HONG KONG – I thought I knew them well. These very smart, gracious, and hardworking women who write for our newspaper, The SUN-Hong Kong, have been with us for so many years we have come to regard them as family.
But a recent conversation I had with them for our radio show, showed how little I knew of their life’s struggles and goals; and why they had to come here apart from the obvious reason that they had to earn money to help provide for their family.
Their full names, as many of our readers should know by now, are Gina N. Ordona and Cristina B. Cayat. What they don’t know is that behind those bylines are two women who richly deserve being called “heroes” of our time.
Their struggles do not speak well of how our country nurtures its youth, but they are a testament to the best of Filipino values: love of family, respect for education, and a willingness to sacrifice self for both.
Both came to Hong Kong at a tender age: Cris at 19, and Gina at 20. Like many other young Filipinas who grew up in the countryside, they were scared stiff at the prospect of venturing out of their homes, more so about leaving the country.
But as first-borns in families that were barely scraping by, they felt it was their responsibility to look for ways to ease the burden on their parents. And so they ignored the fear, and later, the pain brought on not just by homesickness but also of back-breaking work, so they could provide a better life for the family they left behind.
At the time, Gina had just graduated with a degree in agri-business management from the prestigious Mindanao State University. Cris, on the other hand, decided to drop out in her second year of an education course in the University of Baguio when her father’s small business went under.
Both are now in their `30s, having spent a big part of their adult life toiling for others and putting their dreams on hold as they took on the role of sending their siblings to school, and in Cris’ case, also acting as the family’s breadwinner.
Thus, Gina was understandably giddy with excitement as we talked about her impending vacation so she could personally witness the graduation of her sister from nursing school. Genevie is the first of her 6 siblings to obtain a degree with her help, as a brother chose to drop out from school in his second year in college. Their youngest, a girl, is reportedly not showing much interest in completing her studies and to Gina’s despair, wants to follow in her footsteps as an OFW.
If it were up to her, Gina says she would never allow any of her siblings to go abroad to work. “Ayaw kong maranasan nila ang mga naranasan ko,” she says, tearing up.
Cris’ story is nearly the same. As the eldest of 4 children, she decided to plunge into the often-murky life of an OFW, thinking it was left to her to help her family avert starvation.
She managed to help a brother finish a two-year auto mechanic degree, and more recently, her youngest sister, graduate from college. Her sister, Vicky, has since started her own family and has joined her in Hong Kong, also as an OFW.
For Cris, it is reward enough that her sister has offered to take over the role of providing for their parents back in Baguio so she can start thinking of her own future. After working on getting their family home rebuilt, she had a small bakery built nearby, a sort of insurance for when she may have to go home for good.
For now, the two are set to embark on a dream vacation – visiting Gina’s hometown of Agusan del Sur, and traveling across Mindanao – as a reward to themselves for all the years of self-deprivation.
Her other dream, says Gina, is being able to keep all of her salary to herself.
A simple wish, but one that resonates with all that is noble about working as an OFW. Indeed, real heroes are made of this. – Rappler.com
This article was first published in The Sun Hong Kong. Rappler is republishing this with permission. The author is a veteran journalist, having worked for various newspapers and TV stations in the Philippines and in Hong Kong. She is also a lawyer and migrants rights activist.
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