The weight of an OFW ‘Yes’

Shakira Sison
Each OFW's "yes" carries the weight of her efforts, his hard work, and their inability to give any other answer

From the moment a Filipino commits to a life as a foreign worker, he commits to saying ‘yes’. It begins with a series of yesses – to the recruiter, to the job, to the fees, and to the agent’s commission. She must say yes to a family hoping to be rescued from a life of poverty. He must say yes to travel, to poor living conditions, not-so-warm roommates, and to a language and a culture that is so foreign he can only nod his head and say yes some more.

It’s another set of yesses to the new boss who is already skeptical about his race, a yes to suspicious coworkers, and yes to a job that is as heavy on the body as it is on the heart. She must say yes to being a nanny to a brat, or to breathing in the fumes in manning a gas station, or to cleaning up the messes of her masters who speak slowly to her because they think she doesn’t understand. She understands, but she still says yes to whatever is requested. (READ: What they don’t tell you about an OFW life)

He says yes to overtime, added assignments, and double the workload. When times get tough, he must agree to a pay cut or extended hours, or to cut his days and benefits. Exhausted after a long day, when the only comfort is a phone call or a video chat with his family, he’s not about to say no to requests for more money. It’s a yes to that home renovation, a yes to that school project, or extra class, or sports team uniform. It’s an “Okay” to a teen’s hankering for a new cellphone, handbag, or wardrobe. It’s never a “No” to that hospital bill, that tuition fee, or to yet another relative’s business venture.

“An OFW will never tell you that money is tight and hard to come by. He will not say no, because a “no” means that all his sacrifices have been for nothing if he cannot provide.”

– Shakira Sison

An OFW will never tell you that money is tight and hard to come by. He will not say no, because a “no” means that all his sacrifices have been for nothing if he cannot provide.

No other answer

There isn’t any answer other than the affirmative when you are an OFW. When you’ve borrowed against your home, spent your life savings, and said goodbye to the ones you love for the promise of a better life, “No” is simply an unacceptable answer.

There is no saying no to more work, less pay, the abuses of your employer or the troubles with your colleagues. When the agency holds your passport or your boss controls your working visa, there is no negative answer to any kind of request, because refusing means a strike against you and possibly being sent home. Being an OFW is selling yourself, your better judgment, your patience, and your faith – all for that elusive dream of a better life. (READ: Don’t want to be an OFW forever? Manage your money right)

You say yes to everything because you know that you’re not there to disagree. You did not risk everything and take a gamble to pursue your OFW life just to create trouble. You’re not struggling in a foreign land and getting through one challenge after another just to be disliked and to shatter your family’s dreams for you. You’re not there to have fun, or to enjoy your job, or to build a life for yourself. You’re only an OFW so your family can enjoy theirs.

The vacuum of need

With all that an OFW has to go through, there still is no negative answer to the endless requests in that bottomless vacuum of need of everyone back home. Saying anything other than “Yes” is an admission that you don’t have money – or worse, you are called selfish – leading those who were left behind questioning what you are away for.

It’s hard to understand unless you’ve been uprooted and forced to survive where everything is foreign and all that you know is in another land. It’s easy to say clichés like, “Money isn’t everything” or “Don’t leave your homeland,” or to prescribe job advice like, “Fight for your rights.” But at the end of every day it’s a contest between one’s comfort and one’s responsibilities, and it always seems foolish to choose yourself when people rely on you to succeed.

An OFW’s yes carries with it the weight of his day, the challenges he faces but never shares, the money troubles he’s ashamed to mention but lives with every waking moment he’s away. If you have a family member abroad, imagine their hardships and the loneliness. Think twice about asking for yet another thing and instead ask, “What can I do for you from here?” 

Do your OFW a favor today and understand that her every “yes” carries the weight of her efforts, her hard work, and her inability to give any other answer. Try not to ask for unnecessary things because she might not be telling you exactly what everything costs – especially in non-material terms.

Appreciate every single thing you have that’s due to his patience and perseverance. Feel the burden of that yes on him, because it’s not so much an affirmative answer than it is a lack of choice. Do your share in taking care of the home the way he wishes he could, but can’t because he’s busy finding ways to keep it running.

One request

The final request an OFW has after years and decades of being away — of waving hi and goodbye and giving flying kisses on computer screens, after some money has been put away and kids have been sent to school and given fancy gifts — is the luxury of having a choice.

Please allow your OFW the option of saying “No.” After years of work and distance, it will take its toll on age and resilience. Your OFW will finally decide that he or she has had enough of it.

When that time comes, allow your homes’ heroes the privilege of finally saying no. When they are done with a life of yesses, let them decide for themselves.  Allow them to say, “No, it’s time to go home.” –

Shakira Andrea Sison is a two-time Palanca-winning essayist. She currently works in finance and spends her non-working hours as an overseas Pinay. She is a veterinarian by education and was managing a retail corporation in Manila before relocating to New York in 2002. Her column appears on Thursdays. Follow her on Twitter: @shakirasison and on

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