspire HSWs like me, that they should know that you can still make it and be successful without a diploma, so long as you have an aspiration and work hard for it.)
Biriterang Makata was published with help from fellow OFWs at McKinley Publishing Hub: Don Luman-ag, CEO (PH); Dex Amoroso, COO (UK); and Eureka Bianzon Robey (US).
For book inquiries within the UAE, please contact Mob at 058-9131509/058-5581071 (Whatsapp) and 056-6748390 (Whatsapp). You may also visit the Biriterang Makata Diva Poet FB page. The book is also available on Amazon. – Rappler.com