Meet the ‘guardian angel’ of Tabaco City’s OFW families
LEGAZPI CITY, Philippines – “Magandang umaga (Good morning)!”
Amphie Botis Sanchez, or Tita Amphie, greeted everyone we met as we made our way to Barangay Bangkilingan in Tabaco City, Albay. It didn’t matter whether they were strangers or not; she wished them all a great day with a wide smile.
By the time we finally made it to Barangay Bangkilingan, she had said "good morning" at least 10 times. She walked into the old chapel-cum-barangay hall with her large umbrella and bottled water, wearing a simple shirt and jeans and once again greeting everyone "good morning!"
Tita Amphie's energy is full to the brim – one that she brings with her as she travels from one village to another in Tabaco City, helping overseas Filipino workers’ families organize themselves.
One wouldn't think that she’s already 63 years old, or that she had just won her battle with cancer.
Helping OFWs help themselves
It was hot inside the barangay hall, which was packed with more than a hundred people – all OFW beneficiaries or ex-OFWs themselves.
Tita Amphie first introduced me to other members of their cooperative – the San Lorenzo Overseas Workers Association Inc (SLOWAI), a cooperative of ex-OFWs and OFW families in Barangay San Lorenzo – and officers of other overseas family circles (OFCs) in Tabaco.
OWWA Region V helped establish SLOWAI, with the aim of making government services more accessible to OFWs and OFW families in their barangay, especially OWWA's livelihood loan program.
It soon became one of the most active OFW groups in the region.
They opened up their first rice retailing business using a loan from OWWA, which they were able to pay even before their two-year deadline. Because of their good standing, they were given a grant by OWWA worth P100,000. With this, they were also able to open other businesses such as hog raising, food production, sari-sari stores, among others.
Eventually, the group found a way to help their members even faster.
With assistance from OWWA, the cooperative opened their own savings and loans program. They used this to lend money with minimal interest to ex-OFWs and OFW families in Bicol planning to open their own businesses or improve existing ones. Through this, the group believes they can help reunite OFWs with their families and give them the option to not leave the country anymore.
Their efforts helped bridge government services to many OFW families in their barangay (village), a feat that not many overseas family circles, or OFCs, have been able to replicate.
But Tita Amphie and their group’s ambition didn’t stop there. For her, OFWs in other barangays should also be able to enjoy the benefits they’re blessed with.
Tita Amphie and other active OFCs set out on a journey to encourage OFW families in other barangay to organize themselves. They’ve already successfully visited and organized OFCs in 36 out of the 47 barangays in Tabaco City – including those in islands and far-flung areas.
Barangay Bangkilingan is set to be their 37th barangay.
Asked why she’s doing all this, Tita Amphie said it’s the "mission" given to her by God.
An OFW herself, she worked as a household worker abroad for more than a decade despite having a bachelor's degree. She would always say that she was very lucky to have had great employers when she worked abroad, and so she always feels bad when she hears about sob stories involving other OFWs.
In 1998, Tita Amphie was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer. At that point, she said, she thought she was already going to die. It was a miracle she survived, she said. She took this as a sign that God still has a mission for her, and she came to realize just what it was when she started to lead SLOWAI.
"If there's one thing I learned, it's that when you can help, do it now. There will be problems, but if God is with you, no one can go against you," she said.
There were just 4 of them who led the program that day – all members of SLOWAI and other OFCs in Tabaco City. Sometimes, representatives from OWWA Region V would come with them on these trips, but most of the time they just did it themselves.
Tita Amphie took the stage and shared how their group was formed and the benefits of being organized. Some were skeptical. "Can’t we just borrow money by ourselves? Do we really need to have a group?” one asked. Tita Amphie answered their questions, explaining how being organized helps expedite the processes involved in getting a loan from the government.
As much as OWWA would love to give livelihood loans to OFWs, they’re forced to be stricter in providing them since many don’t pay back. But with the involvement of self-regulating groups such as SLOWAI, they can be more assured about getting repaid.
After all, the reason why many borrowers are often unable to pay back is that their businesses fail. But the government is able to provide regular trainings and seminars to organized groups, helping improve their members' aptitude in growing their businesses. Officers of these cooperatives also monitor businesses within the group and assist their members whenever necessary.
This helps increase their chances of succeeding, and thereby increasing their chances of being able to pay back their loans. And so, members of these groups are often given priority by government lenders. In the end, it’s a win-win situation for both the government and the OFWs.
A ‘blessing’ for OFWs
The program ended after the new OFC was officially formed and its officers were elected.
When everyone had left, Tita Amphie was already visibly tired and weak and asked a barangay health worker to check her blood pressure.
“Ito talaga si Tita Amphie, ayaw paawat (Tita Amphie just won't back down),” complained one of her colleagues as they expressed concern about her health.
Apparently, Tita Amphie had already been warned before about her blood pressure. Her children were already telling her not to go to the program today, but she insisted on going.
After taking a ten-minute break, Tita Amphie was once again back on her feet. The program ended, but the day was far from over.
One of her colleagues came to Tita Amphie looking troubled. “Tita, they [the LGU] are asking us to set up a booth in a fair. The problem is we are only given two days to set up. Are we going to say yes?” she asked her. “We’ll do it, of course,” Tita Amphie said with her usual energy, as if she has not just been through a tiring 4-hour program. – Rappler.com